Rendering or transcoding are extremely processor intensive tasks that can occupy all available resources. So much so that if you throw too much at it your computer can end up unresponsive.
One approach is to build an expensive workstation that can handle it all. Another is to use remote rendering.
What is it and why use it?
Remote rendering is a name given to the process of offloading rendering and transcoding tasks to another computer. This is especially useful when you need to work with enormous high quality video files AND transcode at the same time.
An example of this would be in the world of ONLINE POST-PRODUCTION where the original high quality footage is worked on by colourists.
This in itself can be tough for a computer to handle as it needs to decode the video footage and apply all the grades and layered effects, but throw simultaneous rendering into the mix and you can end up with laggy performance across the board.
To combat this software like DaVinci Resolve can make use of a 2nd independent graphics card. While the 1st is dedicated to the management of effects and playback of footage, the 2nd is dedicated to rendering. However, remote rendering allows you to dedicate the resources of an entire computer to processing footage.
This is extremely useful when you are working as a DIT but need to produce multiple deliverables for the post team and create dailies for on-set review. Try doing all of that WHILE colour grading 4k ArriRAW content and you’ll find yourself in a world of hurt.
But devote an entire computer to the task and the speed of transcoding will sky rocket, or if it doesn’t then the act of multitasking will massively increase your efficiency.
Windows based machines are more powerful than Macs and give you a lot more options. But ProRes encoding (a staple of the post world) is difficult due to native prores support being non-existent on Windows machines (it’s an Apple created codec).
Technically remote rendering requires each copy of the software to be identical, but if you’re reached the point where a Windows and Mac computer can be networked together to a shared pool of storage then you could set a Mac to watch a folder and automatically transcode footage to Prores.
How do I make it work?
First of all do you have the software that supports it?
The easiest way of making it work is through DaVinci Resolve Studio. In their 12.1 update remote rendering was fully enabled with a detailed breakdown of how to make it work being available in their manual (download here).
Keep in mind you will need at least two separate licenses (one for the user and another for the remote workstation) that cost $300 each, meaning you’ll be paying just under $600 for the software alone.
Obviously you will need two computers. I won’t talk about specs but make sure they’re good enough for the task at hand AND can be connected (via 10gbe ethernet, usb 3.1, thunderbolt) to a shared pool of storage.
I’ve talked about NETWORKED ATTACHED STORAGE before so feel free to check out that post.
Because both computers will need access to the original video footage at the highest quality you’ll need the ability to connect with the NAS device at the highest speed possible.
So ideally a thunderbolt 1/2/3 or 10gbe ethernet connection (as mentioned previously).
The NAS will also need to be able to read and write at fast speeds to different computers without a performance hit, so RAID support is recommended.
There are different variations of this device with the very latest supporting thunderbolt 3. If possible choose the one with the fastest connectivity at a capacity you can afford.
The above device is a powerful server and computer in its own right. But some of the more attractive aspects of it are the variety of connectivity options, RAID support, and… well, a lot.
FYI: You don’t need to spend this much. Cheaper options are available, but this one just happens to have all the bells and whistles.
With thunderbolt and 10 gbe ports there are enough high-speed options to enable you to connect 4 computers. You could even combine those 2 10gbe ports into a single 20gbe connection.
On top of that there are 1 gbe connections available too (these are equivalent to 125 mb/s).
That is more than a single mechanical hard drive is capable of achieving. So theoretically you could use a windows remote rendering workstation (connected via a high speed option) to transcode ArriRAW to DNxHR and then set up a Mac to watch for new files and automatically transcode them to prores.
In fact you could set up watch folders on multiple machines without much of an issue. However, if you have many different computers reading and writing to the same shared storage then that could impact the performance of the device.
So… Is it worth it?
That depends if you can weigh the cost of implementation with the increase it offers you in performance and efficiency THEN come out with a favourable outcome.
After all “expensive” is relative.
If you’re making money offering services reliant on the processing of high-end footage, and this helps you increase the speed and efficiency of said services then you can off-set that initial cost with an increase in income.
Otherwise, just make sure you have deep pockets. Because it will end up being an expensive hobby.