Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Entering 4K Video World: Hardware Upgrades and Process Changes

4K video resolution is arriving - not really slowly, but in a somewhat weird way: 4K content is sparse, while consumer-grade hardware to produce and consume 4K content is getting affordable, from GoPro 4 Black and Sony FDR-AX33 camcorders costing under a $1000, to plenty of sub-$1,000 4K TV sets. This price point is a sweet spot where a video geek can get the hardware and not be overrun with guilt that must ruin the psyche of a real early adopter.

Watching raw 4K footage on a 4K TV is not something I can deal with - video has to be edited first, and in the 4K video case, it means your computer will have to move and process a whole lot more data. Which in turn means upgrades, and no matter how exciting it is for you and me, it means keeping costs down to make this all bearable for our dear sane family members.

Start with a monitor: your HD computer monitor will need to be upgraded to see the glory of 4K. I got Acer S277HK. It's not perfect: backlight is bleeding over at the corners pretty badly, but it's 4K, it's IPS, it has HDMI 2.0 in addition to the DisplayPort so it can be connected not only to a computer in a pinch, it has built-in speakers so I don' have to waste desk space for speakers, and it's not ridiculously expensive. I am very happy with it, running on Windows 10. Everything look massively more gorgeous on it than on a regular HD monitor.

To drive the 4K monitor, I got the least expensive video card I could find for the purpose, which is just about any GeForce 750Ti - it won't handle 4K gaming, but should be plenty for 4K video editing. I got the EVGA, which worked out quite nicely. It also has a fairy quite fan, and I really like when my system is quiet. GeForce 750 (non-Ti) might have worked, but based on reviews it looked iffy, so I went with the Ti, which seems to be very much up to the task.

Now, here's something I didn't experience in a while: after copying 100 Mbit/s 4K footage shot on Sony FDR-AX33 from an SD card on to the 2TB spindle SATA drive, I found that playing back 4K 100Mbit video from the spindle is all jittery as heck. I felt it is 90's all over again. Now, how do you fight this? The largest 4K clip I have is about 46 Gig and I definitely will have lots of these in the future. A reasonably priced large-capacity SSD that would provide adequate performance still costs about $250 on sale. At only 0.9 TB, it won't take very long to fill it up with 4K clips. So I got an idea: replace the spindle drive with the SSD, and to save the space, get Amazon Cloud Drive Unlimited. At $60 a year, and assuming the price will go down in the future, unlimited cloud storage looks very attractive for anyone planning to edit 4K videos. As an Amazon Prime user, I have been relying on complimentary Amazon Cloud to backup my pictures for a while. Using Amazon Cloud Drive by itself is not a particularly polished experience: one has to use awkward Amazon Cloud Client to upload files, which is a far cry from, say, DropBox quiet syncing. So although in theory Amazon Cloud Drive Unlimited seemed like a good option, I still wasn't sure how the whole workflow would look like, until I discovered the Odrive - the syncing client Amazon Cloud Drive sorely misses.

ODrive is the secret sauce that made this whole thing come together. Now all pieces were falling into places: upload all your raw footage to the Amazon Cloud Drive Unlimited and using Odrive, unsync folders with massive raw 4K footage to save the space on the SSD. When editing video, sync only folder(s) that hold 4K footage you are working with. Once done, unsync to free space. Rinse and repeat. This way your large-capacity SSD drive will hold only your pictures and the minimum number of big 4K video clips. That can easily be managed with probably even a 512GB SSD.

Now if initial syncing of the 4k raw footage up to the Amazon Cloud Drive won't run into the ridiculous and dreaded 300GB data cap of the blood-sucking Comcast (Update: oh yeah, I did - see update below), I should be all set for editing my 4K videos on a budget, using VideoStudio X8 Pro, and not having nervous breakdowns due to fears of running out of disk space or slow hard drive performance.

Finally, once I finish editing a few 4K videos, I will stop memorizing the content of the awesome Rtings.com and get an actual 4K TV to enjoy the fruits of my labors.

Update: ODrive Windows client crashes fairly regularly. If it crashes in the middle of uploading a large file, it starts over. It crashed several times trying (and never succeeding) to upload my 46GB 1hr+/100Mbit/s 4K clip, which took my Comcast data usage to 670GB, while I never reached the 300GB cap before. Comcast forgives first three months of overages under the "courtesy months" policy. I'll is that's the case when the bill shows up.

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