The Reality of 8K-to-Cloud over 5G

by Chris Chinnock, Executive Director, 8K Association

Today, entertainment production can be done in the cloud using proxies or lower resolution versions of the camera files to create dailies, do editing, composite visual effects and perform color correction. But if original camera files were in the cloud and could be accessed easily, that would speed up production and allow more flexibility.

Many believe that 5G networks will be the key to allowing the original camera files to be uploaded to the cloud enabling production from remote locations in ways that has not been possible to date.  Movie Labs believes in this vision but there remain some hurdles to realize it – especially if we are talking about 8K resolution camera files.

Let’s start with the data rates.  A RED MONSTRO DSMC2 camera recording 8K full-format REDCODE RAW to MINI-MAG media at the codec’s lightest 5:1 compression ratio tops out at a data rate of just under 300 MB/sec, or 2.4 Gbps.  Uploading this in real time to the cloud over a 5G network is possible, but is it realistic today?

First, let’s note that 5G can be offered in three major bands – low, mid and mmWave.  Only the mmWave band can support this kind of data rates.  Some smartphones and hot spot equipment can support this band, but can the network?

In the U.S., the answer today is mostly no.  Verizon is establishing mmWave service in 60 cities; AT&T in 35 cities and Sprint/T-Mobile is not installing mmWave towers.  These towers can support connections to 5G capable smartphones, but the signal may then be relayed onto an older 4G LTE core network, negating the data rate and latency advantages of mmWave connections (so-call non-standalone networks).  Standalone networks will have a mmWave 5G core, and the good news is that AT&T and Verizon are expected to turn on these mmWave 5G cores in 2021.

If a production is happening in one of the major cities offering 5G mmWave service, does that solve our transport issue?  Not necessarily.  The production studio, lot or location setting may not have a 5G mmWave tower within rage.  mmWave signal only cover a mile or so and need to be line of sight for the most part (they can sometimes bounce around and find a way in through a window).  As a result, you may have to deploy additional mmWave cells to get to the network.

If you are working outside, a line-of-site connection to the camera or hot spot may not be an issue, but it will be if the shoot is indoors or at a sports complex. To ensure high data rates and low latency, the radio signals will need to be converted back to an electrical signal to get inside the building where a new 5G mmWave cell can be used to re-establish the network.  Will this conversion maintain the high data rates needed?  Unclear.

Assuming you have now solved all of the above issues, you are still susceptible to network congestion that can slow the data rate and increase latency. There are two possible solutions.  The first is to ask the network provider to dedicate specific bandwidth for your project (network slicing).  The second is to establish a private 5G network at the studio or location shoot.  And remember, it is the upload speed that matters in this use case. Both options have advantages and disadvantages, so the solution needs to be considered carefully.

While mmWave 5G networks promise Gbps speeds, it would be far more prudent to assume they will deliver much lower data rates – says in 300-500 Mbps range.  If the RED RAW codec is pushed to its maximum of 22:1 compression, that still means about 480 Mbps. As a result, many factors must align to solve the transport part of the 8K camera-to-cloud problem.

According to Michael Cioni, Global SVP Innovation at Frame.io, “Today’s 5G world is in its infancy so leveraging 5G’s full bandwidth potential for camera file transmission is not yet possible.  In my extensive testing, 5G today is weaker on average than 4G.  The good news is that 5G maturity is moving at a very fast rate and will be ever improving.  But for productions exploring media transmission in the field, today’s bonded 4G LTE infrastructure is more available and reliable.  But 4G LTE network speeds will only satisfy small files or proxy files to upload.  Today, original camera files (OCF) can only be imported into the cloud through ultra-high-speed fiber connections.”

Cioni also explained that over time, 5G will achieve speeds in which OCF can transmit to the cloud.  But as that transition happens, it will reveal a new problem about cloud storage costs.  “Cloud companies have not setup storage pricing for professional video archiving.  Today’s cloud storage model is based on files that are generally smaller than 1GB (on average).  Professional media can shoot a 1GB file in as little as 5 seconds,” noted Cioni.  “If you do the math, the storage costs for OCF become cost prohibitive for the market so a change in pricing needs to happen prior to the maturity of 5G bandwidth.”

In conclusion, the dream is still real, but challenges remain on the road to nirvana. To learn more, check out this white paper.