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Gearing Up for 4K Production, Part 3: Storage, Throughput, Switching, and Delivery

Two big issues that concern almost everyone making the jump to 4K and UltraHD are throughput and storage. How are you going to manage and transfer all those additional bits?


To edit that video, you're going to need an SSD, or a RAID array that shares hard drive speed among multiple connected hard drives. To work with video recorded at bit rates that high, you need to make sure that your throughput is substantial enough that you can get everything through that pipe quickly enough.

This is another instance where you need to look at the whole workflow when considering 4K gear and how you can use it. Where is your bottleneck in the workflow? Is it the transfer workflow when you're capturing your cards, or the throughput when you're working in post and you need to have that footage on your hard drive, whether it's internal or external, and edit on your NLE?

With external drives, keep in mind that USB 2.0 maxes out at about 60 MB/sec, and USB 3 offers about 625 MB/sec. FireWire 400 and FW 800 feature 400 Mbps and 800 Mbps (or 50MB/sec and 100MB/sec), respectively. Other connections include eSATA and SATA. SATA is the internal hard drive connection that replaced IDE, which promise either 300MB/sec or 600MB/sec throughput.

Finally, you have Thunderbolt 1 and Thunderbolt 2, which boast a staggering 1.2 GB/sec (gigabytes per second) and 2.4 GB/sec, respectively.

Next, you need to consider your throughput requirements not just in terms of the bit rate of your video, but how many streams of video you’re working with simultaneously in a multi-camera edit or switch. If you have four camera angles going, then you're going to need four times the bit rate of your video, plus headroom. Your system may not be able to handle that, depending on many, many factors: your CPU, your GPU, and so on. It's not a given that you can just hook up the hard drives and expect to use all the throughput that’s theoretically available. That said, it’s important to know what the different connections can support as a starting point for what your system might be able to handle when working with 4K video recorded in high-bit rate codecs.

Computer Requirements

The first question most people ask when they start thinking about editing 4K or UHD video is, "Do I need to upgrade my computer?" A lot of it depends on how new your CPU and your motherboard are. The newer the processor, the more likely it is that your system will be able to handle editing 4K. In terms of Intel processors, that means not only Core i7s, but how many of them (4, 6, 8, etc.), and preferably the latest generation of i7 processors as well. The newer ones are more efficient than the older ones.

At the end of the day, the CPU may not be as important in video workflows as it used to be. The reason is that the graphics processing unit (GPU) is what pushes and processes the video in the more efficient and powerful systems. Graphics cards, unlike CPUs, are designed for graphics and for video, in the way they stack and provcess them. If your NLE supports GPU acceleration, then you're good to go, as long as you select effects, color correction, and transitions that are GPU-supported. I use Adobe Premiere Pro CC or editing, and it tells me which effects are GPU-supported and which ones are not. In Premiere Pro, if an effect is not GPU-supported, you get a little red line over your timeline, which means that the CPU will take over when it’s time to process that effect, with a likely hit in efficiency and performance.

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We'll begin this 3-part series with a look at the two 4K formats and a discussion of why you'd want to shoot in 4K today even though most viewers and potential clients aren't demanding it, and start to examine the links in the 4K live production chain with an eye to connectivity, codecs, and capture.
In part 2 of our 3-part series on gearing up for 4K live production, we'll explore the cameras and lenses available today for professional 4K production.