We look at the tools enabling colourists and clients to review colour grades from home and achieve the quality required — and take a look at how Dirty Looks put this into action for Shane Meadows ‘The Virtues’

Remote colour grading is not a new phenomenon. Clients want to work with the best, regardless of location and now the top colourists call the shots as to where and how they work. Location has been removed as a ‘blocker’ —  but it falls on the production to ensure all stakeholders remain connected, and provide the right tools to enable client/ colourist/team to view and work on content ‘together remotely’. 

In times of “normalcy” (pre-COVID-19), when we referred to ‘remote colour grading’ we were describing a scenario where, although geographically separated, both your colourist and client had access to a grading suite/screening room and your IT team had done the work to set up a secure workflow with a high-quality, colour and frame-accurate video stream to enable a seamless viewing experience between both sites.

To meet those needs, we worked with teams from the major studios to build our real-time, high-quality review tool, ClearView Pivot.  Designed for those requiring 4K high dynamic range (HDR) with 12-bit colour depth and 4:4:4 chroma sampling for full-colour quality video streaming with ultra-low latency, Pivot achieves the high-quality viewing experience needed for critical quality review. 

It jumps all the usual hurdles associated with remote grading, from security and lagging real-time video to time-consuming setup.  The one hurdle it can’t jump, is that right now, neither colourist nor client can make it into the facility. Both now need a way to securely connect and collaborate from home. And since reviewing a grade is all about communication “do you like this?… How about now?” — that ‘over the shoulder’ experience needs to be recreated to ensure both parties are on the same page. “Is the sky now angry enough?” doesn’t work if you’re out of sync.

So, how can you review a colour grade remotely in today’s WFH environment?

Currently, we are all adapting to manage our work from home. For colourists, used to working in specifically designed suites with cinema-grade projectors, high-quality monitors and expensive grading panels,  this can be particularly challenging. With help from the suppliers, many of our customers have already solved the problem of moving their colour workstation home, whether that’s moving their Baselight or installing Resolve or another grading software on another machine. However, the review stage, where ordinarily a cinematographer, showrunner, producer, director, would come to the suite, or use a tool like Pivot to review the grade from another facility, is no longer possible. 

clearview flex vs clearview pivot

It is nearly impossible to push the quality required for critical review from one home Internet connection to another in real-time. However, Sohonet has another tool in the ClearView family, which provides the quality required for broadcast standards (which matches the need for many use cases) and can be close enough for early-stage review for cinema release content.

Clearview Flex, Pivot’s lower quality but more flexible and adaptable sibling, is a viable alternative for reviewing remote colour grades that can work from home.  Flex has minimal bandwidth requirements compared to Pivot and the hardware required is more transportable and only required on the sending side. With Flex, the colourist (working from home) can securely stream content from their workstation to the client to view, in real-time from their home on their Apple TV.   

Flex currently supports content up to 2K DCI with 8-bit colour depth and 4:2:0 chroma sampling for broadcast-quality video streaming and the same ultra-low latency you expect from all ClearView products. These are the standard colour spaces supported by most home entertainment devices and therefore for content intended for tv and internet streaming reviewing colour at 4:2:0 (8-bit) is perfectly acceptable. 

The colourist will be provided with a ‘Flexbox’ which connects to their video source via HDMI or HD-SDI. They login to the ClearView Flex session manager via their browser and start a session. They can invite multiple viewers who will be sent a one-time entry session and PIN code for Apple TV. Once joined, all parties are in perfect sync viewing frame and colour-accurate footage, accompanied by stereo sound, in real-time.

To get the best out of Flex for colour review we recommend following these steps: 
Use Apple TV

The AppleTV app provides the best and most controllable colour experience for your end viewers.  Modern TVs such as the LG C8 or C9 series are fairly well calibrated out of the box. The Apple TV can be hardwired to an ethernet connection and the Presenter can set the quality of the stream to ‘High’ in the session management app. This ups the bit-rate of the stream for the best picture quality and colour. Make sure you turn off HDR in your Apple TV settings as this may have an effect on the colour accuracy of the stream. Currently, if HDR review is required, we suggest using an offline review tool like Moxion who also have an Apple TV app which will support it. 

Run a test card

It is probably worth running a test card to the Flexbox to help colour calibration before the session. As a presenter, you have a view of the encoded stream in the Session Management app so can see what the encoded video looks like (albeit not on the end user’s device). 

Minimise contention

Our home internet connections are being pushed to their limits with multiple people in the household vying for connectivity for home study, streaming entertainment and video conferencing. During your session, it’s a good idea to try and convince others to lay off the screen time for a bit. Whilst Flex requires minimal bandwidth you will need a healthy 20mbit/s of upload for the Flexbox stream and 8-10mbps of download for each viewer device (this includes the session management app which as mentioned also includes a display of the streamed session). We recommend a hard-wired connection for all to avoid issues with packet loss. 

In Action

Specialists in colour grading and mastering of independent British feature films, Dirty Looks are well known for their impressive work on a number of high-profile feature films, documentaries and TV series. Overseeing the grade on Shane Meadows’ (This is England, Dead Man’s Shoes) latest hit for Channel 4, The Virtues, Founder Tom Balkwill utilised ClearView Flex to enable Meadows’ to remote colour grade the series from his home in Nottingham whilst the colourist remained at Dirty Looks’ HQ in London. 

Using Flex, Dirty Looks were able to stream their content securely to the director’s web browser or tablet, where he could then review the edit/grading sessions in real-time, despite his connection being consumer broadband. The Dirty Looks team had also carefully calibrated a bespoke monitor and installed it at Shane’s home, so both the team and Shane could trust what they were looking at, as a colour match to Dirty Looks Dolby monitor back in Wardour St. 

Having rolled this workflow out successfully on The Virtues, Dirty Looks are now empowering their clients to make decisions in real-time from wherever they are in the world, helping them to stay involved in each vital step of the post-production workflow without having to travel long distances or book time out of their busy schedules to review the content at the facility itself. 

What’s coming soon?

As you can imagine, none of us know how long we will be in “full” WFH mode or when we will start to transition to a mode where “critical” personnel go to the office and others are still WFH.  Our developers are working around the clock to increase the depth of colour quality (10-bit), chroma (4:2:2) and colour space (Rec 2020 and HDR) to provide an acceptable “critical review” alternative that can be delivered via high capacity home internet speeds.  Stay tuned — we are expecting to deliver this kind of capability on behalf of our industry before summer begins in the northern hemisphere.