Adobe Anywhere taps the cloud, lets low-power PCs edit video

Adobe Anywhere screenshot

At this week’s International Broadcasters Convention in Amsterdam, Adobe raised eyebrows with the unveiling of its Adobe Anywhere technology. Adobe Anywhere isn’t a new piece of software; it’s a technology that Adobe plans to bake into Adobe Premiere and Adobe Prelude which enables remote collaboration at a previously-impossible level of sophistication and immediacy.

To implement Adobe Anywhere, a production house first creates a Collaboration Hub, an online server where all project and media files will be stored. Team members can log in and work on a single version of the file, tracking whatever data the facility deems most important.

So far, so ordinary; there are lots of media management systems that store projects on a server so that footage loggers, assistant editors, editors and VFX people can track changes. The exciting part about Anywhere is the one that none of the editors will (hopefully) ever notice. Previous remote-collaboration tools for video depended on creating a cache of video files on the user’s computer, or else having the user’s computer access the video from a server as though it was accessing them from its own hard drive, and doing all the streaming and rendering itself.

On an Adobe Anywhere setup, the server does all the work. The client computer where the editor works merely sends edit commands to the server, and the server does all the file manipulation, rendering, linking, and playback. It uses Adobe’s Mercury Streaming Engine to stream the relevant frames of video to the user. To speed up packet delivery, the streaming is highly responsive to the user’s moment-to-moment needs: For example, if Anywhere detects that the user’s preview window is only 50 percent of the size of the actual frame, it will automatically scale down the resolution of the streamed image.

Anywhere also promises interesting ways of allowing simultaneous collaboration. Existing collaborative editing environments resolve conflicts between editors by not allowing them to happen; one user checks out a project, or a bin within a project, and it’s locked to all other users. But in an extensive interview with FX Guide, Adobe Senior Project Manager Michael Coleman says that the system will “allow people to collaborate on the same media at the same time, and we manage the conflicts should anything occur.”

The implications for large post-production environments are tremendous. Like the remote gaming system OnLive, Anywhere takes processing pressure off of the client computer. A light-duty machine like the MacBook Air will be at no disadvantage compared to a beefier machine, since the only computer that needs serious processing power is the server. By keeping all project, media, and render files in one place, the endless relinking issues of other media management systems will become as dim a memory as manipulating a SCSI dipswitch. Allowing loggers, editors, and VFX people to work on the same files simultaneously will break through many of the most irritating bottlenecks in the post-production process, making time-is-money managers very happy, as will the ability to cut down on expensive video cards in a multi-station post house.

A lot of question marks remain. How will the conflict-resolution tools work in practice?  Will bandwidth requirements make clip scrubbing so irritating that it’s useless?  And will Premiere’s infamous tendency to bloat projects render the client-computer hardware savings null?  In the hopes of convincing users that this is all for real, Adobe plans to roll out Anywhere slowly, allowing preview access for a few select production houses before including it in their retail products.

But if Anywhere does what’s promised, it could enable a dramatically more immediate process for international video collaboration. We’ll soon be in a world where a photographer can be shooting in Karachi in the morning, an assistant editor in India marks up the footage, a post house in New York cuts it, a reporter in Islamabad watches the cut and writes a voice-over which is immediately recorded by an actor in L.A. and laid onto the timeline by a sound editor in Chicago, and the whole thing is delivered to television before lunch-time.