AJA Video’s new Ki Pro field recorder has its finger on the pulse of several of the most vital trends in production and post-production these days—tapeless workflow, direct to edit capabilities, high quality (though flexible) acquisition—just to name a few. Leveraging its wide expertise in making broadcast quality production and post-production converters and I/O devices, AJA has entered the acquisition arena with this 3.7 pound, 3 x 9 x 6-inch box, which combines a lot of high quality functionality with elegant design.
The Ki Pro records SD/HD digital or analog video and/or audio to a 2.5-inch drive using either of the ProRes codecs. A 250 GB SATA is included and AJA can also provide a solid-state device unit that docks on the top side of the unit. And—after a near future firmware update—recording to cards in two Express/34 slots on the front of the unit will be a reality. In a nice bit of designed functionality, the hard drive or SSD unit, de-docks and can be used as a standalone device (though it will require a power source) FireWire 800 drive. The front panel contains transport, menu, and navigation controls—all very solid feeling 1/4-inch lighted “Chicklet” buttons. There are also audio input level controls and seven-element LED metering, a two-line by 20-character display, drive activity lights, and headphone jack and associated level control knob. The right side of the unit contains a four-pin XLR receptacle for 12 V power from a supplied 110 to 240 V adapter. Typical power consumption is about 30 W.
The rear panel of the Ki Pro contains all the input, output and control ports. Video includes connections for HDMI in and out, SDI/HD-SDI in and out, component in and out, and composite out, with all outputs simultaneously active. The HDMI and SDI ports can carry embedded audio, eight channels of 24-bit 48 kHz on the SDI and two channels in and eight channels out on the HDMI. Audio I/O connections are on both balanced XLRs (24-bit A/D and D/A at 48 kHz) and unbalanced RCA jacks. The input XLRs can also be switched between mic and line levels and can apply 48 V of phantom power. Control ports include LTC in and out, RS-422, FireWire 400 for control and timecode data, LANC loop (two connectors), RJ45 for 10/100/1000 Mbps Ethernet, Lens Tap (uses custom AJA Lens Tap intercept cable, placed between camera body and lens for start/stop control, and a FireWire 800 port to connect the Ki Pro to the host computer.
Software, specifically in the Config and Media menus, provides for setting all operational parameters, including audio and video input and output formats and levels, timecode, genlock, date and time, encode parameters, clip data and names and playback parameters. The Ki Pro can also perform up, down, and cross conversions on input or output signals using AJA’s excellent methods. SD media can be upconverted to a 16:9 frame, anamorphic full frame, a 14:9 frame with black sidebars, full screen letterbox, and pillarbox. High-definition downconversion options include letterbox, crop, and anamorphic. The system can crossconvert between SD, 720p, and 1080i.
For camera studio or field configurations, the Ki Pro can be mounted securely in an exoskeleton, optional rod endplates and a box that fits between the camera base plate and the tripod head, which allows for side access to front panel controls and rear panel I/O and control ports.
Finally, a soon-to-be-released series of firmware updates will enable a number of interesting and useful features that exist as potentials in the hardware: ExpressCard/34 media support, ProRes proxy recordings, variable frame rate, arm recording via timecode change, RS-422 control, LANC and Lens Tap controls, FireWire 400 port for timecode, FireWire 800 port for connecting to host computer, eight-channel embedded audio I/O (in SDI and HDMI, two channels I/O currently operational), and playback of ProRes files not created by the Ki Pro.
Hopefully, this long descriptive preamble has given you a sense of the capabilities and possibilities of the Ki Pro. I was able to use the recorder on two field shoots of musical performances. I paired the Ki Pro with my Sony PWM-EX3 camera, connected via a single SDI (BNC) cable. Basic setup and operation were very simple. The Ki Pro mounts into the exoskeleton via two thumb screws in the base of the unit. (The tripod base plate goes onto the bottom of the exoskeleton, and the camera’s base secures to the top of the cage, making a compact and easily balanced unit that sits nicely on the tripod head.) The power plug goes conveniently into the side, staying out of the way of both cables and operations.
The unit takes about a minute to power up. Then the transport display shows the current clip and reel numbers, timecode, and space remaining. (The display is not only extremely readable, in low or high light levels, but is adjustable to conserve power when operating from batteries.) After that, a push on the Status button confirms input and record connections; a push on the Media button allows you to set the record codec (ProRes or ProRes HQ) and various clip and reel naming and playback preferences; a push on the Config button allows you to scroll through and choose video and audio I/O and conversion settings. The menu design is very shallow, making for fast and logical setup.
Once everything was set, all I had to do was press the Record button on the Ki Pro to begin capturing my camera’s output immediately. I could set audio levels—even those with embedded SDI input—and monitor recorded audio with confidence. The camera passed timecode to the Ki Pro through the SDI video as well, which was an added pleasure. The supplied 250 GB drive neatly held the two hour performances, at 1080i ProRes HQ, and would have held twice as much at the lower rate of ProRes 422. The equipment manual notes that there may be a delay when stopping a long clip recording, but this delay was only a few seconds in the case of a one hour clip, and was hardly enough of a pause to be an impediment to the shooting flow. In the cases of short clips, the record button could be pushed again immediately. Recording the performances was as smooth as silk. For safety and for further comparison, I also recorded the performances to the camera’s SxS cards, in Sony’s 35 Mbps Long GOP format.
HD/SD recording and playback
ProRes codecs, direct to edit workflow, analog and digital inputs and outputs, compact size
MSRP is $3,995; options and accessories include an exoskeleton (MSRP $595), optional rod endplates (MSRP $245), and several hard drives and solid-state storage units (call for pricing)
AJA Video | 800-251-4224 | www.aja.com
The other part of the equation in connection with evaluating the unit was how the resulting footage looked, and how this device functioned in the edit suite. The hard disk cartridge ejects from the Ki Pro at the push of a button, which is mechanically stiff to prevent accidental ejection. (In the near future—and after a firmware update—the cartridge will be able to be mounted to a host computer directly from the Ki Pro.) The drive mounted instantly on my Mac Pro via FireWire 800, and even takes bus power to avoid the need for the included AC adaptor (and to make it convenient for field offloading). Files are standard QuickTime, instantly playable and instantly imported into the editing system of your choice (provided the ProRes codecs are installed in your system), with no transcoding or rendering time needed. Admittedly, the Ki Pro is weighted toward Macintosh-based edit systems, with its use of Apple’s ProRes codecs. Decoders for these codecs are installable into QuickTime for Windows for those who wish to use Ki Pro with Windows-based edit systems.
The footage looks incredible, which is not a huge surprise. To my eye, in a split-screen display, the Ki Pro-recorded footage looked better than the same footage shot to my SxS cards and transcoded into my edit system (Media 100 and Final Cut Pro). The reason, clearly, is that the Ki Pro footage was recorded from the SDI out, bypassing the camera’s compression (and subsequent transcoding).
The Ki Pro is game-changing hardware. While not the first hard disk-based recording and playback system, it does represent a leap forward in capability, quality, flexibility and ease of use, and a step downward in price and size. Once all its designed capabilities are implemented in future firmware updates, this unit will provide incredible functionality in a wide variety of settings. It already does. Whether the purpose is to provide higher quality recording capabilities to a favorite but outmoded camera, remote (network or iPhone) controlled recording or playback, source or record deck for studio use, projection or signage source, or just to expedite your camera to edit workflow, the Ki Pro will be an excellent investment that will repay itself quickly.
Michael Hanish operates Free Lunch, a video/audio/multimedia production house near Guilford, Vt. He may be contacted at [email protected].