I’m sure that most people reading this have at least heard the term cloud computing. If you’re not familiar with the term, in a nutshell, it’s doing your computer work as usual, but the data, and sometimes the applications, are online. You’re not working directly from your local hard drives; you’re working with data and/or applications that run on secure internet servers. Many say this is the wave of the future and for good reason. Cloud computing gives us the huge advantage of being able to access our work from almost anywhere in the world. Even while sitting in an airport waiting for a flight, or in a restaurant or a cafe that provides internet access, you can pop open your laptop or mobile computing device and access your work. It really opens new doors for distance collaborative work. For example, as a trainer, consultant, or as a producer, if I forget class outlines, actor release forms, client contracts, demo videos, audio files, photos, and so forth, I can always access them directly from my iDisk with any computing device with internet access (even my iPhone/iPad) from out there in “the cloud.”
And now video production has hit the cloud! I have apps on my iPhone (and very nice, usable, professional ones at that) for writing scripts, storyboarding with location photos and voice notes, running a portable teleprompter, logging shots, and much more. I can send and receive all of this data via email. What’s more, I can now log all of my footage and assets to the cloud from any location I have internet access and then share it with crew members and clients, automate notifications, and so on.
The cloud application that makes this possible in the video world comes from Focus Enhancements, best known in our space for its compact DTE (direct-to-edit) camera-mountable digital video recorders. Focus MediaShare is an online content management solution with a direct-to-web workflow, which is good for sharing media in distance collaborative projects and in distance review/approval situations.
Focus MediaShare runs online and is accessible via any web browser. Thus, the “client application” is updated at all times. The interface has a large main area where thumbnails of your media are listed and viewed and a column down the left side (Figure 1, below).
Figure 1. The main MediaShare interface
First in this column is Workspaces, which contains your various Projects. As named, each Project is a video project you’re working on. All the media you need to access online for the project is listed here for organizational purposes. Each Project has a Video and an Other section, where (appropriately enough) video clips are listed under Video, and all other files are listed under Other.
The main interface also shows an FTP Dropbox for files uploaded via an FTP client such as Fetch. For example, you can set up a Destination in Compressor so that you can encode and upload clips directly to the FTP Dropbox from inside Final Cut Pro 7, using the Share function or by using the Send To Compressor function. You can specify whether clips uploaded via My FTP Dropbox should stay there or be moved to a specific Project listing.
There is also a section for Workflow Modules, which as of this writing included Transcription Services (value-added human transcription available as needed) and Web Broadcasts. There’s also an area for Tags, Filters, and Activities. The top right of the screen has three buttons for accessing your Account details, an online Help button, and the Logout button. The bottom right has two buttons for switching between icon view and list view of your media files, and there is a sizing slider for the icons to the bottom left.
The Workspaces section in the left column has several useful sections. First, you can create various Projects in it. Each Project has its own set of media. The My FTP Dropbox is for media uploaded via an FTP client such as Fetch; it is mostly used for large, full-resolution video files or for clients to supply media. There are also Search, Trash, Transcription Service, and Web Broadcasts workspaces here that you can access, as well as a Tags Filter work pane. Tags, which are similar to keywords, help you filter out what you don’t want to deal with, making it easier to find what you need more quickly.
There is a built-in transcription service that you can access from inside the workspace. This is a professional, fee-based service in which real people do your audio transcription, ensuring that you get 100% accurate transcripts.
At the bottom left of the workspace, there is an Activities pane showing who logged in, uploaded, and viewed and when they did so. This is a handy feature for keeping track of the overall workflow traffic. Of course, email notification is available when you use the review and approval scheme. This basically marks a clip for review/approval and allows you to select other users registered in the system to receive email regarding the status update.
Playback of clips and stills is very clear and responsive, even in full-screen mode. These are Flash proxies; they’re not full-rez files, but they’re clear enough for professional use. All in all, it’s a very useful system. It isn’t for everyone doing video work, but MediaShare could be very helpful for some small to intermediate-sized studios, as well as larger studios. It’s a great way to let your clients preview clips and projects, upload media from the field or remote offices, and share assets in the cloud.
Email notifications can be configured for various events and registered users on the system. A producer can be emailed whenever someone uploads a video, annotates an asset, and the like. This can be a very handy feature. Even though MediaShare’s implementation of this feature is very basic, it’s still very useful in a collaborative environment. Again, this is not Final Cut Server, but it could be very useful for those who need basic collaborative services.
The ability to embed lineups into broadcast channels easily and quickly into any webpage using MediaShare is very well thought out. In a couple of places, you can copy the embedding code and then paste it into any webpage, which is very simple to do. There’s also an option to turn on/off autoplay and to link directly.
You can also publish to a Web Broadcast. This is a really nice section in the Workflow Modules pane. There, you can create a Lineup, a series of one or more videos, arranged in the order you wish. You can set each individual video to be downloadable or not and change the title and/or description of each. Then, you can create a new Broadcast Channel. In this Channel you choose one or more Lineups to use. You can choose from a few different playback control schemes, each with its own color and layout.
You can preview the Channel inside MediaShare, and the embed code is ready to be copied and pasted into any webpage (Figure 2, below). It’s very simple, and it’s a pretty cool way to present several clips at once to a client or other crew members in remote locations.
Figure 2. You can create a Broadcast Channel and preview it here inside MediaShare.
Metadata and Annotations
Metadata is important these days, and Focus Enhancements is all about metadata. Of course, if you use something such as Focus’ FS-5 hard drive recorder and customize a lot of metadata in it, that all carries over into MediaShare. You can also customize metadata inside MediaShare. In Figure 3 (below) I’ve added fields for Camera Person, Producer, and Project. It takes just two mouse clicks—very quick, very convenient.
Figure 3. Customizing metadata in MediaShare
You can also create Tags, assign specific Tags to Workspaces and to assets, and use them as filters to perform searches for your assets (Figure 4, below), all in about two mouse clicks. Annotations can be attached to a clip at specific points that are supposed to be available inside MediaShare. I found this feature nonfunctional. I hope Focus fixes this problem; in my time using MediaShare, I couldn’t find any way to read and share my annotations as explained in the MediaShare knowledgebase. As with all the added metadata and Tags, annotations do not export with the clip and are not available inside Final Cut Pro.
Figure 4. Managing Tags and assigning them to Workspaces
There are some concerns about security with cloud computing. Although this is a serious concern, when information is compromised, it’s the exception rather than the rule. MediaShare uses Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) and a proprietary file identification system to ensure that your data is safe and well-protected, among the many other security measures Amazon Web Services (AWS) implements.
As a former IT engineer, I’ve been very impressed overall with cloud computing security, and especially with AWS. It’s a solid, secure system. Statistically, you’re more likely to have someone break into your home or office and physically steal your computers than you are of having your cloud computing data hacked. For more detailed, geeky info about the AWS security measures, download the AWS security white paper here.
There is a learning curve to this cloud app, just like with any other new piece of software or hardware. Most of the features in MediaShare are easy to figure out. But it’s a hunt-and-peck discovery process. There is no user manual or tutorial video library. You can access a Knowledge Base via the Help menu, but I found the information there to be very surface-level, and not all of the features worked as explained in these documents. The few videos in the knowledgebase have no sound, just a mouse cursor racing all over, and I found them a bit confusing. I see the buttons and the check boxes, but what do they really do, and why would I use them? The descriptions were obviously written by advertising people, not professional trainers, and serve only to get you hyped up about using them, not telling you step by step how to do anything.
This is the second serious issue I have with MediaShare, and I hope Focus works to improve this. In the Help menu, clicking Submit A Bug takes you to the company’s support webpage; it doesn’t lead to a bug report form, as other software apps do.
Pricing for MediaShare is reasonable if your business needs these services. As of this writing, there were two packages. Basic, which sells for $79 per month, allows you a maximum of 10 project folders with a total of 10GB of storage space. The website says nothing about broadcast channels with the Basic package, so I’m not sure if it comes with any at all. To me, this would defeat half the purpose of this product. The Pro package has a maximum of 20 project folders, five web broadcast channels, and 20GB of total storage space.
The transcription services built into the app come with two pricing schemes. The first is $3 per clip plus $1.50 per minute for a 72-hour turnaround time. The second is $3 per clip plus $2.25 per minute for a 24-hour turnaround time. Keep in mind that this is a human transcription service, so you get professional, accurate transcripts that are less likely to need correcting or second-guessing than an electronically generated equivalent.
MediaShare isn’t as powerful as a full-fledged asset management and automation application such as Final Cut Server, which you’d be spending a lot more money on to set up and implement. MediaShare is a smaller system; it’s easier to implement, and it’s geared toward smaller operations or studios that need some form of cloud-based collaboration tool or a cloud-based review-and-approval tool in its most basic form. I wish the metadata and annotations would export with the clip, but it’s a fine workflow without it if that’s not vital to you. And you can’t load it up with a full documentary’s worth of media due to the 20GB storage limit (in the Pro package).
The most serious problem I have with this product is its complete lack of “useful” documentation, which I find very odd. Even though most users would figure out most of the basic functions just fine after spending enough time with it, they would still need to do a lot of hunting and pecking; a proper user manual or tutorial video would save time on the learning curve. Support is not immediate, but it’s friendly.
MediaShare isn’t for everyone. But for those studios for which this cloud app fills a need, it’s a great tool to have available, as long as you have the time to learn it by self-discovery and don’t need metadata and annotations to function outside of MediaShare itself. I also hope to see Focus fix the nonfunctional annotations feature before this review hits the stands.
Ben Balser (benb at bbalser.com) is an Apple Certified Master Trainer and Support Professional based in Louisiana. He produces media, consults for studios, and teaches media production nationally.