Storing 4K Digital Content

The evolution of yesteryear’s grainy, black and white televisions to today’s dazzling high-definition monitors confirms that we prefer our content displayed in higher resolution. This is why filmmakers and videographers are starting to shoot in 4K, which offers four times the pixels of 1080p.shutterstock_159972956

Granted, consumers currently have no means to play 4K content, but 4K-capable monitors are available, affordable, and selling today. Additionally, as Internet bandwidth becomes more plentiful, content distributors will start offering shows and films in 4K resolution. Consequently, it is only a matter of time before 4K content is consumed at home, and productions that shoot at this resolution are simply anticipating the future.

But storage becomes a key consideration. The original footage must be stored while editors work on compressed copies, which also must reside somewhere. Storage also has to deliver multiple streams of content to workstations. When working with 4K, however, four times the pixels means four times the information of 1080p.  Videomaker magazine worked out the numbers (www.videomaker.com/article/f6/17189-5-reasons-you-might-want-to-wait-on-4k-ultra-hd-video-production-for-now). An hour of standard-definition digital video needs about 12.7GB of storage, or some 217MB per minute. An hour of uncompressed 4K content requires almost 110GB of storage, or about 2GB per minute.

Consequently, with everything being equal, 4K footage demands far more capacious storage solutions than footage shot in 1080p. Fortunately, there are codecs that allow editors to work in compressed 4K. Plus, the cost of storage continues its inexorable decline.

When it comes to capacity, the most cost-effective strategy remains spinning disks. Solid-state drives (SSDs) offer superior I/O performance and their prices are dropping, but they still cost substantially more per gigabyte than spinning disks. But traditional hard drives must offer the throughput to stream multiple streams of higher resolution footage without latency. Disks should have a rotational speed of at least 7200 rpm and offer at least 1GigE connectivity, if not 10GigE or 4/8/16 Fibre Channel.

Another issue is whether to configure storage for NAS or a SAN. Either approach will work. The decision rests on whether data will be streamed from one storage system (NAS) or from a cluster of storage solutions (SAN). Of course, either option demands enough storage for all the data.

The key takeaway is 4K productions need greater storage capacity and performance to support streaming very large files. Go with SSDs for their speed if budgets permit, but otherwise, make sure your spinning disks can deliver sufficient I/O throughput. Finally, contain production costs by selecting storage solutions that are robust, yet economical to purchase, scale, and operate. 4K is the future and the future starts today.