Can I Really Edit Video from a NAS?

A man operates a video camera against a backlight. Photograph by Jon Flobrant.
Photo by Jon Flobrant

As more still photographers move into motion, and as more video teams look at networked storage, one question comes up over and over: Can I edit video from a NAS?

And to the delight of creators everywhere, the simple answer? Yes!

Now, with that out of the way, let’s throw a wet blanket on it. Depending on your needs, your editing suite of choice, and the resolution and codecs you’re working with, it may not be cheap to edit video directly from your NAS. As we’re all well aware in the creative community, video files are huge, and they’re only getting more huge as 4K and higher workflows become more common. (And 4K and higher workflows are only becoming more common as content networks are requiring 4K UHD and DCI 4K even to consider small-time indie projects.)

If you’re currently editing 1080 or 2K from a magnetic HDD or an older SSD, you may well find the transition to NAS editing to be painless. A gigabit Ethernet network (or modern WiFi) will provide very reasonable throughput for many workflows — similar to a single spinning hard disk — where you’re working with H.264, H.265, reasonably compressed ProRes, or proxies or optimized media.

If you’re working directly with 4K or higher-res formats, that’s where things can start to get costly in short order. Getting the speeds you’d want for high-resolution, low-compression or raw formats requires bumping up to 10 gigabit Ethernet, and that comes with increased cable costs (that old Cat5 rolling around in your junk drawer won’t cut it), increased NAS costs (only higher-end models offer 10GbE ports or accept 10GbE cards), and a cost of roughly $200 per computer for a 10 gigabit Ethernet interface (unless you’ve got an oddball, extremely recent workstation). If you need more than 1–2 computers to access the NAS at 10 gigabit speeds, you also need to account for the cost of a 10GbE switch, which will currently set you back around $600 for 8 ports.

These costs grow again as your team grows; maintaining that performance as more and more people are accessing high-res video over the network requires a beefy NAS with plenty of disk throughput and a powerful processor.

Determining whether a NAS solution is a good fit for your budget, expectations, and needs is a task where a consultant like Panachroma can be helpful. Leaning on the experience and knowledge of an IT consultant can help you choose a solution that’ll work for your real-world needs.

Alternative Solutions

If your needs are more modest — one or two computers, and no need for more on the horizon — there are a couple alternative options that might be more budget friendly.

First is the good ol’ external drive. If your team is only a couple people, it can make great sense to use a standard gigabit NAS as a master storage location, and then to copy your working files onto fast external media. This tends not to become unruly until you’re a larger team, and it’s easy to find affordable USB and Thunderbolt drives to meet your needs. And when you do upgrade to over-the-wire editing in the future, your original NAS purchase isn’t wasted: you can put it to use as part of your backup solution, letting your fancy new 10GbE NAS send backups and snapshots to your old and trusty 1GbE NAS.

Second is a hybrid solution like QNAP offers in their TVS NAS line. Several QNAP TVS models offer Thunderbolt 3 ports, eliminating the need for dedicated 10GbE networking equipment. Instead of needing a 10GbE adapter for each system, the NAS itself is a 10GbE adapter, and the only thing you need is a certified Thunderbolt 3 cable for each user. (The tradeoff is that Thunderbolt 3 cables are limited to 2 meters; if you have multiple users, you’re going to be a little cozy and may have to rearrange your office.) QNAP’s Thunderbolt 3 NASes also feature 10GbE and gigabit Ethernet ports, so they’re equipped with a full suite of connectivity options and the capability to grow with your studio.

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