There's no doubt that as a linear, mechanical device, tape has shortcomings. The tape transport, especially with today's 6mm cassettes, certainly does look fragile and complicated. And although under most conditions it is reliable, it can require service.
The transport's read/erase/write head assembly is the most vulnerable part of the entire tape system. It requires cleaning and periodic head replacement. Even with proper maintenance, dropouts can and do occur, though current tape technology and manufacturing have dramatically decreased the probability.
Alternatives to tape
These issues have prompted engineers to develop alternative media systems. These proprietary systems offer a major financial advantage to their developers because videotape is now a commodity. The new media's price is determined by a single supplier.
Anyone considering the new media technology needs to contemplate the advantages offered by videotape. First, tape is cheap. If you need to record one hour, you only have to purchase an hour. Second, it is available everywhere in the world. Third, and most importantly, it is self-archiving.
Tape, therefore, fulfills three equally critical roles: recording, playback and long-term storage. It does the latter with neither additional costly devices nor extra labor. Moreover, it does not require archive media.
One alternative technology finding favor is hard disk-based storage. Hard disks are a commodity. Today, drives under 100GB are dirt cheap. A 40GB 7200rpm drive costs less than $50.
There are multiple ways hard disks can be used, including:
Mounted in a proprietary, removable package and sold by the camcorder's manufacturer. Ikegami's HDN-X10 EditcamHD records using Avid DN×HD codec on Ikegami's 120GB FieldPak2.
Mounted within a camcorder. JVC's Everio DV camcorders use built-in 30GB drives, and Sony's new AVCHD 1080i HDR-SR1 will also have a built-in 30GB drive.
Mounted in a proprietary, removable package, such as Iomega's REV drive, which is used by Grass Valley's Infinity camcorder.
Mounted in a record/playback device that can be used with a camcorder, such as Hitachi's dockable Z-DR1 and Focus Enhancements' FireStore drives. The Z-DR1 uses Mediapac drives in capacities from 20GB to 120GB.
For the past month, I have been working with a Focus-built 40GB DR-HD100 from JVC. An 80GB version is also available. Both use 5400rpm drives that have an 8MB cache. While the DR-HD100 has firmware specific to JVC's GY-HD100, it can also function with other DV and HDV camcorders.
The 40GB drive holds three hours of DV and almost four hours of ProHD. A 10-second electronic shock cache helps prevent the loss of footage in rough conditions.
The 1.59in × 5.6in × 3.74in unit weighs about 1lb. The 90-minute Li-Ion battery can be recharged using the included worldwide charger or via FireWire. The player/recorder can also be powered by 15V DC, (7.5W) via a 3.5mm minijack.
No file transfers
Focus promotes the Direct-To-Edit (DTE) capability of the DR-HD100 by claiming that no file transfer is required. This means that when using DTE, the user imports captured files as clips, and the files remain on the drive. While this sounds good, if the DR-HD100 is disconnected from your computer or if it or your computer is turned off, all imported clips will go offline and must be reconnected. While it takes time and requires space on your computer's disk, the more practical way to use DTE is to copy the files from the drive to your computer's hard disk.
DTE requires two capabilities to be in place. First, the DR-HD100's microprocessor and firmware must be able to generate a file wrapper around the data stream from the camcorder. In the case of ProHD, that means the HDV transport stream is demuxed to audio and video elementary streams. The elementary streams are then placed into a QuickTime file.
Second, the NLE must be able to import — not simply FireWire capture — the file format created by the unit. Apple's Final Cut Pro version 5.1.2, released in October, supports 720/24p, 720/25p and 720/30p QuickTime. (It cannot import M2T files.) The September release of enhanced DR-HD100 firmware supports QuickTime-based 720/30p. (For units without this firmware version, the update can be purchased.)
Despite the firmware enhancement, other open issues remain:
Will the DR-HD100 work with Apple's 720/24p and 720/25p FCP enhancement? Will another firmware update be required?
Will Apple support the release of JVC ProHD camcorders that record 50p and 60p?
When Apple releases support for 50p and 60p ProHD, will the DR-HD100 work with it? If so, will a firmware update be required?
How can M2T files from a DR-HD100 be used with FCP?
How can M2T files be FireWire "captured" from a DR-HD100?
Before looking at the last two questions, we need to examine the DR-HD100 as a recording device.
The unit's menu is linear and easy-to-use. Setup (e.g., time, date, UB set and DF/NDF) is performed using the setup menu. Use the control menu to select JVC GY-HD100 or syncro slave operation. Slave mode watches, via FireWire, a camcorder's record-pause mode. (Slave mode worked perfectly with my JVC GR-HD1.)
Next, use the HDD mode menu to choose between DV and HD recording. If you choose DV, use the DV formats menu to select the recording format, which includes raw DV (four-channel, 12-bit, 32kHz audio is supported), AVI Type 1, AVI Type 2, Canopus AVI, Matrox AVI, QuickTime, Avid OMF, QuickTime 24p, AVI Type 2 24p and Pinnacle. If you choose HD, you use the HD formats menu to select between M2T and QuickTime.
The record menu selects between normal and retro-cache (up to 10 seconds stored in a memory buffer) recording. In normal mode, your camcorder's trigger toggles the DR-HD100 between record and record-pause.
To access M2T and DV recorded files, connect your computer via FireWire to the computer I/O port, and use the HDD mode menu to select DD drive. When operating in DD mode, the unit's hard disk mounts on your computer's desktop. Each recorded video segment appears as a file within a folder. Assuming the file is other than M2T, DTE operation is possible.
After recording DV clips, I used DTE mode with FCP (QuickTime), Premiere Pro (AVI Type 2), EDIUS 3 (Canopus AVI), iMovie HD (RawDV), and Avid's FreeDV (OMF). I also used DTE mode with FCP and QuickTime 720/30p. During all my tests, the DR-HD100 performed properly.
M2T files are directly accessible on the unit using DD mode. Because Avid's Xpress Pro provides a faster-than-real-time import of M2T with OMF, this is the recommended way of working with HDV.
Avid's Liquid 7.1 can directly import M2T files, so I was able to use Liquid in DD mode. Liquid provides three options when opening an M2T file: link (which uses the DR-HD100's drive), copy (which automatically copies the file to your computer's disk), and move (which moves the file and deletes it from the DR-HD100). Liquid supports ProHD 720/24p and 480/60p. Using Liquid, I was able to edit HDV at 24fps, 30fps and 60fps.
Should there be a delay in the support of ProHD 720/24p, 720/25p, 720/50p and 480/60p, there are two non-DTE options that can be used with FCP. First, with the drive disk mounted on the desktop, use the MPEG Streamclip (www.squared5.com) application to process M2T files. Streamclip will convert HDV to linked M2V and AIFF files. (You can also transcode to AIC.) Unfortunately, time code will be lost during conversion. Then in FCP, define the sequence's HDV or AIC time base to match the frame rate.
Second, you can connect the DR-HD100 to your computer using the DV I/O port. Now, use the control menu to select AV/C mode. Next, use the play menu to select play all. Use FCP to FireWire capture all clips by pressing the DR-HD100's back index button to move to the first clip. If the clip doesn't begin playing, press the play button; immediately click FCP's capture now button to capture all clips. Each recorded video segment will be placed into its own clip.
The DR-HD100 works very well considering the delays imposed by Apple's lack of support for other than 720/30p. Looking over all the new media solutions, one option stands out for me: a camcorder that would use 70GB REV cartridges that can support a 100Mb/s to 125Mb/s data rate. A 70GB REV cartridge can hold nearly eight hours of ProHD video yielding a per-hour cost of less than $10, making it about equal to a DV cassette. This option would support recording, playback and long-term storage, without the need for long-term storage.
For those working with ProHD, the DR-HD100 comes reasonably close to providing the shooting convenience and playback performance of a HD-based camcorder.
Steve Mullen is owner of Digital Video Consulting, which provides consulting and conducts seminars on digital video technology.