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Review: The Aframe cloud platform

By Brady Betzel

The big buzz these days in post production nerd communities seems to be surrounding higher than 4K resolutions and the cloud. Everyone wants to be able to access, organize, and manage all of their media immediately — no one wants to wait.

Over the past 5-10 years, video production has been climbing a steep ladder of evolution in record time. We’ve gone from recording footage on physical film to magical plastic cards that hold hours of footage and are so small they can be easily lost. It’s remarkable.

After we began moving from tape to tapeless, we also needed a place to store our media. Logically that was hard drives and local storage mega-drives: Avid Unity or ISIS, Apple XSans, or even the Facilis Terrablock. Then we needed to back everything up onto something like an LTO tape. These days it is common to shoot hours of 5K footage and begin to wonder if you will be looking into Petabytes of storage.

The next step in the evolution of production and post technology is the cloud, but, “Are we there yet?” is the real question. Can the infrastructure in place or available these days handle the demands we want to throw at it?

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Aframe has stepped to the plate and has given us a solution to cloud-based storage on a large enterprise scale. Aframe (http://aframe.com) is a storage center, logging solution, transcoder, and overall media asset powerhouse.

When I think of cloud-based storage, I think immediately think that the Internet connection infrastructure will have to be upgraded to the fastest connection possible, costing lots of time and money. Aframe doesn’t necessarily require this when accessing the footage from anywhere in the world, luckily. However, if you are in the position of uploading and/or downloading raw and full-resolution media this is definitely something you will need to consider.

Aframe uses a high speed UDP upload. If you have a firewall blocking UDP uploads you can get around that by switching to FTP or HTTP upload protocol, which are a little bit slower but still work. As Aframe says, if you have Internet, you can upload into Aframe. If you really can’t find a fast Internet connection then you can also opt to drop off your media with one of their upload partners to do it for you, a pretty handy option actually (even if you do have fast Internet).

PUTTING IT TO THE TEST
When I first began testing Aframe I wanted to upload a couple of Sony XDCAM tapes, build a string-out, export an AAF, download the high-resolution masters, and edit inside of Avid Media Composer. For the most part I was able to do all of that with little help. So let’s start from the beginning. Aframe has a simple login interface that sends you straight to a dashboard that can be customized and suited for the production depending on what your specific needs are and the role your workers have.

Once logged in, you are brought to a list of all your projects. A project is a way to either organize your uploads or create rough edits. Think of them like buckets to drop your media in, including a section for documents which is handy if you want to send field notes with the footage instead of a separate email — everything in one place is always nice. I immediately created a project where I uploaded two Sony XDCAM discs worth of footage (over 40GBs). I uploaded the raw disc folder structure, and Aframe immediately began transcoding it; my media was then available for logging and organizing.

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When uploading footage you have the option of where to put your media — do you want it in a large general library? Do you want it in a separate collection just for B-roll? Maybe you want to make a new collection — the choice is yours. I uploaded footage from a spotty WiFi connection because I really wanted to test the ability to pause and interrupt footage uploads as well as test how long it would really take with a junk connection. Aframe has definitely put effort into pausing, stopping, and restarting uploads because some cloud-based workflows say they can pause, stop, and restart but they really can’t. Aframe really can pause, stop, and restart.

It took a while to upload those tapes, like eight hours. Not because of Aframe, but in the real world not everyone has 100Mbit connections yet. Again, I wanted to see what would happen if you uploaded on a connection like one you would find at Starbucks. What I found was, the person uploading and downloading the raw footage should definitely be in a position where they can harness the fastest Internet speeds possible, or it may be hard to work. It would obviously get frustrating uploading two tapes a day and would not cost be effective at all.

Aframe not only gives you the ability to edit rough cuts, it also gives you the ability to set a standard codec you want all of your footage transcoded to. So you can upload the raw media, transcode to a proxy resolution, as well as to a common codec to conform your edits to. Even if you have iPhone, GoPro, AVC-HD, ProRes 422, or Avid DNX HD based videos, Aframe can take them all and bring commonality between them. I love that feature. You always have access to the transcodes and the raw media in case of a problem or if someone has the bright idea to switch from Avid DNX to Apple ProRes after everything has been transcoded.

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Once your media is uploaded and Aframe quickly transcodes to a Web-ready codec, you can review your clips in your Web browser, add notes, and even send out the footage to be logged. Remember everything that is logged is saved with the media and can be exported along with the media to be relinked inside of your NLE, saving tons of time.

Aframe lets you export an AAF for Avid Media Composer, XML for FCP 7, or XML for Adobe Premiere. I was a little weary on the AAF and relinking abilities Aframe was touting, but it worked. I exported a rough edit from Aframe as an AAF, dragged it into a bin where all my clips and subclips came in with markers attached. I was able to relink to the media I had previously ingested from XDCAM disc on a Sony U1 drive locally and begin editing. With a little assistant editor magic I was able to make this work, Avid relinking is not for the faint of heart.

Probably one of my favorite parts of the Aframe software is its sharing feature. This is really a time and money saver. Inside of Aframe you can send a clip or stringout with notes attached to anyone. Not just someone who is a paid member of your group. You can send someone a link, and with a quick registration they can watch and even download the proxy or full resolution file if you give them the proper rights. It’s even possible to set an expiration date for the link to expire.

On that same collaboration note, if you need a quick blind FTP for a collaborator to upload work to, Aframe gives you the ability to create a blind FTP that you can only see the contents of, really handy. Those two features alone stop you from having to use a YouTube or Drop Box account, I love time and money-saving features like those.

SUMMING UP
In the end, the real money saver here is in time. If you need to have footage quickly logged before it gets back to home base from anywhere in the world, Aframe is for you. You can eliminate the purchase of redundant storage with Aframe’s backups in two separate locations on opposite sides of the country; you can eliminate the slow snail-mail deliveries and stress of shipping for that matter of hard drives (shaving days off your ingest) and logging delays; and you can access all of your footage instantly for paper edits or to download full high-resolution clips for color correcting and online.

Did you want to online or mix in London or Los Angeles? No problem, either way the footage can be accessed using Aframe at any time.

Brady Betzel is an editor at Bunim Murray Productions (www.bunim-murray.com), a reality television production company. He is one of the editors on Bad Girls Club. His typical tools at work are Avid Symphony, Adobe After Effects CC, and Adobe Photoshop CC. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter, @allbetzroff.

 


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