James asks: We’re looking into using the cloud for editing 4K video. Is this a good idea? Can the cloud handle large video files? If so, what are some services you would recommend.
Answer: Simply put, the cloud is cool. Instant access to all of your material without having to plug in a hard drive. Access content from any computer, from anywhere in the world! The ability to easily collaborate with others, nice! No more backups – it’s all done securely, automatically, and redundantly. Instantly render video, output it into multiple formats, and deliver it easily to the other side of the world. All of this without having to invest in racks of equipment or worrying about upgrades.
Great for consumer video editors and their shorter production workflow but not for the professional video producer who needs more than a few buttons to get the job done.
For professionals, cloud storage provides a way to keep redundant video copies in a place that’s free from harm and loss. It also frees up HDD space and CPU resources, while providing a way to share, sync and collaborate.
Producing 720p, 1080p and 4k videos — resolutions which eat up a lot of hard drive space can be pushed to the cloud. 4k is a resource hog at 375 MB of storage per every minute of footage, 10 minutes of footage would take up 3.75GB, 20 minutes would take up 7.5GB, and 30 minutes of 4K footage would take up 11.25 GB. There are services like Dropbox, Google Drive and Sync that can handle it all relatively cheap with plenty of storage space.
The challenges for professionals:
Aside from the immense challenge of duplicating the functionality and flexibility of desktop software on the web, there are several other major challenges to making online editing software work.
If you are going to edit online and truly take advantage of using multiple computers to speed rendering, then your source material needs to be uploaded into the cloud. Due to the large file sizes created by pro video codecs, upload times could be prohibitive for all but the simplest of projects. Ingesting footage already takes long enough without having to wait for hours for it to upload.
With an upload speed in the 1-2 Mbps range it would take over an hour per GB of footage uploaded. All this before getting down to work.
If you are an editor and you can’t access your system because of a glitch with your Internet connection, this is lost money.
Proxy-files and encoding
If editing is going to occur in the cloud, then the workflow will likely have to use proxy files to increase responsiveness and accommodate differences in Internet connection speeds. This introduces a couple of wrinkles — quality and cost.
In a cloud model, the service provider’s costs are recurring. The cost of things like bandwidth, encoding, and storage increases in proportion to the number of customers and to the intensity of their usage.
Amazon Web Services, the infrastructure provider that powers many of the top web applications, charges 5-10 cents per GB of data stored per month. At these rates, 1 TB of data is $50-$100 per month.
Given these costs, online storage really only make sense for work in progress, finished work, and archival footage that has a high commercial value.
Where cloud editing makes sense
- Simple productions where speed is more important than custom effects
- Videos are relatively short
- Digital source material
- Multiple people need to contribute source footage
- Multiple people need to review videos and provide feedback
- Remote access from different locations is required
- Video distribution is going to be online
- High speed Internet connections are available.
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