Gear & Now: Portable Digital Video Capture and Storage
Posted Apr 9, 2009

New solutions for recording, storing, and archiving digital and high-definition video content bring the realities of a tapeless workflow closer and closer to an effective and economic working reality.

By helping to reduce capture and ingest time, and therefore speeding up the shooting-editing-outputting process, professional videographers can speed up delivery cycles and increase the number of paying assignments they can take on.

The aptly named “direct to edit” workflow is a well-known technical and production technique that brings many advantages, such as speeding up the edit session, providing backup or safety recordings in the field, and offering options for format conversion or device transfer.

Depending on the product or the manufacturer, storage devices use spinning hard-drive or solid-state memory devices. Each comes with advantages and some disadvantages, depending, for example, on your exiting workflow or edit-suite configuration. File transfer can take place at some three to six times real time in such systems; one key is to make sure you set up the device ahead of time so that it meets the requirements and specifications of your edit environment.

This is important because some portable HDV/DV/AVCHD/DVCPRO/XDCAM recording devices are designed to be compatible with specific editing systems or encoded video formats, which you must take into account when you’re making purchasing decisions.

HD in a Flash
One emergent portable recording device for HD shooters is the Flash XDR series from Convergent Design. First announced last year, the product is now out of backlog and is shipping in volume (with significant firmware updates). It can deliver a full 4:2:2 video signal that, at the highest-quality data rate, is visually almost indistinguishable from uncompressed video.

Convergent Design Flash XDR

Flash XDR now includes full QuickTime support for Final Cut Pro at both 50 Mbps and 100 Mbps (using the XDCAM HD codec). LTC, or embedded timecode (now displayed on the device’s LCD), is also recorded in the QuickTime file. The new firmware (v. 0.0.184) supports video formats including 1080i60/50, 1080psf30/25/24, 1080p30/25/24, and 720p60/50.

The system has new MXF support for Avid, EDIUS, Vegas, and Premiere editing platforms, and it will connect to ASI broadcast I/O. Embedded HD-SDI as well as two-channel analog audio (line or mic-level) are enabled.

Flash XDR, as the name implies, records to solid-state Compact Flash (CF) media. Although CF started at a rather intimidating price point, the pricing has now dropped considerably. A 32GB Transcend card, for example, costs about $77. Depending on the data rate, it can hold about an hour of 50Mbps video, or a little more than a half an hour at the highest 100Mbps setting.

Maxell Joins the Game
A new media storage and archiving solution comes from a company often associated with old media. Maxell’s iVDR-Xtreme hard drive is out of prototyping, and now on the market. It offers capacity up to 250GB, yet it is very lightweight—a little more than 6 oz.

Maxell iDVR

Depending on data rates and video encoding settings, it can hold up to 20 hours of HD, 19 hours of DV, or 110 hours of DVD-quality video. Drives are preformatted in the FAT 32 file system. The iVDR-Xtreme is based on Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (SATA) technology, with transfer rates of up to 3Gbps. Maxell says the recorder is particularly suited for rugged field use. Patented shock-absorbent technology protects the drive should the recorder be dropped or banged around. Media can be removed or hot-swapped without reboot, making extra-long recording or on-location field backups easier and more reliable.

The iVDR-Xtreme is now shipping with interface cables and a universal AC adapter for supplying power (it can be bus-powered via USB 2.0 or 4-pin FireWire 400 ports) at a list price of $695.

Portability With Panasonic’s Handheld Recorder
Later this year, Panasonic will add new solid-state record devices to its lineup that will support P2 and AVC workflows, with compatibility promised for other digital video formats as well. No prices were available at presstime.

The new AG-HPG20 P2 is a portable recorder/player that can be easily integrated into a P2, AVC-Intra, DVCPRO HD/50/25, and DV workflow. It’s a 10-bit, 4:2:2 master-quality deck for fast, file-based recording. With removable solid-state cards, the HPG20 offers recording times that exceed those of tape or optical-disc-based products.

The recorder supports AVCHD in a number of editing programs, including Apple Final Cut Pro 6.0.5, Adobe Premiere Pro CS4, Grass Valley EDIUS PRO v4.5, and more.

Panasonic will also introduce the AG-HMR10 handheld, battery-operated field recorder/player, equipped with an HD-SDI input and output for use in studio and event production. The AVCCAM recorder (and a new camera head designed for it) uses advanced compression (MPEG-4/AVC High-Profile) to record full 1080 and 720 resolutions.

The HMR10 will use SD memory cards for AVCCAM recording, which can be played in a growing number of devices, such as Panasonic Blu-ray Disc players, Sony PlayStation game machines, PCs, and others.

The HMR10 records in 1080/60i, 1080/50i, 720/60p and 720/50p, and it has corresponding, user-selectable quality or data settings. On one 32GB card, you can get 3 hours of full-resolution 1920x1080 video and audio (PH mode); you can get 4 hours at HA mode, and 5.3 hours at HG mode. In the HE mode, the camera can record up to 12 hours of 1440x1080 HD content.

The HMR10 comes standard with interface connections including the HD-SDI in/out, HDMI out, and USB 2.0, even in its compact, handheld size. It operates on a battery or on 7.3V DC power. Audio features include an internal speaker and headphone mini jack. The unit also has a built-in, 3.5" color LCD monitor for quick viewing of thumbnail images.

For editing or playback, content can be transferred from the SD card to Mac or PC computers with an SD/SDHC card reader or by connecting the HMR10 recorder directly via its USB 2.0 interface.

Pick a Card for Portable Productivity
Sonnet has new card solutions for playback, transfer, and video capture in the field on a notebook PC. The company’s new Tempo SATA Pro ExpressCard/34, for example, pumps sustained data transfers at up to 200MB/sec, so simultaneous video streams are supported during playback, and file transfers are very fast. Up to 10 SATA hard drives can be connected to any compatible notebook computer with an ExpressCard/34 or ExpressCard/54 slot.

Sonnet also has introduced a compact flash solution for Mac users; its Pro Dual Compact Flash Adapter ExpressCard/34 lets you transfer video files concurrently from two CF memory cards to a MacBook Pro computer on location or in the field, studio, or office.

It’s quite small and easy to carry, and its dual-slot CF memory card adapter accepts two Type I (flash memory) cards or a combination of one Type I and one Type II (hard drive) card. Moving data from two cards concurrently into an editing system requires less time than sequential transfer, speeding up the edit session. By transmitting data via its two-port SATA interface, Fusion F2 supports portable video capture in conjunction with an AJA Video Systems ioHD, which requires dedicated use of FireWire bandwidth.

Sonnet also announced price cuts on its current Fusion F2 640MB and 1TB models, with savings up to $400 depending on the purchase configuration. Fusion F2 features two mounted 2.5" SATA drives, designed for use with the new Pro ExpressCard or ExpressCard controllers for MacBook Pro and Windows notebooks.

Focused on Specific Solutions

Focus Enhancements, one of the longer established, portable video hard-drive solutions providers, offers a number of solutions for direct-to-edit (DTE) workflows, with specific products for specific editing programs and for specific video cameras. For a comprehensive look at operating techniques and productivity tips, check out Ben Balser’s excellent review of Focus Enhancements’ FS-5 DTE recorder in the December 2008 issue.

The FS-CV DTE Recorder offers 100GB of hard-drive video storage, with edit-ready HDV or DV streams on disk. The recorder gives Canon XL and XH users, for example, tag media with custom metadata tagging capabilities in the field, opening up opportunities for faster media management and greater editing productivity.

By connecting (wired or wirelessly) a browser-enabled mobile device or laptop to the FS-CV, you can add or assign custom metadata to your clips. In post, you can simply drag clips from the FS-CV to your NLE system. All the information assigned during the shoot is transferred with the clip.

Meanwhile, the Focus (aka JVC) DR-HD100 is a camera-specific solution for passing audio, video, timecode, and control information via FireWire cable, so you can simultaneously record to disk and tape in HDV or DV mode. The Focus MR-HD100 supports native file recorder for JVC ProHD camcorders. Audio, video, timecode, and control information is again passed through a single FireWire cable.

The HD100 is light enough to be mounted directly to a JVC ProHD camcorder, providing an extra 10 hours of record time. The suggested list price of the MR-HD100 is $2,495.

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