16 November 2023

From lens to likes: the need for speed

Need to get your video published quickly to be first on social media? Do you want to get edited news reports on air faster? Now you can edit in the cloud and publish from the cloud. It’s the fastest way to get from Lens to Likes.

By Dave Shapton

In some ways, the cloud is meant to be mysterious. You put your stuff in the cloud, something happens, and it gets sent back to you – or someone else if that’s what you want. You don’t need to know how it works most of the time. But sometimes you do. Here’s an example.

With the Ninja Ultra’s H.265 Single Codec option (you need a Connect module), you can record into a format that’s small enough to send to the cloud but so good that you can use it as your final, published format. Let’s have a look at why that’s so useful.


What’s a proxy file?

Proxy means something used in place of something else. It’s a substitute to “stand in” for something that’s not there.

In video production, a proxy file is a small version of the original video file captured in the camera or stored on an external recorder like an Atomos Ninja. Traditionally, the original file is the definitive one. It’s the one that has the maximum quality. It’s the best possible recording your camera (or your Ninja, via the camera) can make. Depending on your camera, you could show it on a cinema screen. Because they’re so small, you can easily send proxy files over the internet.

So why not use a proxy file all the time? Simply because if you need the best, you must use the original file. Proxy files aren’t the same quality. In the early days of computer editing, editing systems had to use what was effectively a proxy. That was called “offline” editing. 

These early NLE files were pretty bad quality but good enough for most editing jobs as long as you could see people’s lips move and the cuts played back on the correct timecode. But that’s not the end of the proxy story.

“Put all of these improvements together, and you can send high-quality proxy video files over the public internet.”

Changing technology

We’re all used to technology changing over time. Digital cameras and cloud editing are fantastic examples. Only a few years ago, the state of the art in video was HD – and that was a five-times improvement over the Standard Definition video that came before it. Now we routinely use 4K, with four times the pixels in HD, and now even 8K, with sixteen times the pixels.

At the same time, compression technology has improved. It needed to because 4K and 8K video generate enormous file sizes – far too big to use with the cloud. Encoding today’s cutting-edge, low-bitrate formats takes a lot of processing power, but H.265 is half the size of H.264 at the same bitrate. And both H.265 and H.264 are orders of magnitude smaller than, say, Apple ProRes.

Meanwhile, connections to the cloud (i.e. the internet) and home and commercial broadband are much faster. Kilobits have become megabits, and they’re rapidly turning into gigabits – and with Low Earth Orbit satellite constellations like StarLink, you can get low latency, fast broadband even in a desert.

Put all of these improvements together, and you can send high-quality proxy video files over the public internet. And, even though these proxy files are not the originals from the camera, they can still be more than good enough to deliver directly to viewers. That’s a giant leap. Because with delivery quality proxies, you can deliver the minute you’re done with editing. There’s no need to match them back to the original camera files.

“For social media and many other types of video distribution, the winner takes it all. If you post something newsworthy (or merely click-worthy) before everyone else, you’ll get the traffic.”

How do Cloud workflows… work?

Almost everything that involves the internet is a cloud workflow. Even if you’re only sending a big file from point A to point B, the chances are that there’s a cloud company providing the service of speeding up the file transfer and keeping it secure via a friendly interface. But what exactly is a cloud editing workflow

Cloud editing involves sending a tiny proxy version of the captured video over the internet to a remote workstation in a physical location like a post-production facility or to a “cloud” workstation, which is a computer in a data center somewhere.

Both of these setups operate in the same way: receiving video proxy files over the internet for an editor to work on. With the cloud-based workstation, the sender or an editor based somewhere else – anywhere in the world – would remote-control the workstation, seeing its screen on their local computer, but with all the processing taking place remotely. 

But what happens when the edit’s finished?

The editor still needs to replace the proxy files with the original camera files (or something like a ProRes version of them), and they’re typically too big to send over the public internet unless you’re prepared to wait for a day or so. When the files arrive – by courier or taxi – they’re often on a hard drive. The editor (or an assistant) copies the files to the editing machine – or the local network storage – and replaces the proxy files with the full-resolution files in a process called “conforming”. 

This typical cloud workflow is definitely beneficial. Editing while waiting for the original camera files is a substantial improvement.

The next option is C2C or camera to cloud. It’s a technique where an editor receives proxies either at the same time as a shoot or just after. It’s fully automatic: once it’s set up, it “just works”. It’s a simple process with Atomos Connect and a supported Atomos monitor-recorder. Seeing clips arrive on the timeline only seconds after they’re shot is an impressive demonstration of today’s technology.

There’s one final setup: Cloud editing. With Atomos Edit, you don’t even need a remote (or cloud) workstation. Your browser becomes your workstation instead. Modern browsers do much more than display web pages. They’re also virtual computers – and quite powerful ones. Your browser does much more behind the scenes than you probably know about. Like playing a myriad of video and audio formats or performing security checks while you’re looking at your online banking.

Atomos Edit taps into that power and lets you edit proxy files (including Atomos’ high-quality ones) inside a browser. So when you finish your edit, since your media is already in the cloud, you can publish directly to cloud-based social media and make your work available to news and other media organizations immediately. With no need for lengthy rendering or uploading the final high-bitrate product, you can have your edit in front of viewers worldwide within minutes, not hours. Without resorting to hyperbole, it is a game-changer.

Why does it matter?

For social media and many other types of video distribution, the winner takes it all. If you post something newsworthy (or merely click-worthy) before everyone else, you’ll get the traffic. The more clicks, the more advertising revenue. From the local school hockey match to the major league games, there’s a ready audience for match highlights. In the right place at the right time for a breaking news story? Get an edited package to air within minutes. 

Conventional production workflows can be pretty slow. Here’s the process:

  1. Shoot the event.
  2. Transfer high-resolution (and bitrate) camera footage to an editing computer.
  3. Edit – for example, top-and-tail clips, add sponsor clips, add lower thirds, add other branding.
  4. Render to H.264/265 – this can take a while.
  5. Upload to social media.

With direct-to-publish high-quality proxies, steps 2, 4 and 5 are no longer necessary. This is the new workflow:

  1. Shoot the event. The system uploads the footage to the cloud while you’re filming. 
  2. Edit in the cloud – no rendering is required because we use the proxy format for delivery.
  3. Transfer to social media.
  4. That’s it: job done in a fraction of the time.

How can I get started?

You need a suitable camera – that’s any video camera with HDMI or SDI, a Ninja or Ninja Ultra fitted with an Atomos Connect or a Zato Connect, and a subscription to Atomos Cloud Studio. For a bigger 7-inch monitor and a built-in Connect, there’s the Shogun Connect.

Spend some time planning a workflow that fits with how you’d like to work. You now have the means to deliver video within minutes of shooting an event – and sometimes even while the event is still taking place. Above all, experiment and refine your new workflow. And when you get it running smoothly, you’ll suddenly find that there are more hours in the day.

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