Graphic of various video resolutions up to 4K
Determining your 4K editing needs, both now and in the near future may take some time, but it will ensure that you purchase an editing system than can handle all the projects you'll be working on, the type of footage you'll be editing and the length and complexity of the edits.

To start editing 4K video, you’ll first need to ask yourself some questions about your projects. What type of footage will you be editing: R3D, CinemaDNG, ProRes, XAVC S, mp4? How complex are your projects: single shot, single camera, multi-camera, animation, VFX? What are your output formats? How long do you have to deliver your edits? Finally, are you editing online or offline?

Offline Editing, Nothing to Do With the Web

Offline editing refers to editing a proxy of the original source footage; online editing is cutting the original material. If you don’t have to deliver right away then you can edit offline. Offline editing can also be a good option if you’re only delivering in HD. See “Getting to Know Offline Editing” for more on this topic.

Where offline editing takes more time and storage space, it allows you ease in editing your footage. It can help a less powerful system run more smoothly. If you’re working with minimal 4K footage and your final edit isn’t that long, like a short promo or a music video, offline editing may be a good option for you.

Formats Matter

Digital footage formats vary from camera to camera. Recording format makes a huge difference in meeting what your editing system requires. If you’re editing footage from 4K cameras like a GoPro HERO4, JVC GY-HMQ10, or Sony FDR-AX1, then the demands aren’t much more than that of low compression HD because the bitrates are similar. However, if you’re working with footage from RED cameras, Blackmagic Ursa Mini or Sony NEX-FS700, the raw 4K files have much higher bitrates, requiring more storage and processing power. Editing raw 4K footage takes more horsepower and storage than compressed formats. Additionally, multi-camera edits, VFX, and tight deadlines typically require a much more powerful system. 

Processing and Memory

We’ll break things down into two categories: offline editing — and limited online work — and online editing, meaning a good entry level for multiple 4K streams, VFX and color grading at or near real-time. These specs are good for both PC and Mac since there isn’t much difference in the hardware.

CPU: Processor
Offline Editing: Intel Core i7 2.3GHz four-core
Online Editing: Dual Intel Xeon 2GHz six-core

Now that most editing software supports GPU rendering, CPU power is less important than it was in the past.

GPU: Video Card
Offline Editing: NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M
Online Editing: Dual NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760M

Always check the compatibility of your editing software with your video card to ensure that GPU rendering and multiple GPUs are supported. A comparable, compatible AMD or NVIDIA GPU can be used. The GeForce cards listed above are a baseline. While many GPUs have greater video rendering power than system CPUs and RAM, remember GPUs need enough power to drive your system display monitors in addition to rendering video.
When monitoring in 4K, you can improve system performance by taking some of the workload off your GPU using a RED ROCKET card, Blackmagic Design’s DeckLink 4K Extreme or Matrox’s Mojito 4K. It’s important to note that with the developments of REDCINE-X PRO, you can now use GPU rendering instead of needing a Red Rocket card for accelerated transcoding of R3D footage.

RAM: Memory
Offline Editing: 8GB RAM
Online Editing: 32GB RAM

RAM is relatively cheap so don’t skimp here. Remember, when you’re running RAM intensive programs like Adobe’s Photoshop or After Effects concurrently with your editing software, your RAM needs may increase.

Storage

Offline Editing: dedicated 7200rpm hard drive or SSD for media
Online Editing: dedicated 7200rpm hard drive or SSD for project files and a striped RAID array

Your storage needs depend on how much source footage you expect to be working with. Generally, your media storage should be three to four times the size of the source footage of a project. For example, if you’re editing offline on a laptop, a 3TB USB 3.0 drive might be sufficient, but if you’re doing an online edit of a four-camera shoot in 4K raw, you might need a 12TB RAID.

You want to ensure that any hard drive you use spins at 7200rpm or faster for a smooth data throughput. Additionally, by storing your media and project files on separate drives from your programs and operating system, you’ll see a boost in performance. Despite the recent hype about SSDs, not all SSDs are as fast as they claim to be. SSDs are a good replacement for boot drives and project drives, but not for raid array drives unless you need greater speed. In the long run, the cost per GB of hard drives is a more affordable solution.

SSDs are a good replacement for boot drives and project drives, but not for raid array drives unless you need greater speed. In the long run, the cost per GB of hard drives is a more affordable solution.

For online editing of 4K, you need a striped RAID array of three disks or more to ensure data speed. You’ll also need a hardware RAID controller as well. Beware of less expensive RAID controllers that are software based; these are slower and use your system CPU and RAM which hinders overall performance.

Photo of server hard drive array

Motherboard

Whether you’re doing offline or online editing, you’ll want to look for a motherboard that supports all your current component needs while giving you space to expand. A good motherboard will have at least three to four PCIe x16 ports that can all be used at full speed for video cards, RAID cards and monitoring cards. ASUS, GIGABYTE and Supermicro make quality motherboards. Remember, most laptop motherboards don’t support add-on cards.

Photo of girl with motherboard

Audio

Many on-board audio chipsets pick up noise from the motherboard, noise that can sometimes be heard when you move the mouse. Dedicated audio cards don’t always solve this problem; furthermore, they take up valuable space inside your computer. Instead, you can use an external sound card. For $100, you can get M-Audio’s M-Track which combines an external sound card and a two channel mixer with two XLR inputs.

So What’s All This Going to Cost

You can purchase a properly equipped laptop to offline edit like the Dell Precision M6800, HP ZBook 17 or Apple 15-inch MacBook Pro Retina Display for less than $3,500. Combine that with a 7200rpm USB 3.0 hard drive or Thunderbolt hard drive that costs around $150 and you’re ready to edit offline. You could probably find a desktop solution for even less.

For online editing, you’ll need a custom configured or custom built system that tends to range from about $8,000 and up. There are many companies offering custom Macs and PCs for editing. HP has partnered with RED on the HP Z820 RED Edition which has built in RED card readers. Of course, if you’re a little hardware savvy, you can build your own system and save thousands.

Your Software Makes a Difference

Most editing software packages do not support all the codecs and file types used by 4K cameras. Likewise, they don’t all work well with all the video cards available. So it’s best to look at the system requirements for any post software you plan on running especially the recommended or certified video cards since these have been tested by the software company with the software. Keep in mind that often the hardware specs listed are a minimum to have the software function, unless you have a lot of patience and time to spare your going to want a bit more in system power.

Right now Adobe Premiere Pro CC and Apple Final Cut Pro X are the top editing solutions that have native support for CinemaDNG. DiVinci Resolve also has native CinemaDNG support and continues to expand its editing capabilities. Sony Vegas Pro 13 has the best support for XAVC-S and XDCam footage. REDCODE (R3D) is supported natively by all the major editing software packages and has the major advantage in post of letting you choose a playback resolution. For example you can cut 4K R3D at 1/4 resolution (1080) and have performance similar to editing offline in HD. This can save a lot of time and storage space.  Lightworks and EDIUS Pro 7 offer little in native codec support beyond R3D, although the fact that they due essentially automatically edit offline by transcoding most footage on import does insure a more stable editing environment.

Editing software updates are frequent and native support for camera files are usually a priority. Before you buy, check websites for updates to see what formats are supported.

If you’re planning to edit 4K with Avid Media Composer 7, supports FrameFlex 4K, but note that you may not qualify for product support unless you work on an Avid certified system. This is something to keep in mind when considering system options.

Don’t Forget the Monitoring

If you’re building a new 4K editing system, it’s easy to get consumed with GPUs and storage needs and forget about monitoring solutions. While you can continue to use HD computer monitors for your editing interface, it’s important to use a 4K external video monitor to watch the footage as you edit, particularly if you’re mastering in 4K.

4K monitors are gradually becoming less expensive and for most editors, there are now some affordable solutions. Seiki Digital released its SE39UY04 39-inch UHD TV (3840×2160 resolution) which has a retail price of $599 and can be connected via HDMI. The SE39UY04’s color reproduction is subpar making it poor choice for color monitoring; however, you can pair it with a lower resolution monitor with good color reproduction for your color correction work.

Dell announced three 4K monitors that reproduce 100 percent of the sRGB color space making them a good option for color grading. The Dell UltraSharp 32 Ultra HD Monitor (UP3214Q) retails for a hefty $3,500, where the UltraSharp 24 Ultra HD Monitor (UP2414Q) is $1,400. The Dell UltraSharp 28 Ultra HD Monitor (P2815Q) is expected to release sometime this year and retail for $700.

Protect Your Investment

Even if you’re editing on a laptop, you can benefit from using an uninterrupted power supply with voltage monitoring and filtering. While your standard UPS only turns on when the power goes out, more advanced models include power filtering and under- and over-voltage protection. Low voltage can damage electronics just as easily as over voltage and is a common and costly problem.

Conclusion

Determining your 4K editing needs, both now and in the near future may take some time, but it will ensure that you purchase an editing system than can handle all the projects you’ll be working on, the type of footage you’ll be editing and the length and complexity of the edits. Remember that minimum specs get minimum performance. Go above the minimums for optimal performance.

Building Your Own 4K Editing System for About $4k

Building your own editing system can be a little scary at first, but a DIY rig can save you thousands of dollars. If you need help, there are many tutorials and guides to computer construction online. Here is a list of parts with prices sourced from one online retailer, so it should be considered an average, knowing that with fluctuations in the market, you may find either greater or lesser prices.

Total:        $3,963

You could save a little money if you don’t need an 18TB RAID and can use fewer drives; however, at minimum you would need three drives striped (RAID 0) to have fast enough media storage for 4K. In addition to your computer, you’ll need monitors, speakers, a UPS and any computer peripherals you don’t already own. That could ultimately bring your cost up to approximately $6,500.

To start off, you need to ask yourself some questions about your projects. What type of footage will you be editing: R3D, CinemaDNG, ProRes, XAVC S? How complex are your projects: single camera, multi-camera, animation, VFX? What are your output formats? How long do you have to deliver your edits? Finally, are you editing online or offline? 

Odin Lindblom is an award-winning editor whose work includes film, commercials, and corporate video. Odin has been building his own editing systems for the past ten years.

Server Drives and Girl with Motherboard images from Shutterstock.

29 COMMENTS

  1. Your comments about avoiding AMD because of the lack of PCIe v 3.0 are completely ignorant!  You are using SSD's attached to the SOUTHBRIDGE SATA ports which are the limiting factor at 6 Gb/s.  If you were using SSD's slotted directly into the PCIe slots on the board it would make a differnce but you are not!   As such I do my editng with 2 Samsung SSD's and a 3TB 7200 Rpm HDD with a much cheaper system with great performance! FX-8350 8 core CPU + 32GB 2000Mhz Ram + Radeon 7870LE 2GB (Radeons are known for better colour reproduction than Nvidia cards) On a Gigabyte 990 series Motherbaord and get comparable results and times to people with DEARER Intel setups!  I have been building my own systems for 20 years now.  Your argument is almost as silly as people who swear by APPLE! To me Apple lost all relevance when they switched away from the Power PC Processors.  Why pay for for Apple when the same stuff is under the hood?  If I wanted a Mac I would by a computer with no Operating system and install Linux (a free Operting system on which Mac OS is built) and put an Apple sticker on it andsave myself some serious cash! 

    • Yes agree AMD is a great platform for editing, the Ryzen CPU are now a better bang per buck than Intel, and the 8350 is still cost effective, as is Kdenlive in Ubuntu Studio. Think outside the box.

  2. I edit 4k ProRes 4:2:2 files in Adobe Premiere Pro all the time. My PC is nowhere neat the specs mentioned above, and I have experienced any slow-down's in performance.

    My PC: AMD FX 8150 OC'ed to 5.2GHz, 16GB DDR3 Ram, GTX 760 2GB Graphics Card. Everything else is standard, run-of-the-mill.

     

    As for the comment that MAC's are faster editing computers, this is just plan false. Apple uses Intel and other PC parts, such as NVidia graphics. The primary difference in modern-day MAC's vs. PC's is the operating system. Honestly, for the price, I can custom-build a PC that is 2-3x faster than a MAC of the same price, if not less. My PC will edit 4k Prores, online, with no problem – and it cost me a grand total of $1,023 in 2012. If I would have put another grand into it, I could have had dual top of the line graphics and a Raid array.

  3. I guess it all comes down to individual needs. For short films shot on a single 4k camera, you can spend about 1500 dollars, I spent 1600 on an Asus MD50, 16gb ram, 7200rpm, i7 4790, 2 TB HDD with 4k monitor and it previews and edits 4K like it's nothing, although with GH4 I hear the file sizes are a bit friendlier to the PC. Anyway I haven't tested Adobe premiere to the hilt, but I put together a 7 minute min film, downscaled from 4K to 1080p and it ran as smooth as silk, rendered in no time as well. I very much doubt it's necessary to spend 8000 dollars unless you are making an FX-heavy feature film.

  4. I have an iMac with Processor 3.2 GHz Intel Core i5
    Memory 8GB 1600 Mhz DDR3
    Graphics card Nvidia GeFroce GTX 675MX 1Pro
    GTX 675MX 1024 MB
    OS X 10.9.5 (13F1077)
    I also have Final Cut Pro. Is that suitable to be able to edit 4K footage?? I tried to open a file with no success

  5. Please forgive me but I wanted to pontificate a little…or maybe its whine….LOL. I sort of have grown to hate this hardware aspect anymore….every few years trying to decide whether to tweak my current system or start new. I built a system in 2012 using an MSI 760GM-P23 (FX) AMD Series Motherboard, 16 gb of memory , AMD HDT45TWFGRBOX Phenom II X6 1045T Processor and 7200rpm drives, and a nVideo GeForce. I was versed on what was what back then but when I look at specs now I find myself lost…so I guess I need to spend more countless hours figuring out what is what in the realm of PC hardware….. TiIl now I could edit regular HD just fine in CS5/6 including 5-6 cameras and I was perfectly happy till the concept of 4k entered my cranium…… Though lately I have started to have some stuttering in playback in Premiere and even with YT videos on the web….so I know I need some tweaking, tuning or fixing….so I think to myself, look into 4k editing. See, I had picked up a Sony PXW-X70 camera last december and recently upgraded to 4k to take advantage of the rebate sony was offering. But since CS6 doesnt support 4k, I loaded Resolve just look at the test footage. System wont play it without bad stuttering. Ok, so more reason to look at upgrading right? Sure but now again comes the question of how much can/should I upgrade versus just building a whole new box….and if you upgrade mobo or processor, windows needs reloaded which means reloading everything else….which means buying into Adobe’s new cloud software lease if I want to edit 4k in Adobe. ……..(catching my breath……)…….I just want to edit. LOL Not sure if I should spend hours to tweak/upgrade what I have or countless hours and much more money to learn the new tech curve and spec out a new system……sigh

  6. I read the comments about the mac performance, etc, etc, etc. Well, actually I do have two Mac Pro cheesegrater, a full updated 1.1 (CPU to 8 cores, GPU 2GB, Mem, eSata Disk Array and SDD) and a 4.1 8 cores update with two SDD, eSata 4 disk array. Mem, GPU 4GB.
    So, the MP 1.1 works very well, ah I updated it to Maverick in the way to used the foWIN GPU with a hack that allow to boot 64bit, up to 2K and a little higher. The other one works well upto 6K… The news is that if I used it as WIN machines, the performance as renders, decoding and FX are much faster than in OSX. I had read that its happens to a lots of people. I just don’t used it as windows because the final users, editor, like the “clean” OSX interface.

  7. Hello everyone,

    Who can explain to me what kind of benefits do I get if I use an SSD as drive project?

    Normally I have always used the hdd as a project and media drives, because in my case that I use Avid Media Composer the files and folders generated by the software for the project weigh very little and then it would seem a waste to use an entire SSD to occupy so little space.

    Thanks in advance for the help

  8. This article is severely outdated with computer information concerning AMD and the current motherboard supports of PCIe 3.0.
    Your hardware selection and cost are way out of line with what can be gotten today for a little over 1/3rd the price and it will be a fastest PC.
    Heck, my Ryzen 7 1700X 8 core 16 thread 4.0Ghz computer will outperform your listed spec one and cost much less.
    Let’s not show a bias to Intel.

  9. My Configration Here Assus R7 370 Grafic Card, Intel i7 4790 K Prossers, SSD 240gb Corssiar Which is the Motherboard Required this item use this motherboard plz guide me any person help me

  10. I currently have a 2008 mac pro that i use to edit Adobe Pro on.I have it crashing on me often.I had replaced the graphics card a while back with a NVIDIA Quadro 4000 and am running 32 Gigs of Ram. Im trying to determine what is doing it.My monitor is a LG 32 inch curved monitor.My video footage comes from Sony & Panasonic camera’s. My future plans with this 10 year old mac would be to add more Ram and consider replacing the NVIDIA card with another Graphics card.This mac has the side cover off and a fan always blowing in there.I don’t game with the computer but am planning on editing 4K video once i get a 4k camera ( most likely SONY ). Because this monitor is big,im trying to beep everything as basic as i can.Choosing a desktop thats just a solid color.I also tried only having a small size square screen while i go online for anything,so its not trying to work hard to stretch the screen.No matter what i do,it still crashes.Its just at times you might get longer run time than others. Im trying to take notice what is open when it crashes and is it online , am i running external drives when it does. My only plans will be to edit 4K video when the other gear is able to. The less i need to put into a new mac the more i can put towards a 4K Camera. Im thinking because of 4K I will still need a new graphics card and a 4k monitor.I noticed a graphics card called Red Devil.It seems to be a good choice for a mac.Im wondering what others have had good results with.Any helps appreciated.

  11. Interesting… no mention of the new iPad Pro with lumafusion. Talk about a technology lag.

    For short videos, it work well including 4K v-log footage, most dsleighter and phone/pad footage. Some hoops but easy enough. All in for 1200 including programs. Add a WiFi 1 terabytes drive with sad/usb reader it matches up with most systems costing 3x. Use an old Mac with adobe suite – few will ever know the difference.

  12. I agree that aspects of this article are outdated. The author references Edius at version 7 when it is at version 9.4. Since 7 there have been many improvements including impressive raw file handling, color correction and multiple codecs. Edius is about to release their next version with official Pro-Res support on a PC platform. Edius is a very capable NLE without the overwhelming learning curve of Adobe CC or Resolve with a very professional forum for assistance. I strongly advise people who just want to edit to evaluate this latest versions of this product.

    regards

    Jim

  13. Hey,

    I’m looking at buying a Toshiba Qosmio x75 with 32gb DDR3-1600 memory, a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770M graphics card and a 17.3″ 1920×1080 screen. It’s about 500 USD second hand as it has an old battery that only runs for about 40 mins. Seems like it will do everything I need it to (I’m currently editing footage from an old canon 1100d and have only just upgraded to the Sony alpha 6400) but I’m just wanting to be a little bit future proof. Will it be able to handle multi camera 4k editing when I manage to get another decent camera (maybe the sony alpha 7 m3 or 4?)?

    Basically is there something I’m missing? seems like a good deal. Bearing in mind I’m in Columbia and getting decent electronics usually comes at a mark up.

    Any thoughts?

  14. I simply run an older Dell T5600 (circa 2014) with 128GB DDR3 ECC ram Nvidia RTX2070 8GB GPU Crucial 500mx 500 GB SSD and 1 4TB Western Digital NAS drive pulled from a Mybook duo with thunderbolt 2 interface and placed into my PC My other workstation is similarly speced with the exception of GPU which is an ASUS GTX1060 OC dual which will easily do 4K.and 6K but the one with RTX2070 will peg Raw speed test all the way down the line saying with CUDA I can do all of the BRAW and All of the 8K stuff with no problems whatsoever. Total cost for both workstations $1880 total as recent as June 2019. Again my system were built in 2014 and I passmark rank at 88TH percentile.

    • I forgot to add that my systems have dual 8 core (16 cores for 32 threads) XEON CPUs in them at 2.9GHZ will or have booted to 4 GHZ here and there on occasion. I have E5-2690 CPUs.

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