Review: MacroSystem HDV Recorder
Posted Apr 24, 2007

The MacroSystem HDV Recorder ($1,999) is capable of recording, archiving, exporting, and displaying HDV footage. Key features such as real-time, de-interlaced, full-resolution HDV display on small, inexpensive monitors; removable/ exchangeable hard drives; simultaneous export of lossless HDV footage from both FireWire jacks; and pass-through capability when configured between HDV cams, decks, and NLE systems underscore the potential of this unit.

figure 1MacroSystem's HDV Recorder enables real-time, full-resolution display of HDV footage on inexpensive monitors, as well as capture, archiving, and export, making it a unique device for presenting pristine HDV video in a variety of settings. Unlike the majority of MacroSystem products, HDV Recorder is not designed to work solely with Casablanca systems, and, at least in theory, offers compatibility with Windows and Windows NLEs, although that was not borne out in testing with this first-generation unit.

With its well-vented, brushed aluminum case, the HDV Recorder appears built for serious use. The sides, rear, and bottom are all perforated. The top has two fan-driven exhaust ports, and another fan is located behind the thin black mesh grill that horizontally bisects the front of the unit. All this ventilation bodes well for the unit's durability. It is distinctly audible, but not objectionably so.

Below the front vent grill on the lower left-hand side is a dime-sized power button, a reset button, and blue and red LED indicators for power and activity, respectively. Under these are mic, headphone, two USB jacks, and two six-pin FireWire jacks. To the right of all of these is a DVD drive, and above the DVD player and grill is a lockable, exchangeable hard-drive sled drawer, with its own power (green) and activity (yellow) LED indicators.

The rear has a full complement of PC connections, although many of them are not currently active. Currently usable jacks include USB, PS2, S/P DIF, VGA, DVI, RCA, FireWire (six-pin) and audio output (both optical and analog).

Powering Up
You can use either a VGA or DVI monitor with the HDV Recorder, but not with both connected at the same time. It took me a while to figure out the DVI connection will not work beyond the power-up sequence if a VGA cable is connected to the unit. Both types of monitors work fine when used separately.

Upon full power-up, a gray screen saying "No HDV-Signal" displays unless you have a camera or deck connected with an active HDV signal. You control all operations via a USB Cherry Keypad G84-4700, a numeric keypad with keys assigned and labeled appropriately to functions specifically for the HDV Recorder. The top two rows are direct transport controls of record, play, stop, pause, fast forward, and reverse. The middle three rows consist of cursor controls and function keys, and the bottom rows have Reset Display, Exit, and Menu/OK buttons.

figure 1Menu and Features
The menu display is utilitarian, consisting of 10 vertically listed operational choices: Record, Playback, Delete, Export, Trim, Preferences, PAL, Display, Power Off, and Exit. What follows are descriptions of the most significant selections.

Record contains 30 project partitions, listed as Film 1, Film 2, and so forth. You cannot change this nomenclature, so you have to keep an external manual log of your film contents. Films are color-coded: black for full, gray for empty, and red for the currently selected film. The Record menu automatically selects the lowest-numbered empty film upon opening. If there are no empty films or you manually select an active film after entering the Record menu, it will request a verification of "Yes" or "No" on this action, cautioning you that this will delete the data currently in the project, with the selection defaulting to "No" as a safety precaution. The 250GB hard drive will hold 23 hours of HDV, and you can add larger drives to increase even that.

Playback can be a single film or you can choose to play all films. Their order can be changed using a cut-and-paste procedure of F2 for cut and F1 for paste. "Play all Films" does not actually play all of the films, but rather it plays from the full films in order until there is an empty film. So when using the cut-and-paste procedure you put your selected films in the desired order and then leave an empty film at the end of them. This allows for quick and easy customization of a playback play list.

Trim allows the rudimentary editing capability of setting the in- and out-points of each individual film. As this is a non-destructive procedure, the feature can be used to play back or export a specific segment of a film without permanently changing the original film. This adds excellent flexibility to the unit's functions as well as making the actual in-and out-points non-critical, which is good considering the unit's relatively long (one second or more) Record delay.

In Preferences, you set the display to interlaced or de-interlaced and Playback/Export to either single play or loop. Playing an interlaced signal on a progressive-scan VGA/DVI monitor will cause artifacts in high-motion scenes. The HDV Recorder uses what MacroSystem terms "Super-De-Interlacing" to interpolate an "in-between" full-resolution scene between frames and then double the frame rate. The result is very smooth video playback without interlacing artifacts. One clarification here: This is for playback monitoring; when using Export the monitor will display the actual interlaced footage as is. Looping allows you to replay continuously either a single film or a series of films in conjunction with the playlist Playback feature.

Display allows monitor settings of 800x600, 1024x768, 1280x768, 1280x1024, 1360x1024, 1600x1200,1920x1080, and 1920x1200, with the last the recommended setting for a DVI-compatible monitor. PAL sets the frame rate to either 50Hz or 60Hz, with 60Hz being the default setting and the one to use with NTSC monitors. Export simultaneously outputs the selected film to both the front and rear FireWire jacks.

I tested the HDV Recorder with Sony HC1 and FX1 camcorders, Casablanca Solitaire and Renommee Plus systems, as well as two HDV-capable PCs running Sony Vegas 7, one with Windows XP Home and the other with Windows XP Professional. The camcorders and the Casablanca units worked fine with the HDV Recorder, with footage flowing in both directions (import and export). I found that you can even export out to an HDV cam and Solitaire, Renommee Plus, or any other HDV-capable MS editor at the same time, thanks to the HDV Recorder's two FireWire jacks. Situate the HDV Recorder between an HDV camcorder and Solitaire or equivalents, and it can record as well as pass on the HDV signal between the units in both directions—all while exporting a full-resolution, de-interlaced HDV signal to a normal VGA or DVI NTSC or PAL monitor in either1080i and 720p.

Connection to the PC world sadly is on hold. Neither Windows XP Home nor Pro would even recognize a FireWire connection with the HDV Recorder, let alone successfully transfer data to or from Vegas 7. I contacted MacroSystem US, and was told that the company's lead software developer is currently working on this and other improvements to the HDV Recorder software.

As for other needed improvements, each film represents a single recording episode; you can replace but not add footage to a film with content. This limits the machine to archiving HDV raw footage or finished HDV projects for display purposes or later duplication transference to editor, cam, or deck as you would quickly run out of options attempting to store short clips despite the luxurious 23 hours the 250GB drive allows.

To really take the handcuffs off the potential of this tool, the software needs to either allow you to add (not replace) footage into a used film or really up the number of films into the hundreds. Another point is the unit inputs/outputs an HDV signal exclusively. The ability to output DV would be a major plus. Even my tiny Sony HC1 can convert/export HDV to DV on the fly, so it would seem a relatively easy task for a machine with a dedicated AMD 64-bit 3200+ processor running on the svelte Linux operating system.

On the plus side, MacroSystem software updates can be internet-downloaded, burned to CD, and loaded via the DVD reader by the customer. Customers lacking internet connections or burning technology can get pre-burned software CDs from their dealer.

The HDV Recorder both hits and misses the target market. Lossless HDV storage on exchangeable drives coupled with real-time image enhancement of full-resolution HDV on regular VGA/DVI monitors is the real deal. If you are in need of an affordable and flexible HDV display unit for presentations, point-of-sale applications, and/or home theater, this is the unit. If you are a MacroSystem HDV editor looking to archive bulk footage/finished projects for later lossless duplication for your clients, here is your solution.

PC editors however, may find it relatively cumbersome and limiting due to the current necessity of working through an intermediary cam or deck. If MacroSystem updates the software so it works with the PC, enhances categorizing capabilities, and adds DV export, the HDV Recorder would be an advantageous tool for any HDV user. And if they added a Blu-ray burner into the DVD slot . . . well, maybe we'll have to wait at least a couple of revs for that.

Tim Kennelly, owner/operator of Videosonics, is an event videographer with 21 years in the industry, an international speaker, and a beta tester for several video-related companies.