Gear & Now: New Portable Video Tools--Promise or Threat?
Posted Mar 7, 2008

Portability is crucial to event videography. We shoot, edit, and deliver quality programming on-site almost as much or more than we do from a home or studio setup. In last month’s column, I promised to revisit the portable production theme with a look at solutions for storing and transporting digital media. But at the time, I didn’t know that I might need a lawyer to do so safely.


figure 1Portable Direct-to-Disk Recording Patented?
Just before the end of the year, a company called Shining Technology announced that it has been issued a patent by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for its unique AV recording technology.

A new patent covering some great, new, emerging technology is always interesting. But if I told you the patent describes "a tapeless recording capability [that] eliminates the time-consuming video recapture process, making ‘on-the-spot’ editing a reality for today’s broadcast and video pros, who must often edit instantly for immediate turnaround … The result is a significant resource savings in man-hours, production and field time, and the bottom line," you might well say, "Been there, done that."

U.S. Patent No. 7,295,766 covers Shining’s proprietary technology for recording data, such as video, directly from video cameras onto tapeless hard drives. But Shining developed the CitiDisk system (left) several years ago, and it is currently used in the company’s palm-sized CitiDISK DV/HDV/DVCPRO HD video hard drive recorders.


figure 1At press time, we were unable to ascertain how this patent might affect Shining’s marketing strategies for its upcoming products, or how it might affect the product lineup of other companies that manufacture similar devices.

Focus Enhancements, for example, offers a comprehensive line of portable DTE (Direct To Edit) recorders for DV or HDV camcorders, and the company recently announced upcoming availability of the version 3.0 update for its popular DR-HD100 Portable DTE recorder, with QuickTime 720p 50 & 60 support and improved clip naming and assignment protocols. Among the many features and functions of DTE technology touted by the company is the ability to edit recorded footage instantly—no capturing, file transfer, or file conversion required. Sound familiar? Perhaps lawyers will end up determining just how familiar.

Ultra Wideband and Close Proximity
Focus, meanwhile, has been granted its own patent: for UWB ultra wideband technology, another interesting development, one without immediate pro video applications but promises of reference or demo technology soon.

Another such promise comes from Sony, and its announcement of a wireless transfer technology with speeds of up to 560Mbps—fast enough for high speed transfer of large data files (photos, HD images, etc.) between mobile phones, digital cameras, digital video camcorders, computers, and TVs. Sony said it would show reference designs early this year.

The technology seems to open up a number of interesting possibilities for pro video producers: perhaps they would benefit from eliminating cables around the edit suite, or there could be advantages in easily beaming digital video across a crowded church reception hall. But hang on—this new wireless technology is actually called "close proximity" and it is currently rated at a communication distance of just 3 cm or a little more than 1 inch.

TodoCast
If you need to beam digital video across greater distances, you could check out a new service called TodoCast (below), from satellite service provider IP Access International. It is now offering a turnkey production and distribution solution for pay-per-view live video content from any remote location throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.
figure 1

The company says that its user-friendly satellite antenna, electronics, and encoding equipment gives professional videographers the ability to acquire, promote, and upload live video to the web, where it is then available for viewing to registered users.

A day’s worth of satellite time starts at around $500 (a full TodoCast kit costs about $25,000; equipment leasing rates start around $600 per month). Designed for portability and mobility, the powerful satellite antenna can be easily mounted to any SUV, according to the company. Availability is slated for March.

figure 1Flash XDR
Availability of the Flash XDR from Convergent Design is also expected this year. Flash XDR is described as a portable HD recorder/player and I/O box designed to mount on the back of a camcorder. As such, it could give pro videographers a handy tool for capturing high-quality video faster than internal tape-based systems.

It should work well in the crazy "run-and-gun" world, operating off standard camera-type battery or power supply. For live event video production in somewhat fixed locations like churches and concert halls, or for on-the-go productions like sporting events, underwater, or documentary production, the lightweight yet rugged form is well-suited for demanding applications.

Preliminary specs for the recorder call for 4:2:2, all-I-Frame recording, using a high-quality MPEG-2-based codec from Sony. Full-raster video (1920x1080) is recorded as interlaced, 59.94fps video at 25, 50, 100, or 160Mbps. The highest bitrate option allows video to be stored at more than six times the data rate of HDV.

The unit can also convert incoming HD-SDI video and record uncompressed audio in 16 or 24-bit files using balanced stereo analog (line- or mic-level) XLR inputs.

Data is stored on Compact Flash cards, widely available in 16 and 32GB sizes, with more to come (the unit has four card slots for greater capacity). It can output video over 1394, and it supports playback of audio and video with timecode.

The XDR’s aluminum enclosure has a rubberized protective jacket to help protect against vibration or shock. The unity barely weighs in at 1 pound, and its compact size (5.0" W x 1.7" H x 7" D) belies the many features and functions packed inside.

Six programmable function keys (you could mark takes as good, better, best on-the-fly) are available; up to 16 user profiles can be stored with favorite audio/video set-ups and metadata presets; and a series of LEDs show audio, video, timecode, and media status.

If the visual feedback provided by the LEDs doesn’t bring enough operational confidence, headphones plugged into the unit’s headphone out jack will beep to indicate start/stop commands, as well as possible problems with the recording.

It’s a low power-consuming device, too, requiring only 8W, +6V~+20V DC power. It has a 4-pin XLR power connection, and battery mount options for Anton/Bauer and IDX batteries. Various tie-down points promise other mounting options to the unit, as well as multiple camera-mount choices (to camcorders from Canon and Sony, for example).

The first units are expected in Q1 this year (though none were available at press time). The initial announced price is $4,995.


figure 1Proporta’s Gadget Bag
Finally, as we did in the last Gear & Now column, we’ll close with a quick word about protection for your portable products (whatever they may be). In February I discussed shipping cases specifically designed for Mac computers and Apple displays, and one reader wrote in to spread the word about another family of shipping cases, known as the Gadget Bag. (As far as we know, they were not developed by EventDV’s own Ed Wardyga, although he has for years been known for his helpful Gadget Bag tips and suggestions. Perhaps this is another call for a patent lawyer!) Proporta’s Gadget Bag features an optional mobile device charger that charges from any standard USB port (so it works with all Proporta power/charging products in your car, home, or office) and stores an impressive 3400 mAh of power for when you need it.

You can plug any USB-powered mobile device (phone, iPod, digital camera, etc.) into its standard USB port and recharge anywhere. Even power-hungry devices like the iPod 5G will recharge and play for up to three times longer when connected to the Proporta USB Rechargeable, according to the company. You can recharge your mobile, Smartphone, or PDA anywhere, using the Gadget Bag, Proporta says.

The bag itself features a number of individual padded compartments, so small digital devices can be stored safely and securely, while being protected from bumps, scratches, and moved switches, or other routine jostling that may befall a videographer on the move.

Each compartment has a plastic aperture, so that headphone or charging cables can be fed through to each section (so you can listen or charge on the go, while the bag is closed and your gear concealed).

The Gadget Bag itself measures about 10.6" x 8.7" x 2.8" with the 1"-thick front pocket attached. Internal compartments are roughly 6.0" x 3.9" x 2". The bag is priced (with charger) at about $140 online.

Lee Rickwood (lrickwood at goodmedia.com) is a media consultant and freelance writer.