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How Streambox cracked remote grading

In recent years, editors and key creatives have been able to step away from their suites, using tools like KVM and cloud-based workspaces to collaborate from any location, at any time. For colourists, progress has been slower. The colour fidelity grading requires has kept clients and colourists firmly in the suite (or, at a pinch, in linked suites at different locations), with little of the flexibility editors have started to enjoy. Until Streambox


Liz Sunter

Streambox’s unique “pixel perfect” codec and transport protocol permits you to share much higher resolution content over IP networks, with full colour fidelity and a high degree of reliability. Their solutions provide streams of 12-bit 4:4:4 HDR footage to be shared over public or private internet connections, even if they’re high resolution or high frame rate. Alan Latterri of Instinctual states, “the fact that Streambox performs reliably over the public internet is pretty remarkable and a key differentiator.”


Freeing up bandwidth with LDMP

In order to transport video footage over IP networks, mezzanine compression is applied to reduce files to a size the network can handle. There are several established mezzanine codecs, all of which claim to be able to deliver 10-bit 4:4:4 footage at various resolutions, but none have ever managed to retain grading-level colour fidelity over a low bandwidth connection. 

That’s because traditional transport protocols don’t establish any kind of feedback loop between the transmitter/encoder and receiver/decoder. Instead, they rely on forward error correction – a process in which the encoder builds enough redundancy into its transmission that the receiver should be able to reconstruct the file at the other end, even if some data is lost or corrupted. Building in this redundancy uses a lot of bandwidth and reduces the overall quality of the signal being sent. 

Streambox use LDMP (Low Delay Multi-Path Protocol) technology, a transport protocol they developed which maintains constant contact between the encoder and decoder. Because the two endpoints are capable of verifying and resending data, you can get away with far less redundancy, and dedicate that bandwidth to moving higher resolution, more colour-accurate footage with the same low levels of loss and latency. In fact, you can set acceptable latency parameters for your workflow and Streambox solutions will optimise the available network paths to ensure you get the quality and speed of stream you need. According to Alex Teletsine, CTO of Streambox, “the optimised low delay protocol, coupled with a global constellation of cloud servers, provides reliable real-time cinematic 4K DCI 4:4:4 reviews between distant locations like Los Angeles to London without dedicated and expensive Fibre or MPLS drops.”


ACT-L5: The pixel perfect codec

But it’s not just their transport protocol that makes Streambox solutions unique. Rather than any of the established mezzanine codecs, they use ACT-L5, an adaptive bitrate codec of their own design which uses “dynamic bandwidth support” to ensure all of your colour information reaches its destination. 

The codec can preserve 12-bit 4:4:4 at up to 25fps for 4K, 10-bit 4:2:2 4K at 40fps, or 2K Cinema DCI footage, or up to 60fps for UHD footage. It supports a range of colour spaces including Rec. 709, Rec. 2020 and DCI P3. It has native support for high dynamic range and high frame rate footage thanks to its uniquely efficient encoding, which prioritises colour information to a greater degree than other mezzanine formats. 


What kind of workflows does this enable? 

Streambox's solutions enable many kinds of contribution workflows, from live sports broadcast to digital signage. Within post-production and grading, though, there are four main use cases. 

Pre-grade preparation Streambox can deliver a high-quality signal to almost any computer, notebook or iOS device. Facilities have found that supplying a director or producer with an iPad loaded with Streambox’s HD/HDR Mobile Media Player is the quickest way to share LUTs, sample footage and potential looks with key creatives while they’re travelling or still in production.  

Collaborative grading Using Streambox Cloud Services, users can create private grading sessions where colourists can work on the same project in 4K HDR, UHD HDR, 2K HDR, and HD HDR, or collaborate in real time with VFX artists and other departments. If you’re working with artists from another company who do not have a Cloud Service subscription, you can use Streambox Sessions to give them temporary access to projects without the need for them to purchase any dedicated hardware. As Alex Bickel of Color Collective explains, “the iOS based app is changing the game for us by having our clients watching the color grade right before their eyes”.

International and multi-site approvals Post facilities are using Streambox to get client approval on a grade in much the same way they would on an edit. For example, a facility in London could use the collaborative tools in DaVinci Resolve to give an LA-based colourist access to their systems. The facility could then use Streambox to take a real-time view of the grade from that system and share it with stakeholders in New York and Hong Kong, who could then give instant feedback via Streambox’s annotation tools as part of Chroma encoder systems. The same workflow has worked for companies who want to connect regional and central offices. 

A key factor in making these collaborative workflows possible is Streambox’s security. It uses 128-bit encryption out of the box, which can be upgraded to 192 or 254-bit for a fee. If clients don’t have a Streambox licence of their own, you can use Streambox Sessions to give them temporary viewing rights to footage hosted in the cloud, with access to the session protected by a unique security code. 

In addition to this, the workflow holds up whether your client is using an SDI or HDMI monitor. A Streambox Chroma or Chroma X encoder can output Dolby PQ metadata to a Dolby Content Mapping Unit, which then converts the footage for display on consumer Dolby Vision screens through a process called HDMI tunnelling – great if you want to see how your project will look when it’s out in the wild without compromising security. 

Remote screening room and suite access Not everyone has the budget or space for a top of the range grading suite or client viewing theatre. Streambox have partnered with Dolby in a number of locationsto enable facilities to stream footage to their state of the art screening rooms for client review. We’ve also helped facilities stream their footage to high-end projection rooms so that they can ensure their grade holds up at full HFR, HDR, IMAX resolution, without ever having to move their footage off their servers.  


What do you need to get started? 

Chroma encoders and decoders There are a range on the market, and which you’ll need will depend on which resolutions, frame rates and colour spaces you need to support. However, the Chroma X is a powerful small form factor unit that offers you a future ready solution. 

Streambox Cloud Services This suite of online tools permits colourists and other artists to meet in the cloud and work together in real time. It delivers dependable global file transport, encrypted video sharing, review and annotation tools, and to the Streambox Sessions functionality mentioned earlier.  

Signing up for Cloud Services also means you can deploy live streaming workflows even with no dedicated hardware and rely on scaleable, software-defined encoders and decoders which can be deployed ad hoc. “Streambox Cloud Services offers no compromise quality, global connectivity, and flexible management of media up to 4K DCI resolution in real-time to perform remote colour grading, editorial review, and content approvals with sharing of content in environments from viewing on a hand held device all the way to digital cinema theatres,” explains Bob Hildeman, CEO of Streambox.

DaVinci Resolve (or another sympathetic grading system) Blackmagic Design have been introducing collaborative features to Resolve over their last few iterations, including remote workflow tools and integration. While Streambox encoders and decoders will happily work with any grading software, it is recommended to sticking with a provider that seems committed to making their product more collaborative, not least because a colourist will probably be more comfortable and efficient remoting in to their usual grading environment and then sharing that space with others than connecting to an entirely different system – Resolve and Streambox can work together to achieve this. 


How can we help? 

We can help you design your Streambox workflow, provide you with all the hardware and networking you need, and then support you once you’re up and running. Our Via24 solutions are already supporting some of the biggest names in Soho, and can be tailored to suit your needs – wherever you need your signal to get to and however secure you need it to be. 


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