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Scenios puts video collaboration in the cloud

New digital asset management tool Scenios puts some useful twists on video file hosting and collaboration. But is it better than a standard file-hosting service?

Scenios is a new video host launching Monday that hopes to find the sweet spot between traditional storage services and high-end digital asset management software. In many ways it's not so different from the former, except that it's entirely dedicated to video files and the collaborative video-creation process.

To get files onto the service, users need to upload from their browser. There is no desktop or mobile component yet, though Scenios CEO Mark Davis, whom CNET chatted with last week, says a piece of desktop software is on the way. It will sync up local files with their cloud versions, as well as let users transcode to another format before uploading.

The uploader takes files up to 5GB in size, and uses Java. In my early testing with it, this proved to be painfully slow. A 74MB test file took close to nine minutes to upload, compared to storage services and DropBox, which did it in a little more than a minute. (The CNET offices have a mighty fast connection.) I had slightly better results trying a larger file on a different computer with the same connection, getting a 702MB AVI file to go up in 23 minutes. For pro users who might be pushing that 5GB cap, these times don't really cut it, so I'm hoping this improves.

Where Scenios differs from other typical storage providers is what you can do with the file once it's there. Hovering over the thumbnail of a clip in your library, you get a watchable preview of it--complete with sound. Clicking on it takes you to an HTML5 player that's running an H.264 version of that clip with a timeline and keyframes every 10 seconds.

Scenios' video view gives you a quick keyframe every 10 seconds, a way to tag your videos, and tools for exporting and re-encoding. Screenshot by Josh Lowensohn / CNET

Next to the player is where the magic happens though. Here you get a "shot log" which gives you a way to write in and out times on the clip where you might have a comment or want someone else to edit. These items are indexed in Scenios' search engine, and link directly to that segment of the video, just like a timed tag.

Want to re-encode a file into another format? Scenios can do that for you. Screenshot by Josh Lowensohn / CNET

The video view also includes tools for re-encoding the file in the cloud. This is one of those things that may not seem like a big deal, until you realize that the re-encoding jobs can be applied to these humongous files without having to use the processing prowess of your computer. Wanted to upscale that 5GB 720p HD video you uploaded into one that's 1080p? Scenios does it in the cloud, then lets you download it, or export it elsewhere when it's done. You can even start the job, turn off your computer and come back later when it's done.

Scenios gives users 13 different export formats to choose from, though these cannot be tweaked like you could do in a piece of software like QuickTime Pro. "Right now we're just doing formats that are built into FFMPEG," Davis said. "Over time we'll support more." On top of these, it gives users a way to select just a part of the clip for export, which can be very handy.

Beyond the exporting, there's also a way to publish videos to public video hosts. At launch this includes YouTube, Facebook, and Vimeo, though Davis said many others will be added as the service progresses. Users can also assign others they're collaborating with on tasks, which can be given due dates and reorganized by a project's administrator. Davis says this can cut down on long e-mail threads or IMs, which can get lost in the shuffle.

Niceties aside, there's some fine print--which is that the service is not free. Well, there is a free version, but you're capped off at one project with 2GB of storage, which can be worked on with three other collaborators. The paid plans run at $79, $149, and $299 a month and offer things like unlimited storage, more projects, and more collaborators. Davis said that if users downgrade from one of these plans back to the free version, there's a grace period where the user can move their files elsewhere before deleting them to get back down to that 2GB cap.

So, is this something you'd need if you're the type of person who uploads your videos directly to YouTube from your digital camera's memory card, or if you want to share video files with relatives? No. But if you share video files with a few other people, and want to do the file management and job assignment in the same place, its built-in tools for making notes, re-encoding, and exporting can streamline that process considerably.