Gear & Now: Portable Storage Devices Offer Mobile Real Estate
Posted Jul 21, 2008

"Location, location, location" is the mantra for real estate agents. And extra real estate is essential for high-volume video editors and post studios. So what if you want to take your real estate on the road? Some high-capacity portable storage systems for digital media assets—including graphics, photos, and digital audio and video—have been announced or released recently, bringing the ability to move large amounts of digital data easily, reliably, and conveniently.

LaCie
LaCie, long known for its stylish storage devices, has just announced its biggest, littlest such device yet—the Little Big Disk (LBG) Quadra. With storage capacity up to 1 Terabyte (TB) and transfer speeds of up to 110 Megabytes per second (MB/sec) via eSATA or 80MB/sec over FireWire 800, the LBG is a terrific answer to the question, "How fast, and how much, storage do I need for professional content creation?"

There are already 500GB and 400GB (7,200 RPM) versions, so this new portable Little Big Disk really ups the ante with two 2.5" hard disks that work together in a built-in RAID 0 configuration. The unit also has one eSATA 3Gbits, two FireWire 800 (FireWire 400-compatible with included adapter), and one USB 2.0 interface, so it can work with cross-platform compatibility in almost any production environment.

In spite of the two disks inside, the unit is powered entirely by the FireWire interface. It has a proven heat sink design, developed by Neil Poulton, and it operates quietly, without a fan. It weighs in at a little more than 1.4 pounds, so it can be a very portable storage solution.

Fully plug-and-play with Mac OS X v10.5 Leopard (including Time Machine) and Windows Vista, the Little Big Disk Quadra comes preloaded with the LaCie Setup Assistant, a utility that optimizes the drive according to your needs (Mac, Windows, or cross-platform environments). The unit comes bundled with advanced backup and restore software EMC Retrospect Express for Mac and Windows. It can also be daisy-chained using one of the two FireWire interfaces with other LaCie hard disks or DVD±RW drives. The 1TB LaCie Little Big Disk Quadra is available now at $699.99.

Sonnet
At a somewhat similar price ($695) is Sonnet’s new Fusion F2. Together with MacBook Pro computers and AJA Video Systems’ Io HD video cards, the Fusion F2 can be the hub of an entire mobile production studio. Fusion F2 portable RAID storage systems work at up to 640GB capacity in a rugged low-profile design measuring 5.9"x6.2"x0.72". The system includes two 5400 RPM 2.5" drives, mounted side by side in a 3/4"-thin aluminum enclosure that you can slide into a briefcase or camera bag. Each drive is individually shock-isolated, and the manufacturer says that the side-by-side placement of the drives increases the case’s cooling surface area so, like the LaCie, there is no fan to generate noise. The F2 draws power via FireWire port as well.

The storage system also has two eSATA connections (with the Sonnet Tempo SATA ExpressCard/34 adapter, it can be used with MacBook Pro and Windows notebooks). By transmitting data via its 2-port SATA interface, Fusion F2 also handles portable video capture in conjunction with an AJA Video Systems’ Io HD.

For safety and security of your files, you can configure the drives in RAID 1 mirrored mode and still capture Apple ProRes HQ HD fed from an AJA Io HD. With its drives configured as a RAID 0 striped volume, Fusion F2 is capable of 126MB/sec read and write sustained data transfers (compared with 66MB/sec connecting via FireWire 800), thus providing the ability to capture and play more streams of compressed video for mobile editing.

AIC
AIC’s latest portable storage solution is called the MiniBOD (or, more colloquially, the XJ-SA01-008-A1). Its 2.5" drive configurations are said to read and write high-volume graphics and video files at 2.4Gbps bandwidth (up to eight small form factor 2.5" SAS/SATA drives) can be used. AIC says the MiniBOD supports up to 1.2TB capacity and adds that future enhancements will be available later this year, including embedded RAID functionality and the ability to configure four conventional 3.5" HDDs.

With its lightweight design and small footprint, the MiniBOD is highly portable. It offers plug-and-play access, with the ability to connect to host servers of the same RAID setup through the SFF8088 connector. AIC says it expects the MiniBOD XJ-SA01-04-A1 (4"x3.5" version) to be available later this year.

Fast Forward Video
Fast Forward Video (FFV) should now be delivering the Elite HD, described as the first camera-mounted digital video recorder (DVR) to harness the JPEG 2000 (J2K) compression codec for recording HD-SDI video signals. Until now, videographers had to rely on the internal recording capabilities of their cameras to record and play back HD-SDI video; however, few recorders can match the video quality of the camera signal itself (often using proprietary and expensive storage media to do so). In some workflows, such storage media require another device to read the video and transfer it for editing.

Designed to mount on the back or base of a camcorder, the Elite HD accepts an incoming HD-SDI video signal with up to eight channels of embedded audio and uses J2K to record at data rates up to 100 MB/sec with virtually no loss in signal quality.

Video is stored to an off-the-shelf, hot-swappable 2.5" SATA drive, which provides up to 10 times more storage at a greatly reduced cost. In addition, the Elite HD enables streamlined, file-based workflows with its modular design, which can be easily detached from the camcorder and connected directly to an NLE system via USB.

The Elite HD supports all HD-SDI camcorders and other video sources with compatible rates, including the the Canon XL H1 and G1; the Sony F900, XDCAM HD, and XDCAM EX; and the JVC GY-HD250. The Elite HD also works with any HD-SDI switcher with a compatible output format, making it ideal for live events.

Transcend
Transcend is now shipping and pricing its newest storage device, the 250GB StoreJet 2.5 SATA portable hard drive. The StoreJet 2.5 uses a high-speed USB 2.0 interface and data transfer rates up to 480MB/sec in its plug-and-play configuration. Inside the StoreJet’s streamlined shell is a single 250GB SATA HDD.

The StoreJet 2.5 SATA HDD features a convenient "OneTouch" Auto-Backup button and comes bundled with Transcend’s own StoreJet elite 2.0 software, which offers intelligent backup scheduling, security, and power saving functions. The StoreJet 2.5 SATA is available without a hard drive as a sleek external enclosure that’s 100% compatible with all brands of 2.5" SATA hard drives and is offered in silver, blue, or red.

Priced around $150, the StoreJet 2.5 supports Windows 2000/XP/Vista, Mac OS 9/OS X, and Linux 2.4.2 or later.

DVC
They are not truly portable devices, but storage solutions from German manufacturer DVC are worthy of some consideration by those needing lots and lots of storage. The new Boxxster is a relatively compact uncompressed disk recorder, able to record and play back all popular HD, SD, and DCI formats.

It too uses 2.5" hard disk technology, so low noise, low power consumption, and reasonable weight factors (up to 20 pounds, depending on capacity—the unit is available with 480GB, 720GB, or 1.2TB of storage) are featured. Boxxster has its own internal QuickClip software platform, acting like a VTR, for remote control by RS.422 and Sony 9-pin protocol. Boxxster also combines disk recorder functions, including playlist, loop-mode, clip management, and batch-recording, available as well via a Java or HTTP user interface. In addition to digital SD/HD-SDI I/O, Boxxster has analog interfaces. A DVI version supports event presentations and live playback.

VideoPhill
If physical portable storage isn’t portable enough, online storage may be what you need. There are risks with online storage (access, security, backup, and privacy), but the advantages include unlimited storage and access to the latest tools, technologies, and codecs.

VideoPhill, a company with both hardware- and software-based storage solutions, is offering a licensed software solution for archiving huge volumes of video. It is used by broadcasters for compliance testing and by production houses to archive and analyze captured video. For wedding and event videographers, it can offer a video record, archive, storage, and even replay service.

VideoPhill uses multiple hardware codecs and software compression algorithms and licensing fees that reflect total data volumes and video qualities (video streams from storage are available at up to 2,048Kbps, and storage capacities up to 600GB are priced monthly). Various frame rates, bitrates, and international video formats are supported through Osprey encoding tools, and customized time stamps and error reports are available.

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