Remote video collaboration may well be common currency for millions of office workers now, but for many in TV and film, it has been a growing necessity for some time. As a result, there are a huge variety of video collaboration software options on the market, at a wide range of price points.
However, there are essential core usability demands that must be met by any software or hardware collaboration system, which every user or business will need to blend and find a balance to suit their situation and usage – we take a look at the key requirements, and how to choose the best video collaboration software product for you.
“I tried remote working on a couple of projects by sending QuickTime files along with stereo audio to clients,” says Martell sound mixer and company owner Marcus Zalewski. “[But] I’d have to wait a day to receive sound mix notes. Then I’d make the adjustments and resend the file. It was a three-day process just to get anything done and was effectively unworkable.”
Any video collaboration software worth its salt will have an element of real-time interaction at its heart, from consumer-grade services like Zoom and Teams, through to more industry-focussed solutions that aim to manage the specific challenges of collaborating on video in real time. The closer to instantaneous the better, as any lag can throw the creative process into chaos surprisingly quickly.
The better solutions can offer astonishingly low latency connections, down to sub-100 ms remote live streaming in the case of Sohonet Clearview Flex. It makes the difference between a protracted process constantly interrupted by drop-outs, and a quick, concise, professional meeting that arrives at a quality result in good order.
“Immediately, I could see that [ClearView Flex] was a game changer,” Zalewski adds. “All of a sudden, we could review mixes in real time and bring everyone in on ClearView to look at material at the same time as if they were in the room.”
“We tested some screen sharing apps,” says Jason Fotter, CTO at FuseFX, “and those were less than ideal because you don’t get real-time playback, it’s highly compressed, and not secure.”
Most decent video collaboration solutions will have some element of security baked in, even if it’s just connecting via SSL encryption, which is essentially the equivalent of browser-based VPNs and online banking security.
However, as the early days of Zoom demonstrated clearly, keeping invite links to edit sessions secure is also an important consideration, on top of encrypted streams. It is also vital that all participants are aware of offline security requirements too, such as encrypting folders data ‘at rest’ with appropriate levels of security.
“ClearView Flex allows us to run a secure, real-time review whenever we want,” explains Jason Fotter. “It’s very easy to use and you can send requests to join a session.”
“We’d trialled remote solutions over the last decade without any real success,” says leading colourist and partner at REDLAB Walt Biljan. “Everything we tried struggled with latency and communication or poor-quality images and bad compression.”
Large files are obviously essential to create a final, UHD, surround sound product. But collaborating on them can be a challenge during the editing and post-production process. Using proxy files is a tried and tested strategy to streamline the process and resolve bandwidth, storage and platform hardware challenges – the latter especially relevant for mobile editors using laptops – but supporting high-quality streams is an important factor.
Many specific TV and film industry-facing solutions offer excellent resolutions – up to 2K DCI resolution and up to 10-bit 4:2:0 colour, in the case of Clearview Flex, enabling collaborations to work with nearer-broadcast-quality footage and files.
“While I’m colour correcting [with ClearView Flex],” says Biljan, “they are seeing changes on their screen in real-time and we are having an open dialogue. They see the output on their monitor. It’s a really efficient workflow.”
The old days of platform consistency throughout a studio or business are long gone, not only due to flexibility around remote working, but also a continuing preference for consumer devices such as tablets or smartphones to share the modern ‘always on’ workload.
The solution: Collaborating with a wide range of stakeholders no longer involves a series of desktop Mac computers, but an eclectic mix of devices running different operating systems on wired and wireless connections. As a result, video collaboration solutions that can be as flexible as possible in terms of the client devices are a considerable asset, as opposed to less OS-agnostic tools. Indeed, ClearView Flex takes this agnostic approach one step further with collaboration on Apple TV devices – a useful option when editing video content for streaming or broadcast purposes.
As The Mill’s Head of Technology, Rizzo Islam remembers: “Being honest, I’ll admit I was sceptical. A lot of companies claim user-friendliness…”
While video collaboration systems should be designed to interface with other common systems, such as on-premise and cloud storage, it is well worth digging into any dependencies or barriers to integration. This can pose a significant problem in the future, and create a technical cul-de-sac which often proves costly and time-consuming to escape.
The general usability and User Interface (UI) of any specific solution should be tested out before widespread adoption. Questions such as whether time-consuming pre-rendering is required to use a particular platform, how file transfers are handled, and whether substantial downloads are required all play into the overall usability of a system, and whether it is a good fit.
“We got a ClearView Flexbox in as a trial and tested it in the office first,” says Islam. “The UI was amazing, but it was the end-user client side that blew me away. You get an email link, click on it and the picture appears. It’s that simple!”
Pricing is of course always a central question, and varying models can make a considerable difference to the usability of a video collaboration platform. Some operate on a freemium style model, where basic operation is heavily subsidised, but key functionality is restricted. This can be an economical method of trialling a platform, but usually results in hidden costs – if only in human resource terms – piling up in the longer term.
Subscription models are relatively predictable, and some offer various flavours of irregular payment – by pausing a subscription, or by tokenising a year’s payment – in order to attract irregular users. Similarly, there are video collaboration platforms that offer pay as you go style options, which can be very attractive for freelance and contract video editors and post-production crew.
There are many video collaboration platforms out there, all offering different levels of service, integrations, pricing and hardware provisions. It’s certain there will be a platform out there to suit your business and operating structure, but it is also worth remembering that – just as with most specialised services – you do get what you pay for.
Sohonet ClearView Flex is video collaboration software that enables real-time creative review and collaboration in HDR. To see how it can improve your workflows, contact us to book a demo.