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Maximizing Your 4K Editing Efficiency

If you improve your editing efficiencies and leverage the strengths of your existing system, editing 4K camera-original footage on a modestly equipped $1,000 PC should prove more than manageable.

People say, "Go build your own PC." I suppose I could build your own house if I wanted, but that's not what I do for a living. I shoot and edit video. I'm not a computer builder. I know what my limitations are. I don't try and build computers, so I bought one.

I have my computer set up so that my editing interface is on one screen. On the second screen I have my Program Monitor so I can see it at full 1080. I have Premiere Pro set to show me Full quality, not 1/2 or 1/4, although those options are just a click away. When I click play in my timeline, and I'm watching a 4K clip, it plays smoothly on this computer.

Actually, the video that is being played is not on this computer. It's not on a RAID system. It's not on a SSD drive. The clip is being played back over the network from a 2-drive (mirrored) NAS. In this case, it's the ioSafe 214 (Figure 3, below). It's a fireproof, waterproof system set up for redundant storage so my client footage is protected. It's shared over ethernet not just to one computer, but to all the computers on the network, at gigabit speeds.

Figure 3. The ioSafe 214 NAS enables me to share my data across multiple computers with ease, and yet read files at over 100MB/sec for editing.

The footage I'm editing with comes directly from the camera in its original recorded format: H.264 at 100 Mbps. But I find that the footage the camera records typically is at 80 Mbps. 80 Mbps divided by 8 is 10 MB/sec. My ethernet connection can do well over 10 MB/sec. When I test it with CrystalDiskMark, I get a write speed of more than 60 MB/sec and a read speed of more than 100 MB/sec from the NAS, so it’s definitely more than capable of handling 10 MB/sec.

The added advantage to using an NAS setup is that I can access everything from any machine in the office. It's accessible to everyone. Now, multiple people trying to access different clips at the same time from the same spinning platters will slow down everyone's access and result in choppy playback. But, for me, this works fine. I can export a finished video into the project folder and immediately access it from a different computer for emailing or posting online.

I hear all the time that you need to have a massive system to edit 4K. By using Alienware's included performance monitoring app, I can see in real time this computer's performance metrics: CPU use, GPU use, RAM use, networking speed and more. When I click play in the timeline and watch my 4K clip, I can see the CPU cores loafing along at 40-50% and the GPU pretty much not at all. So I'm not really taxing this system at all by playing 4K footage in Premiere Pro.

Adding GPU-Accelerated Effects and Filters

Now, it's obvious that I'm not actually doing anything with the footage yet. So I'll add a Three-way Color Corrector to adjust the image. Then I'll add a Fast Color Corrector and an oval mask to act as my overall vignette. Then I'll add a Sharpen filter to 10%. Next I'll add a Horizontal Flip, then a Crop filter and bring in all four sides and feather the edge, all on top of the Motion filter scaling the 4K clip to 50% to fit into the HD frame. I'll add a Timecode filter on it and make that big and easy to see.

The key thing that I'm doing when I use these filters is that I'm selecting from the accelerated filters. These are designed to use the GPU as opposed to the CPU. Now I'm going to add some Noise. I'll make it grayscale and it'll look like film noise, or "grain." So I've added seven filters on top of a resize and downscale of the entire clip. Then, when I click play on this clip, the GPU is being pushed to near 100% utilization. It's dropping a few frames, and that's probably because of the Noise filter, which I typically don't use, pushing everything past what the GPU can handle.

Meanwhile, my CPU is working at only 60% utilization, even with all these filters on top of the 4K clip. Are you really going to heap on all those filters (Figure 4, below) onto every single clip in your video? Probably not. Nevertheless, the video that accompanies this article demonstrates that you can do all this with a basic, sub-$1,000 system, if you choose your filters wisely. I learned this key point the hard way.

Figure 4. Focus on the accelerated filters.