When Adobe gave a surprise sneak peek at its ‘collaborative editing’ concept earlier this year at NAB in Vegas, we were intrigued at the idea of editing remotely and working on the same Premiere project from different locations. Now Adobe is announcing the new tech as Adobe Anywhere this week at IBC. We spoke with Adobe Senior Product Manager Michael Coleman to talk about how it all works.
What is Adobe Anywhere for video?
Before we dive into details about the product, let’s start at a basic level and explain what you need and how it works. It’s a bit of a tough concept to get across, but once you have that “aha” moment, you realize how cool the tech is.
Anywhere is a new product from Adobe that provides a centralized collaborative environment for editors working in Adobe Premiere and Prelude. An installation requires a supported server configuration that has access to fast media storage. This media storage would hold all the footage for the collaborative environment. Adobe Anywhere software runs on this server.
Editors within a facility — or even around the globe — launch the regular version of Premiere and connect to the server. They can then access projects and footage from the server, creating sequences, editing them, and then rendering final output. When working in this environment, Premiere basically acts and looks like Premiere. If you’re an editor, you probably won’t notice a difference.
OK…so this doesn’t sound all that groundbreaking. What’s the hook that makes it interesting?
Well, when you’re working with the footage (via Anywhere) in Premiere, you’re actually not streaming the source footage over the network and processing on your local computer. Instead, there’s some pretty cool tech happening under the hood.
The centralized server is running what is called the “Mercury Streaming Engine”. When you hit play in Premiere, the engine on the server accesses/plays the sequence, renders each frame on the server (including any effects that are applied), and then sends a proxy frame over the network to your local machine. This frame then gets displayed in your player window. No processing is done on your local machine. The display of each rendered frame is coming from the main server; 24 fps for a 24fps sequence that is playing.
With that overview complete, let’s take a step back and explain a bit more in detail.
What is the required set-up?
There are two main components to Anywhere. The first is called the ‘Collaboration Hub’. This is software which manages the collaboration and saves all the collaboration and project information in a database. “You can think about it like a shared project,” says Coleman. “It’s based on a scaleable database, and that’s what allows multiple clients and people to work together.”
The Collaboration Hub also has a REST api, which allows facilities to write their own hooks into the system.
The second component is the Mercury Streaming Engine. It’s similar to the existing Mercury Playback Engine in PremierePro. “It can run on a GPU,” adds Coleman, “and can do realtime rendering of assets and PremierePro sequences, including multi-layered/multi-format timeline with effects, and then stream them out to the end user across the network.” Adobe will have “blessed” hardware configurations, which will include CUDA-enabled NVIDIA cards to take advantage of the GPU processing speed seen on the desktop.
Coleman says on the editors side, no new set-up is required. In fact, there may even be less hardware necessary to run PremierePro than in a typical editing workflow. “Because we are computing in the server cluster, we don’t need quite as much at the client’s side,” he says. “For example, since much of the media is located centrally, the server software does a lot of the heavy lifting. I can be editing high resolution assets with a pretty minimally configured machine, like a MacBook Air just across the network.”
The system can process, say, R3D files, complicated effects, multiple streams — all while delivering images to the remote editor, who might even be working on a wireless network. The idea is that you will still feel like you’re working on your own editing platform, but all the processing is done on the server. Anywhere is also designed to be integrated into existing media asset management systems, and allows users to create files for playout or throughput to another package.
A new kind of collaboration
Adobe is pushing for a new way of working together using Anywhere. “The older way of working,” outlines Coleman, “is that you would create a local project file on your machine and if you wanted to collaborate with me, you would send that to me, I would maybe re-link the footage and I’d have to figure out what to pull from your project file and my project file.”
“With Anywhere, it’s quite different,” continues Coleman. “Instead of having a single user project file, we have this new notion which we call a ‘production’. A production is a multiple user/multiple application shared workspace. You can think about it like a shared project file, but the key difference is that multiple applications can access it and multiple people can. So instead of being just limited to just PremierePro people collaborating with PremierePro people, you can have a Prelude person working on the same footage at the same time, the same folders, the same project structure as the Premiere editors are. It’s really a shared environment.”
Coleman says some of the existing workarounds when collaborating will also no longer be necessary. “The typical things people would do would be, they’d lock a bin, for example,” he says. “That would mean that you’re using that for now and no-one else could use it. So we’ve gotten rid of the notion of ‘lock’ and we now have the idea that people shouldn’t be blocked from working on things – a lot of times where I’ll just open a sequence to have a look at it – there’s no reason to block it to do that. So we allow people to collaborate on the same media at the same time, and we manage the conflicts should anything occur.”
Anywhere does this by having each user work in their own virtual ‘sandbox’ if they are editing the same sequence at the same time. “If we then share our changes,” says Coleman, “then we’d have a conflict. At that point, the system says, ‘Hey, what do you want to do? Do you want to take his changes or your changes?'” The conflicts are at the sequence or asset level, currently, and there are revert tools available too, allowing users to roll back to a previous version of the edit.
How does Anywhere stream footage?
Obviously certain projects involve massive amounts of data. So how does Anywhere handle large files and maintain efficient – and useful – playback? Coleman says that the system renders everything at full resolution in realtime on the server side. “That includes all the effects and format conversion, just like normal Mercury playback on your machine. We then have a proprietary codec that we stream from the server to your machine. We also take advantage that because we do the compositing on the server side, if you’ve got a multi-format effects heavy edit, we don’t have to send four or five streams at once across the network – we’re actually only sending one. So it can be very efficient with the bandwidth.”
Because you’re using Premiere, Anywhere can get information from the editor client how big the viewing window is, and so optimizes the size of the image to suit what the editor is working on. For instance, on an 1080P HD job, many editors will be working with a player window that is scaled to 50%. In this case, Anywhere only needs to send a 960×540 image to the client for display in the player. So even less bandwidth is needed to make the system workable.
This efficiency is great for playback, but what about the need to see a pristine image? Proxy-based solutions have been problematic in the past for not allowing artists and editors to see the full resolution image. That’s been addressed in Anywhere. “One of the nice things about the system,” says Coleman, “is that although we compress to send across the network, when you click on a frame, we send the full uncompressed image, so creative people can really get a good sense of images, the quality, the color – everything they’d be expecting to look at, without the hassles of having to look at a proxy. There’s no low-resolution fixed format here – it’s sending as high as possible quality at any particular moment.”
That means that, theoretically, you could actually have better playback on your remote machine than if you were using it as a standalone editor. As a sequence becomes more complex with multiple layers, you’re still only being sent the single proxy result instead of multiple streams of high resolution images. All the rendering is being done on the server. This is what makes not only intra-net, but internet collaboration possible. “We’ve seen cases in some of our early development when say a four stream timeline is actually playing back with better performance on the Anywhere system than on a network,” says Coleman.
Up to this point, we’ve only discussed dealing with footage that is located at the server location. But what about an example such as IBC, where the fxguide crew would want to start an edit in Amsterdam and then work on it overnight in Sydney? Some thought has definitely been put into that situation.
The system definitely relies on a good bandwidth connection between the editor and the server (how else could you upload gigs of data?), but one thing Adobe wanted to make sure was that using Anywhere did not hold back work on an edit while footage was uploading. So, a remote editor can import the footage locally into the project, and start editing with their local files immediately while they are transferred to the server in the background.
Says Coleman: “It’s one of the differences between this system and say something that is fully cloud-hosted, where you have to transfer everything up to the cloud in order for you to start editing. We didn’t want to have that blockage. So we allow people to put things on the timeline, use it on the production and in the background we’ll transfer it up while you’re working.”
Availability and pricing
Anywhere is expected to be available in 2013, but, notes Coleman, “the technology is in development, so standard caveats apply.” Adobe is not talking pricing at this stage. The reason the company is announcing Anywhere at IBC is part of a strategy to get customers to start working on the software and provide feedback before a full release.
Coleman says that the idea for the software came from talking to a lot of customers about collaboration, and concluded that “it’s not about the individual anymore. The competitive advantages comes when productivity improves. In today’s world, you just can’t talk about collaboration or working in a group without working remotely from one another.”
The initial release of the product is targeted towards broadcasters, but from our point of view, the software seems like an incredibly useful solution. It was immediately apparent how Anywhere could help fxguide in the way we produce and collaborate on video content between our Sydney and Chicago offices. Anywhere + Sohonet? That could be a killer combination for our production. And being Adobe, having it extend to After Effects as well would be quite brilliant
Let’s hope it works as well as the promise…