not SDHC, not P2, not SxS, not MS, but HDV on HDD.

fx1wshadow.pngI’ve been shopping for a new camcorder.
Not so much for me, though.

IEBA Communications already has an HDTV arsenal that is based around the Sony FX1/Z1u camcorders (pictured here). I’ve been shooting HD with numerous camcorders for corporate and event video work since 2003. I’ve shot 720 and 1080. I’ve shot on flash media, and tape. I’ve recorded to two different external hard drive recorders. I’ve edited this footage and shown it to clients.

The problem isn’t with my client’s interest.
The problem is turning it around as fast as possible.

Specifically- corporate work that requires an entire day’s worth of presentations to be available compressed and streaming… the same day. They can relent and accept SD (but the widescreen HD that I made for them was so very impressive). But no matter what format a camcorder shoots this stuff in it’s not perfect for BOTH places it has to go:

1) in our data pool for possible editing later,
2) on the web for e-learning.

The former loves DV.
The latter loves Flash.
Those two, disparate solutions don’t exist in one camcorder…

You see, most any non-tape based consumer/prosumer camcorder records MPEG-2 or AVCHD.
Professional camcorders record DVCPROHD, AVC-Intra, XDCAM and JPEG-2000 (among others).

Tape camcorders record DV / DVCAM / DVCPRO or HDCAM / DVCPROHD.

The price level my clients are at cannot afford four new AVC-Intra camcorders, nor can they afford four new XDCAM camcorders. Because, even at the least expensive solution, we’re talking About $8000 x 4 = $32,000… just for cameras. Uhhhhhhh, no.

There’s all kinds of alternatives, like Canon’s XH G1 that can do HDV but also HD-SDI for live switch. It’s only $6300 (not counting a $500 mail-in rebate currently going on) but that’s $25,000 for four HD camcorders. Ugh.

intensity.jpgNow… Black Magic throws a bomerang into this discussion with their Intensity card.
This little wonder can accept input from a HD camcorder via HDMI. That’s pretty cool!
It does this for the incredible price of just $249. (insert “goink!” sound effect here)
Add their “On Air” software (it’s free— goink! again) to cut between two cameras and record the program to hard drive.

Now for the caveats.
macprotowering.jpgEven though the two $249 cards can record full HD from two $800 camcorders… ($2098 so far) you’ll need a big, heavy, ungainly, $3000+ Mac and a very fast internal hard drive RAID to handle the uncompressed HD. Uh… lots of storage because uncompressed HD eats space like you’ve never seen.

It only does two cameras. A / B / internal GFX overlay / black.
That’s it.
I’ve heard of hacks that may do more than 2 camera inputs, but when I spoke to Black Magic Design folks, they only spoke of two cameras. So there’s no support from the mother ship for more cameras.

But there are other systems out there that handle more cameras.
I’ve been spending considerable time getting to know those applications listed in my sidebar. Wirecast & Channel Storm. Of the two, I feel that Wirecast has the much better interface and actually punching a live show is easier in Wirecast (the desperately needed keyboard shortcuts
are due any day now, but it still needs active source preview windows, a-la Video Toaster / Tricaster / Anycast, etc. ). Plus, most any Core 2 Duo machine can handle it. One of my tests mixed between DV camera and PowerPoint. Wirecast said the processor was only utilized to 60%. This on a laptop which is considerably lighter, cheaper and easier to transport than any desktop machine, especially Apple’s behemoth Mac Pro.

But then you hit the other problem… how do you get more inputs into your laptop?
Firewire, USB. That’s two.
Oh, wait!
How many camcorders provide a full, live feed out their USB port like HDV camcorders do out their Firewire port? Hmmm.
Well, you can add a PC card or an ExpressCard for an additional Firewire input…
but then, how many of those small AVCHD camcorders with HDMI also have Firewire?
Like… none?

So maybe we give up on the HD part. Just give me DV to an internal hard drive.
(this, despite the fact that they use the same data rate, or HDV may use less)
Again. Doesn’t exist.
Those that have a hard drive record standard def to MPEG-2.
That codec alone makes re-compression to Flash take longer than DV.
(it’s the whole P & B-frame vs. I-frame thing again)

So then you’re back up in the $15000 realm for a good DV camcorder with Firewire, and back to using tape.
dvtape.jpgYou can record the mixed production to the computer using most any codec. You can probably turn it around in a couple hours. You also have the ability to record the event live in the camcorder. You can use that later for high-quality source footage for editing…. that is, after you’ve spent hours and hours digitizing it. Because tape only goes in real time.

So… what is needed is an affordable DV camcorder that records to an internal hard drive, AND spits the live signal out Firewire or SDI. I can tell you, it doesn’t exist. And, without a whole mess of Firewire repeaters, one dedicated to each source camcorder, you can’t send the one Firewire output to both an external hard drive recorder and the computer to mix the live feed. So you’re stuck.

You see, the goal is to have smaller, cheaper, more capable gear.
Not bigger, more clumsy, and less capable gear.

morass.jpgI don’t want to lug around a 42 pound Mac Pro, not counting monitor, keyboard, mouse, cables, Firewire hubs, Firewire cables, external hard drive recorders, camcorders, tripods, batteries, power cords, power strips, cases, bags and rolling carts to hold all this crap.

Yea, HDMI recording has its place, and its possibilities, but it’s not where my clients are at.

We’re at the place where I can roll in with one carry-on case that has the camcorder(s) tripod, and “master control” laptop. Set up. Tap the house audio. Roll hard drive in the camera. Roll hard drive in the laptop. Switch the show. Send the master switched file to compress to .flv. Dump the files off the camcorder in “hard drive” time. Archive the raw video. Move on to the next project.

THAT’s where my clients are at.

So what’s the solution?



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8 thoughts on “not SDHC, not P2, not SxS, not MS, but HDV on HDD.

Add yours

  1. Still requires a firewire cable sticking sideways of the camcorder and connecting to an external drive with a battery that only lasts for an hour and a half. How do I know- because I own a Firestore and reviewed a Citidisk:

    External hard drives have their clumsy workflow and that’s the point of the article: that there’s a better way to do this. Consumer camcorders already offer internal hard drives passing 100gb. Just as pro camcorders adopted small color LCD panels from the consumer realm, it’s time for the pro camcorders to get in the internal hard drive (or removable) game.

  2. I agree – and I wish there was a better consumer or prosumer solution.

    The DVX – Firestore has been used successfully in combo. A 12V portable power supply can extend the run time of any DC unit several hours.

    I use a LUMIX for a pocket camera, however the 848 x 480 resolution is not quite good enough for DVD, but the workflow is nifty.

  3. The Citidisk I reviewed had an external power pack that could run the hard drive recorder for three hours, then, when it ran low, you can pull it out and it will continue to run off internal battery.

    But now you have a camcorder daisy-chained to a hard drive recorder daisy-chained to a power supply daisy-chained to …

    Given the success of exorbitantly expensive external hard drive recorders, it’s really hard to fathom why a prosumer camcorder hasn’t emerged with a hard drive in it- maybe even easily removable like the FFV recorder.

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