You might not have noticed, but…
our ever-simplified world is crazy-complicated.
Now, I’m not talkin’ philosophy or physics,
but the rarefied air of silicon and solder.
Imagine my disappointment one fine
evening as I hit the big-box electronics
store out on the highway for a simple purchase,
and leave in a lather.
So I’m shoppin’ for accessories for that
sweet little helmet-cam I just bought to record
all my pie-eating triumphs at the annual
Festa San’ Guido. (Pizza pie, of course.)
At the top of my accessory list: storage.
With features such as burst mode and
resolutions up to 4K, these new puppies
are ravenous. That 4 MB Compact Flash card
that came with my last digital still camera
might not cut the mustard, methinks.
So I’m shoppin’ SD, and I vaguely remember
those whizbang Class 6 postage
stamp-sized memory cards I once saw…
bet they hold a whole gigabyte these days,
I says to myself. So… where’s the sales
OK, so you know the punch line. Everybody
but me knew the punch line. The options
are confounding… full-sized SD cards
went out with the dinosaurs, and I can’t
even pick up the new Class 10 MicroSD
cards without a tweezers. For reals. Storage
sizes range beyond 32 GB up into the 64s
and 128s; and then there’s speed. Writing
speed is the thing… natch; reading is nice,
but when the 4:2:2 is flyin’ out of the spigot,
write speed talks.
Seriously? A horsefly-sized card that
stores 128 GB, and writes at 6 MBps. Wowzers.
But based on my extensive research
that one night, you really can’t tell the
players without a scorecard; next time, I’m
startin’ a set of crib notes on the back of
DOWN MEMORY LANE
Fact is, flash memory storage is the de
facto standard of our times. And I can’t
decide whether I love the idea of using
garden-variety SD-family cards for my precious
footage, or I fear it beyond all reason.
There’s something so appealing about the
utter simplicity—that itsy-bitsy package,
at popular prices, and available at the local
big-box or on the Interwebs. But we’ve
also been trained to expect that serious,
mil-spec quality needs a bulletproof package,
with an extra-serious price sticker
to match. How can simplicity breed such
For perspective, it doesn’t hurt to recount
the history of our earliest, highest-profile flash storage icons. Panasonic’s P2
memory cards made it to market before
Sony’s SxS cards, but being first brought
its own problems: the flash memory of the
day was slow… slower than the speeds required
for HD streams, at the very least. The
ingenious solution took a page from Rube
Goldberg’s playbook: If mechanical hard
drive arrays needed multiple, interleaved
drives and a RAID controller, why not do
the same for P2?
Inside those first-generation cards, if you
popped off the metal trim plates, you’d
find an embedded RAID chip and four
socketed SD storage cards… the world’s
flattest multi-volume array.
Of course, it wasn’t long before flash
chips picked up steam and achieved usable
speeds for video, and a host of form
factors, capacities and price points were
thrust upon us—further complicating the
simple task of storage. And even then, the
lure of cheap consumer solutions was too
strong to resist; rather than pay full price
for a high-reliability SxS card, shooters
turned to SxS adapter frames that accepted
good ol’ SD cards. Reliability is often overrated,
VISIT FROM A PEDDLER
The other day, the camera salesman
came a-callin’ at our place, looking for
all the world like a vagabond peddler
with his collection of odd-sized trunks,
and showin’ us a big broadcast camera, a
little faux-cinema jobbie, and a couple o’
more in between. He talked fast, which
I don’t necessarily like, but among the
crumbs that Nellie the Neuron was able
to snatch out of the ether was storage…
he kept talking about storage, and over
the course of an hour, he was able to cite
at least six different ways these cameras
would record pictures, ranging from
high-speed, purpose-built, cinema-grade
memory, all the way down to those consumer
Most were proprietary; some required
beau coups in-camera compression; and
none of them were free, or even close.
Which is my ultimate criteria, of course.
But across the range of cameras, sizes,
bit rates and resolutions, one aspect was
constant: flash memory, whether built-in
or add-on, was the storage of choice. An
external recorder with a flash-based SSD;
branded memory modules selectable by
capacity and writing speed, all the way up
to 4K RAW; and even those garden-variety,
tweezer-delivered SD cards.
Until the next big thing comes along,
looks like we’re writin’ to flash, whether
cheap, pricey or in-between. As for the
flash memory crib notes, looks like they’re
headed off the back of my hand, up one
arm, and down the other.
Mario Orazio is the pseudonym of
a well-known television engineer who
wishes to remain anonymous. E-mail him
at [email protected].