Flash media for Production? Tough Call.

p2.gifsxs.gifI’ve long questioned Panasonic’s P2 push for two key reasons, cost (both in media and the need for a seperate person to offload the data) and archivability (you have to put the footage back on to something to archive it). In the end, it just seems like a lot of time, money and effort to not use a hard drive… which is exactly where the footage will go to be edited, distributed, broadcast and probably, archived.

Now Sony is getting into the game. No matter how much they stomp their feet and promote that they’re not the “outdated” PCMCIA format, I can’t help but see that they are, in essence, the same damm thing- flash media. No matter the form factor, flash media (especially branded products like P2 and SxS) are E-X-P-E-N-S-I-V-E. Expensive enough that you will not: use them for archiving (a shelf of full SxS sticks?) hand them off (news stringer?) have a bunch (buy a couple cases of P2 for a big shoot?) Etc.

The October 2007 issue of DV magazine has a couple articles that continue to make my point…

But before I get to the article, let me just take a snapshot of where we are today.

Panasonic finally released P2 cards bigger than 8g. This means you can finally put more than eight minutes of footage on one stick of media. Pardon me, but I’ve been putting 60 and 80 minutes of 1080i60 video on my HDV tape for years now. 8 minutes is joke.

P2 has been out for a couple years now, prices have come down several times, but despite all that, let me take another snapshot. Panasonic has made it clear that the P2 card is four SD cards striped in an array. Here. and Here. They used to have a nice picture of four SD cards inside one P2 card, but they got rid of that.

Current 16g P2 card from B&H: $900.
Current 8g SD card price on DealRam: $71.

If you put four of those SD cards into a P2 card, the P2 card would be 32g and cost $284.
This is with street prices, not the wholesale, manufacturer prices that Panasonic gets.

Sony’s SxS isn’t available yet, and they’ve been pretty mum on pricing, but an August 23rd Sony press release noted “The 8GB SBP-8 will be priced around €400 and the 16GB SBP-16 around €700. Both models will be available in November 2007.” That’s about $550 for an 8GB card, and $950 for a 16GB card. No cost savings over P2 at all.

Personally, I refuse to pay anywhere near $56 a gig. (jump to the end!)

This brings me to the two brand new DV magazine articles.
In the first, Guy Louthan, who has made over 40 feature films, used P2 to record a movie about making a movie. (the movie within the movie was shot on 35mm Anamorphic). He starts saying “We were sold on the convenience of the P2 system.” “Because of their limited availability at the time, Louthan was able to acquire only four [8g] cards, along with an Aj-PCS060g 60GB P2 storage drive. The first problem the crew encountered was that the P2 cards id not download to the P2 Store as quickly as they needed them to. ‘It was inconsistent and frustrating,’ Louthan recalls. ‘At times , it could take 30 to 40 minutes to download one card with six minutes of footage. We had Panasonic techs out with us who could not explain why it would take so long.’ ”

“Because the show was constantly in ‘download downtime,’ Louthan started deleting non-circle takes in camera. ‘It’s something I’d never do again, but space on those cards was precious.’ ”

Then we come to archiving.
In an article on storage, author Ned Soltz speaks on backing up his P2 files.

“I must transfer MXF files from my cards and my … hard drive recorder. I recommend treating those MXF files as original footage- much like tape- and thus often devote my stock of — hard drives jus for [the] MXF files, much as I still have boxes of original footage. Storage requirements increase when my NLE of choice, Final Cut Pro, needs to rewrap those MXF files as QuickTime movies upon ingest.” … “Note that on the PC side, Raylight rewraps those MXFs as .avi files for Premiere Pro, so there’s no space savings.”

So all those files end up on hard drives anyway.

The alternative I find most interesting is Sony’s Professional Disk (i.e. Blu-ray in a case)pd.jpg because these disks, in addition to paying just $42 for 23g (single-layer disk, higher capacity dual-layer on the way) they offer the same random accessibility that flash media does. Good reliability in terms of ruggedness where tape would have problems. But these disks offer three key advantages that flash media currently lack (but may achieve in years to come).

1. Archivability (low initial cost): means you can take the disk out of the camera and put it on a shelf. You can hand it off to a client. You can buy a case of them for a long, remote shoot and use them up as needed. No second person or additional gear required to keep offloading the data.

2. Run time: Choosing the highest bit rate of 35 Mb/s results in the highest-quality pictures over a long recording time of over 60 minutes, while choosing the 18 Mb/s bit rate provides a recording time of over 120 minutes

3. Project Consolidation: When you get done editing your project based on the media files on the PD, you can then save your project file, still images, logos and other related artwork to the very same disk. This way, everything is archived in the same place- on the camera original media. Never before was this really possible.

While all three of these features may be possible with flash media in 5 years, they can be done with disk-based media right now. The Professional Disk is a handy way to do it.

ndt2002.gifAnother option is to use bare 2.5″ hard drives, much like the way FFV uses these drives in their dedicated recorders- like the NDT-200, pictured here.

Their this portable deck is a drop-in digital replacement for tape-based recording devices. It has a simple user interface, and provides instant access to video recordings via the removable 2.5-in. SATA hard drive or the on-board USB 2.0 port. Video clips are recorded in QuickTime™ for playback on PC or Mac.

The key features the hard drive offers are:

1) much greater record time than flash or optical media
2) much faster access time and faster data rate throughput than optical media, by far.
3) ease of use with computers, which are already designed to use hard drives.

One of the touted features of flash media is how rugged it is. I’d dropped cassette tapes. I’ve dropped hard drives. They both still work. Video recorders that use hard drives are used in all kinds of places, including police vehicles. iPods and other media players have used hard drives for years. If you’re going to be more violent to your camcorder than people are to their iPods, then the hard drive is the least of your worries. The moving optical image stabilizer will be busted long before the hard drive has an issue.

The door on the NDT-200 pops open like a portable cassette recorder and the SATA drive slides out without issue. This drive can then be connected to a computer with any number of interfaces and there is no “copying” of media, you can edit directly from the 2.5″ SATA drives which have read-write speeds in excess of 60 MBps. This blows away touted PD speeds of 9 MBps with a single-head unit. Flash media can attain similar speeds, but do not offer 200g for $260. They don’t offer 200g period.

Personally, I like all the features of hard drive recording and editing,
especially when all these advantages come with the current price tag of $1.30 a gig.
although flash media prices will drop while size increases, so too, will hard drives.

6 thoughts on “Flash media for Production? Tough Call.

Add yours

  1. Reading through all your posts, you have sold me on Professional Disks.

    One thing I would like you to address though is that unlike Blu-ray disks, I can load most flash media onto any computer. Blu-ray (or PD) are still light years away from being the norm.

  2. Oh yes. And, like Betacam, it may only ever be the norm in the “deck room” of broadcast stations. It will never be like a CD-rom drive.

    However, the capabilities of PD far outpace flash.
    There isn’t yet flash media with 23g for $42.- though, that day will come.
    No flash media camcorder records both the main HD clip and a second smaller resolution proxy at the same time.
    There aren’t flash media “decks” with ethernet connectivity

    OTOH, I feel that Flash media _may_ offer greater permanence than rewritable optical media- we’ll find out 50 years from now. :)

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