To cloud, or not to cloud


Bob Pank# TV-Bay Magazine
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Almost ever since it began, there have been two parameters that have played a big part in shaping broadcast television – bandwidth and storage. Admittedly, storage was not an issue at the start because there was no way to do it, but Ampex changed that in 1956. Bandwidth dictates many aspects of infrastructure and broadcast picture quality, the amount of space that is needed to store TV footage, and much more. Monochrome TV was relatively straightforward but colour, which originated as full bandwidth R, G and B channels was compressed by PAL or NTSC coding to fit into the bandwidth of the old monochrome channels. Today MPEG-2, MPEG-4 (twice as good) are familiar video compression systems that typically reduce the 270 Mbits/s SD video to about 2 - 4 Mbits/s for transmission. Only just over the horizon is the latest HEVC (high efficiency video coding) that is expected to be twice as good again and will include the vast SHV – ‘8K’ format with images 16x the area of 1080 HD... and higher frame rate (HFR).
All this extremely clever digital compression technology is only needed because the uncompressed video requires too much bandwidth for transmission or / and too much storage. You may ask, ‘What has this to do with the Cloud?’ The answer is ‘a whole lot’. For example if you want to have a collaborative environment for editing in the Cloud, you would first have to upload your video to the Cloud. Once there, those contributing to the edit would need to access the video to make their editing decisions. Finally, when the editing is completed, then the programme would need to be downloaded for subsequent distribution.
Of course there are other ways to handle this. For example, the distribution could, theoretically be directly from the Cloud. This workflow does not mention the video format, quality requirements or any other parameters that may govern how and where the footage is handled. Nor does it say what data rates the video requires. Today there is a huge range of moving image data rates, from high definition TV to 4K digital movie material. For the TV programme the original shoot may well be compressed to 50 Mbits/s (about 23GB/hour) while the movie material would be uncompressed at something over 9000 Mbits/s (about 4200GB/hour).
Faced with those figures it is easy to understand why some people would be saying that editing in the Cloud is practical and they are using it, while others would disagree. Both would be right and the TV people would be the ones already editing in the Cloud. It all comes back to bandwidth and storage for the ‘yes’ or ‘no’. As you can expect to pay for Cloud services, including up and down loading as well as storage, roughly according to the amount of data involved, so the movie could cost nearly 200 times as much as the TV show – assuming they were the same running time and shoot ratio, etc. There could be further complications with the movie as the material may be restricted as to where it can go; movie material is a prime target for piracy so you can understand the extra caution.
However this does not mean that the Cloud has nothing to offer the film industry. Putting the huge volumes of footage data aside, there are other aspects of Cloud services from which all productions can benefit. Using the Cloud to create collaborative workflows for the planning and design of a production makes a lot of sense. This is especially the case with the movie industry. On the production side it has been described as a cottage industry where posts are filled by contractors just for that production. If you think it’s easy to keep them all contributing, informed and up to date, stay in your cinema seat at the end of a movie and watch all those names roll by. Then you get to see the scale of the communications problem. Even on a much smaller scale, communications and planning for TV production and providing effective collaboration are still just as important. As mentioned in the May ‘Cloud Matters’ reporting on NAB, Production Minds (production-minds.com) offers a solution that provides realtime views of the constantly changing information that’s made available to everyone who needs to know it, and not to those who don’t. So everyone can communicate and be kept in step and up to date.
The Cloud is a moving target. There are more and more services on offer and, if it follows the long-term trend of the rest of the IT industry, performance will increase while costs may drop. In time you should be able to get more for your money so using the Cloud in production and post will become more widely attractive. And maybe then Cloud will become a verb!

Tags: iss072 | cloud | ampex | Bob Pank#
Contributing Author Bob Pank#

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