This review almost didn’t happen. But we’ll get to that in a minute. First, I have to say it’s not often that a company impresses me. The first time I ordered a CalDigit product, I was in a bind, and I begged for help from the customer service reps. They didn’t know me from anyone and had no reason to go above and beyond. But they did. And I became a fan of CalDigit that day. So back to why this article almost didn’t happen. We have several CalDigit drives running in our studio, and when I heard about the AV Drive, I knew it could serve a special purpose for us as wedding filmmakers. I read that the AV Drive is a small, easily portable drive that features the power of USB 3.0 and the ability to bring that technology to the Mac platform. It sounded like the perfect drive for a same-day edit (SDE) production.
After my first awesome experience with CalDigit reps and two subsequent instances in which they went beyond the call, I really wanted to give something back. So when I saw the specs for the AV Drive, I decided that reviewing it would give me the perfect opportunity to help out a company with great products and great service.
The first AV Drive that CalDigit sent me failed after a few days. I was ready to drop the review because I’m an honest person, and I knew I would have to mention this fact. CalDigit encouraged me to go ahead and do the review. Another drive was shipped to me ASAP. While it was in transit, I discovered that I had probably caused the drive failure via an improper ejection of the drive.
So the replacement drive arrived. I dutifully installed the USB 3.0 driver and restarted my Mac, only to have my system go to a gray screen that prompted me to shut down and restart again. I complied, with a huge knot in my stomach. Again, I got the gray screen. The third time was not the charm.
At this point I was sick to my stomach and very upset, and I had no intention of doing a review for the drive. My only purpose was to get my beloved MacBook Pro back up and running. So I called CalDigit and asked for my contacts, who were either out of the country or out of the office. But the guy who answered the phone, my new best friend Leslie, immediately offered to try to help me out.
Over the next several hours, most of which I spent trying to iron out internet difficulties in our studio (everything has to stop working at once, right?), we got the problem solved. But there’s more to the story than that.
I recently had my Xbox Live account hacked and had to contact Microsoft to get it fixed. Let’s just say that Microsoft could learn a lot from CalDigit when it comes to customer service.
Unlike the people I dealt with at Microsoft, when Leslie said he would call me back in 5 minutes, he did. In fact, I think he called me back about a dozen times. He was amazingly patient and pleasant during the whole ordeal, and his attitude actually helped calm my nerves.
In the end, he also proved ingenious as he guided me through a process so he could access my laptop remotely from across the country and identify the problem, which turned out to be a driver from a router. Removing the driver fixed the problem instantly.
Right about now you’re probably wondering if this is actually a review of the AV Drive or not. It is and it isn’t. You see, the moment my computer locked up, I was ready to be done with CalDigit and the AV Drive. But because of the company’s amazing customer service, I changed my mind. I went from wanting nothing to do with the AV Drive to wanting, once again, to promote it. I’ve always believed that a great company will show greatness in every area, and CalDigit is one of the few that does. I hope someone from Microsoft is reading this.
But what about the AV Drive? Did it also stand up to the test? Let’s take a look.
Simulated SDE Testing
I ran a series of tests to simulate the potential situations of a SDE and to assess how the AV Drive would perform as my editing drive under those conditions. I used three different drives for comparison: a standard Western Digital (WD) My Passport USB 2.0 drive, a CalDigit VR Mini (two 1TB drives formatted for RAID 0 for speed) using FireWire 800, and the CalDigit AV Drive with USB 3.0. All tests were done using my 2.66 GHz Macbook Pro i7 with a solid-state internal drive and 8GB RAM running Mac OS 10.6.5.
The first test was a simple file transfer. I hooked up a SanDisk card reader and popped in a SanDisk 32GB 60MB/sec CF card. I had a folder of Canon 7D video files that measured 6.23GB in size. I copied this entire folder over to each drive setup. Here are the transfer times for the three drives (times in minutes:seconds):
• WD My Passport (USB 2.0)—3:31
• CalDigit VR Mini (FireWire)—2:32
• CalDigit AV Drive (USB 3.0)—1:52
As you can see, the AV Drive blows away the USB 2.0 drive and beats the FireWire 800 drive as well. This is hugely important for editing an SDE, for which you need to get video files transferred as quickly as possible. If you transferred 10 times the footage, it would save you more than 23 minutes of transfer time to use the AV Drive. Given that SDE productions sometimes come right down to the wire, gaining an extra 20 or 30 minutes could be critical.
The next test was to run a 48.5MB video file through MPEG Streamclip to prepare the clip for editing. The conversion was set to Apple ProRes 422 and 100% quality. Here’s how the drives fared:
• WD My Passport (USB 2.0)—0:16.1
• CalDigit VR Mini (FireWire)—0:12.8
• CalDigit AV Drive (USB 3.0)—0:12
Again, the AV Drive trumps both the USB 2.0 and FireWire 800 drive. Again, with SDEs, production time is the ultimate killer, and shaving off 5, 10, or 15 minutes can really make a difference on the day of the wedding.
Next, I wanted to see how the USB 3.0 technology affected the use of filters and rendering. There didn’t seem to be any difference between the various drives in terms of the number of stackable filters before rendering was required. To test the rendering on the different drives, I applied a basic vignette filter to an 8-second clip and then rendered. Here are the results:
• WD My Passport (USB 2.0)—0:42
• CalDigit VR Mini (FireWire)—0:38.4
• CalDigit AV Drive (USB 3.0)—0:37.7
The AV Drive once again beat out the other drives. The time difference was much smaller, but the cumulative effect could be useful on a wedding day; even a savings of 5 minutes can be huge when putting together a SDE. I also tested an export of the clip to a self-contained QuickTime file. Both the CalDigit VR Mini and the CalDigit AV exported the clip instantly, while the WD My Passport took a little less than 5 seconds.
The bottom line is that if you’re used to editing via USB 2.0 drives, then the AV is going to impress you in a number of areas. Transfer of clips from CF cards alone can save you quite a bit of time with the USB 3.0 technology.
Travis Cossel (cinema at beyondordinary.net) is cofounder, with his wife, Candice, of Serendipity Studios, an EventDV 25 all-star cinema/photo outfit based in the Miami area. Travis was a featured speaker on editing techniques at WEVA Expo 2010.