I recently tested the NextoDI NVS2500 (Figure 1, right), a speedy, compact backup solution for those who are shooting with various compact flash media cameras (still or video) and need to quickly back up their cards on location and use them again. For those of us who do long shoots with HD cameras that capture to relatively low-capacity cards (such as the Canon 5D Mark II, the Sony EX3, or the Panasonic HVX line), being able to offload our cards quickly and confidently is a critical part of a successful shoot. Does the NextoDI NVS2500 offer something special that makes it a good choice for pros? I think it does. Key advantages of the NVS2500 include an internal battery for use without external power, an integrated ExpressCard slot for SxS and P2 ingest, an integrated eSATA port for speedy transfer to a computer, internal playback of pro formats such as XDCAM and DVCPRO HD, and a handy integrated USB backup synchronize feature. Let's take a closer look at what makes this a real "pro" device.
In the Box
The NVS2500 is packaged well; it's well protected from anything that might damage it during shipping.. As an added bonus, it comes with rubber bumpers that you can slide onto the ends of the device to protect it from minor drops and to keep it from sliding off a table.
It comes with FireWire 400, USB, and eSATA cables. It also includes a PCMCIA-to-ExpressCard converter for importing your P2 cards. NextoDI promises transfer speeds up to 80MB/sec-that's megabytes, not megabits-so if this device performs up to spec, that's fast. I did verify that the NVS2500 can basically go as fast as the media you feed it, though much of my media is slower.
The NextoDI comes with an AC adapter that turns out to be more important than I originally imagined. The NVS2500 will not connect with a computer via eSATA while operating from a battery. It will work with 6-pin FireWire 400 and USB (Figure 2, below), but I was very disappointed by the eSATA restriction. If you want eSATA transfer speed, you need A/C power.
When I received the unit, the accompanying print material touted playback compatibility for an array of shooting formats: XDCAM, DVCPRO (HD, 50, 25), Ikegami MPEG D10 (SD, HD), Convergent Design MPEG-2, and JVC MPEG-2. Since that time, more codecs have been added via NextoDI's firmware updates. This includes support for JVC's HM100/700 MOV files and PAL DVCPRO HD footage. The company promises support for future upgrades, including AVC-Intra 100/50, HDV, and AVCHD. I asked if the NVS2500 can back up digital still photographs; though it isn't currently supported, this feature seems to be an obvious addition because most devices support both formats these days.
When I tried to play back XDCAM footage, the NVS2500 did not play back every frame in real time. XDCAM playback requires a quad-core CPU or a super-powerful graphics card-neither of which is crammed inside the NVS2500, as should be evident from its diminutive size. You should expect low frame rates, especially on AVCHD, when NextoDI adds support for that format.
When I tested some M-JPEG video from a digital still camera, it proved unplayable on the NVS2500. The same footage transferred to a computer played back fine, however. So the footage was captured and stored accurately; the NVS2500 just couldn't play it. This isn't surprising given the unit's focus on professional codecs, but I'd expect support for a codec as universal as M-JPEG to be there.
Keep in mind that the NVS2500 is no reference monitor and shouldn't be used as such. The purpose of video playback on the small screen is simply to confirm that a particular clip is indeed captured and stored. There's no speaker, and it's only a 2.4" screen, so you won't be critically reviewing your footage in any way on this device (Figure 3, below).
Powering up is easy with the side button. Hold it in for a few seconds; the device powers up and the LCD screen comes to life. I think there should be a process for holding both the side and top buttons in for power-there's always the chance another piece of gear in the bag will push on that one button, possibly turning the device on. For example, Samson Technologies actually includes a molded plastic case to protect all the buttons and the screen of its similarly proportioned Zoom H4N audio recorder.
There's a joystick next to the screen for navigating through screens of clips. When you press the joystick, you can select a menu item or a video clip (Figure 4, below). This is fairly similar to the interface on other electronic gear. But I had a few issues with the current interface methodology, as I'll describe next.
Navigation on the NVS2500 takes a bit of getting used to and is one of the core parts of the whole NextoDI experience that needs improvement.
At the bottom of many screens are "select" and "back" labels (Figure 5, below). Next to the labels are little check boxes. There's a mark in the check box that will be selected if you push the joystick to hit Enter. But try as I might, I could not get the check box next to the "back" label to be selected.
Eventually, I realized that pushing and holding the side power button for a second takes me back, but that's not indicated anywhere in the on-screen interface. Moving the joystick does not move the check box. It's very confusing, and it takes an unnecessary amount of time to figure out.
A better solution would be to adopt the menu structure found in many camcorders where a single jog-dial can easily navigate multiple-level menus. This entails doing away with the labels at the bottom of the screen and adding a "Return" or "Back" item to each menu. This would enable the user to navigate up or down to "Return," hit Enter to select, and then back up one menu level. This approach would be simpler to understand and master and apply, as needed, in the midst of a busy shoot.
I used a variety of media to test input speeds and compatibility. The NVS2500 easily sucked in everything I threw at it. It only asked one question-"Copy?"—which is all we want it to do.
Slide in the card of your choice; the NVS2500 analyzes it and pops up that "Copy?" screen. It also determines if you've already copied that card with the same media. This is a nice feature, when you consider the alternative: make us digitize a card twice because we're unsure and we don't want to risk overlooking a card's worth of media.
I tested numerous input speeds and found that the faster the media I provided, the faster the NVS2500 copied the footage, with transfer speed peaking at 77MB/sec for a Sony SxS card. See the "Test Results" sidebar (below) for specifics.
Sidebar: Test Results
In testing, I used a 16GB Class 4 SD card to provide 15.1GB of copyable data. All performance measured here is in the megabytes-per-second (MB/sec) range. Minutes are represented as (m), and seconds are represented as (s).
- Test 1: Ingest SD card1 into NVS2500. 16m 50s = 15MB/sec
- Test 2: Ingest SD card into netbook’s SD slot. 16m 20s = 15.4MB/sec
- Test 3: Ingest SD card into MacBook Pro via USB 2.0. 18m 53s = 13.3MB/sec
- Test 4: Ingest ExpressCard2 into NVS2500. 16m 46s = 15MB/sec
- Test 5: Ingest SxS card into NVS2500. 1m 19s = 77.2MB/sec
- Test 6: eSATA from NVS2500 to HP Pavilion Dv6 (XP). 4m 42s = 53.5MB/sec
- Test 7: eSATA from NVS2500 to MacBook Pro. 10m 8s = 25.1MB/sec
- Test 8: FireWire 400 from NVS2500 to MacBook Pro. 9m 17s = 27.1MB/sec
- Test 9: USB from NVS2500 to MacBook Pro. 17m 6s = 14.7MB/sec
- Test 10: USB from NVS2500 to netbook. 13m 4s = 19.3MB/sec
1. The SD card I have is a Class 4 card, not the speedier Class 6 or recently announced Class 10 cards. I expect faster cards to offer faster performance with the NVS2500.
2. Out of curiosity, I tested the same 16GB SD card through a SanDisk SD/ExpressCard adapter.
Speed limitation could be attributed to both the Class 4 card and the SanDisk adapter.
Note: The PC and Mac laptop tests were also performed on battery power to simulate true field copy speeds. There are numerous OS adjustments that can affect the speed of a computer running on battery power.
The NVS2500 emits a reasonably loud beep when it's finished copying. This lets you attend to other tasks until it's done instead of making you monitor its progress.
I would like a way to adjust the volume, to make it louder and to silence it (for on-set copying). The loud one would be nasty loud so that in a busy production room or during a lunch break, the machine can still clearly be heard. This is critical if you have several pieces of media and limited time. If there were a small slider switch on the side for volume, you could easily adjust it on-the-fly, without bothering with menus.
I tested all three connections on different computers and found that the NVS2500 performs as expected. A single 2.5" hard drive is not going to give you the speed of a 3.5" SATA drive in a computer, but eSATA is certainly faster than FireWire400 or USB.
Even though the results from tests done with my Mac say otherwise, I believe that any computer offering a native eSATA port can look forward to faster speeds than a MacBook with an eSATA/ExpressCard adapter. My tests with an HP laptop confirm this.
It was nice to see the NextoDI charge light come on when the device was connected via USB and FireWire. With the prevalence of USB chargers for all sorts of electronic gear, you're more likely to find a USB charger in a pinch if your dedicated DC charger gets lost in the field.
Backing Up Your Backup
Another nice feature is the internal Sync feature. This lets you connect a second, powered USB drive (the NVS2500 will not power an external device) and back up the NVS2500 to this second drive.
Moreover, it gives you more than a simple backup. Just as with ingest, the Sync feature checks the external drive and will only copy any additional data that has been added since the last sync. For example, on the second day of a shoot, let's say you digitize seven more cards. When you go to sync the NVS2500, it will back up only those seven new cards, not the 12 you already synced the day before.
Sync is not a simultaneous or automatic feature, but it's very handy if you're equipped with a second drive and power. The NVS2500 also tells you how much space is left on the external drive. It only goes in one direction-the NVS is the master at all times.
Part of the NVS2500's speed comes from NextoDI's touted X-Copy technology. This reportedly eliminates the processing bottleneck that a computer's CPU would add to ingesting gobs of data from huge flash media cards.
It also tests the data upon ingest, so a corrupt file on the source media stops the copy process cold. The system also tells you the name of the bad file. However, you then have to go back to the camera, find that bad file, and delete it there. The NVS2500 will not continue to copy the rest of the data on the card.
The NVS2500 is clearly in the hunt for your media-wrangling dollar. The wonky menu system, which is easily fixed with a firmware update, is the only reason I'd hesitate to purchase this device.
Visually, I found the screen to be clear but dark. Video-especially widescreen video-is shown full width, which means nearly half the vertical space is unused. When you present it this way on a 2.4" screen, it makes for tiny video. As I mentioned earlier, the screen, especially without any audio capability, is useful only to confirm that the footage made it onto the NVS2500.
It almost begs the question of whether a 10" netbook with ExpressCard and SD card slots would be a better solution. The screen would clearly be better, and you'd have audio. But digitizing is not automatic, it may not be as fast, and pro codec support on a netbook would be completely up to you to provide.
The NVS2500 is small and fast, and it does what it says it can do. This is what we ask of pro gear-do the job. Moreover, NextoDI's website has already offered two firmware updates in the 1 month since I began testing the unit. This suggests that the company is working to give the NVS2500 more capability and to quash bugs that users discover.
I really like the NVS2500 and can attest that it's handily found a spot in my gear bag as the entire industry moves to flash media recording.
Anthony Burokas (VidPro at ieba.com) of IEBA Communications has shot award-winning corporate video internationally and recorded events since the days of 3/4" tape. He is currently technical director for the PBS series Flavors of America and resides just outside of Dallas.