I recently was posed with a relatively simple quandary from a studio:

How can I get edits which need review out to non tech savvy producers for approval so they can:
A) easily view the edit (did I mention easily?)
B) stay out of the edit room.

Of course, sometimes A) means burning a DVD or laying off a tape, which is time consuming, not secure, and let’s face it, decidedly not green.  It also can eliminate FTPing a file to a server to then be downloaded and watched as a viable solution, as sometimes this walking and talking at the same time complication can cause more time in tech support than just letting them in the edit room, which violates B).

Aside from my column and proposed workflows with Final Cut Server, I have something even simpler…and in 2 flavors.

Scenario 1:  Small scale.

What you need:

Your Edit Bay NLE
Generic Computer (Mac, most likely)
AppleTV with Video Monitor (HDMI)
Extras: Encoding solution, Shared storage, same LAN access.

Procedure:  Editor exports a full QuickTime file in the appropriate H.264 format for AppleTV, to a shared network drive.  AppleTV runs off of iTunes, so your generic computer picks up the H.264 file, which sync (or streams) to your AppleTV.  Now, the producer can view the cut in the comfort of the plush couch of his 4 wall, and not in the edit room.  This can be streamlined even further by having the editor export a QT Reference to a watch folder, which the encoding solution would pickup (make sure all volumes containing the referenced media can be seen by the encoder) and proceed with the H.264 encode, then sending the file to the generic computer running iTunes.  Having all of the satellite AppleTVs stream from the 1 machine makes media management very easy.

Limitations?

5 AppleTVs can sync to 1 iTunes Library.
1 AppleTV can stream from up to 5 computers.
AppleTV is specific in what formats it will play.

Scenario 2:  Larger Scale

What you need:
Your Edit Bay NLE
Several Mac Minis with DVI to HDMI cables (for a Plasma / LCD display), Apple Remote.
Extras: Encoding solution, Shared storage, same LAN access.

Same concept applies: Editor exports a QT or QT reference, and either the 3rd party encoding solution delivers the file to a shared network drive, or the NLE does.

Here is where the Mac Mini comes into play.

OS access is a no-no for a 2 year old.  And for Producers – for the same reason.  So, here is what I did:

Parental Controls Preference Pane

Parental Controls Preference Pane (Click to Enlarge)

Create an admin account on the Mac Mini.  While in this account, create a new user (“Producer”), and enable Parental Controls on the account.  In Parental Controls on the Producer account, activate “Use Simple Finder” and “Only allow selected applications”.  In this box, select the application Front Row.  Make other changes at your discretion, but these are the biggies.  This will ensure that this user has limited access to OS functions and can only run Front Row.

Now, we need a way to have the Mac Mini see the shared / network drive without user intervention.  Automator is an easy way to accomplish this.

Open Automator.  Create a workflow that:

Gets Specified Servers and make sure to put the username and password in the URL; i.e.: afp://username:password@192.168.1.1/DRIVE_FOLDER_WITH_ENCODED_MEDIA

Add a “Connect to Servers” Action.

You can download the workflow here: producer_automount.

Automator Network Share Mount Workflow

Automator Network Share Mount Workflow (Click to Enlarge)

Save this as an Application.

Run this to test.  Does it work?  Great!

Now, create an Alias to this shared / network drive.  Place this alias in the Movies folder on your Producer account.  This allows Front Row to see movies located on the shared / network volume.  You can change the name of the alias if you wish to something a bit more verbose.

Place the Automator Application you’ve created in the Login Items under the Producer account.  Also, add Front Row.  Set the system to auto boot into the Producer account.  In System Preferences, disable any Bluetooth keyboard / mouse options – so the Mac doesn’t look for Bluetooth devices.  If this is not disabled, the Mac will look for devices on bootup, potentially stalling the launching of the Automator Application and Front Row.  Reboot.  As the system is rebooting, disconnect your keyboard, mouse, and make sure you have your Apple Remote handy.

When the computer reboots, it will boot into the Producer account, auto mount the network volume which has the media you want them to see, then launches Front Row.

Now, using the Apple Remote, navigate through Front Row, and through the MOVIES section.  Because we placed an alias to the network drive (which the computer is connected to via our Automator script), Front Row can now see that drive.

Success!

Now, you have the ability to play back ANY file format QT can play back, from an unlimited number of machines AND restrict access to what clips can be seen by mounting different network shares though Automator.

As an added bonus, if the Producer decides to think outside the proverbial box, and hit the MENU key on the remote while at the Front Row main menu – it will take them to the OS desktop.  Surprise!  No keyboard and no mouse make tampering very difficult, PLUS you’ve already locked out OS functions with Parental Controls.  All they can do is turn the Mac Mini volume up and down…. and simply hitting the MENU button relaunches Front Row.

Success! Easy edit review with a nice Apple sheen.