Small Wonders: Reviewing Portable Video Recorders

AJA Ki Pro Quad

OTTAWA—Multiformat/frame rate flexibility and massive storage capacity all crammed into small packages: That’s the story of portable video recorders in 2015. With options such as 4K, eight-channel audio I/O and timecode generation, these devices have gone far beyond simple record/playback.

AJA Video Systems has built a solid reputation for its family of Ki Pro digital video recorders. Given the TV industry’s apparently inexorable march to 4K—whether broadcasters believe in the manufacturer-promoted format or not—AJA’s Ki Pro Quad is attracting a lot of buyer attention.

Small wonder: At $3,995, the Ki Pro Quad offers the ability to record Apple ProRes video files in 4K (4096x2160), UltraHD (3840x2160), 2K (2048x1080) and HD (1920x1080; either progressive or interlaced) all in the same package. This recorder also supports real-time resolution scaling that allows the cameraperson to shoot in 4K but record in 2K to save on file sizes.

The Ki Pro Quad comes with its own HD monitor built-in, yet is still small enough to be directly mountable to video cameras. The Ki Pro Quad uses AJA Pak SSDs that comes in both 256GB and 512GB storage sizes.

“We are thrilled to be kicking off 2015 with the launch of our new CION camera that leverages the same Pak media as our Ki Pro Quad portable recorder and player,” said Bryce Button, product marketing manager for the Grass Valley, Calif.-based company. “These combined solutions for the first time offer a really simple and seamless on or offset workflow from lens to post.”

The $1,995 Atomos Shogun combines multiformat video recording up to 4K with a 7.1-inch touchscreen HD monitor that can connect directly to the camera’s sensor for a straight-from-the-lens perspective. In this mode, the Shogun records using the 4K-UHD Apple ProRes format (3840x2160). It can also record to Cinema DNG Raw over the Shogun’s HDMI and 12G-SDI I/O ports. In HD, the Shogun records in both Apple ProRes and Avid DNxHD formats.

The Atomos Shogun has already been upgraded since being introduced at the 2014 NAB Show. Using a new heatpipe system, Atomos has been able to “crank up the frame rate to 4K 50/60p,” said Jeremy Young, CEO/founder of Atomos in Australia. As for storage capacity, the Shogun can record up to five hours of 4K ProRes 422 HQ on a 2TB HDD using the company’s optional RAID caddy system for less than $100, or onto SSDs or CFast removable media.

How low can you go? That’s a good question to ask Blackmagic Design. Their new HyperDeck Shuttle portable HD recorder only costs $345. For the money, the HyperDeck Shuttle records to uncompressed QuickTime and compressed Apple ProRes 422 (HQ) or Avid DNxHD MXF file formats; all within a slim package measuring 6.14x4.57x1.05 inches.

When connected to a video camera, the HyperDeck Shuttle can bypass the camera’s compression system, recording from SDI and HDMI directly onto a 2.5-inch SSD inserted into the HyperDeck Shuttle’s case. Later on, this SSD can be directly plugged into a video editing system; eliminating the need to transfer files from one medium to another.

The HyperDeck Shuttle is powered by an onboard battery, and comes with VTR-style control buttons on one side. For $99, Blackmagic Design sells a mounting plate that allows the HyperDeck Shuttle to be attached to a range of video cameras; both professional and consumer.

“Blackmagic Design has always been a value-driven company for as long as we’ve been in business,” said Bob Caniglia, senior regional manager, eastern North America for the Australian-based company. “That said, we always offer a rich feature set with all of our products.”

Sound Devices PIX240iSOUND DEVICES PIX240I
Selling for just under MSRP $3,400, Sound Devices’ Pix240i portable video recorder/ monitor is “a powerful Swiss Army knife,” according to Paul Isaacs, vice president of marketing and product design for Sound Devices in Reedsburg, Wis. “That’s because it does several functions, all within one small box: It’s a video recorder, an audio recorder with Sound Devices calibre mic-pres, a scaler, an HDMI/SDI converter, and a monitor that includes exposure and focus assist tools.”

The 5.5x4.0x2.4-inch Pix240i— equipped with gold-plated 3G-SDI/HDMI video inputs and outputs—can record up to 1080p 4:4:4 (12-bit) Apple ProRes 4444; 1080p 4:2:2 10/8-bit to ProRes or Avid DnxHD; and HDMI 4:4:4 or 4:2:2 in 10 or 8-bit. Meanwhile, in line with Sound Devices’ audio reputation, the PIX240i supports eight channel, 48k embedded audio in SDI (HDMI two channels in/eight out).

In addition, the Pix240i comes with its own highly accurate timecode generator, with genlock and word clock output capability. “You can link multiple cameras all using the Pix240i, to ensure a common timecode and framing accuracy with close to zero drift over a day,” Isaacs said.

The device records to either Compact-Flash or 2.5-inch SSDs. The included HD IPS display measures 5-inches and has monitoring features such as 12-step false color, two-level zebras, and 1:1 zoom magnification.

James Careless

James Careless is an award-winning journalist who has written for TV Technology since the 1990s. He has covered HDTV from the days of the six competing HDTV formats that led to the 1993 Grand Alliance, and onwards through ATSC 3.0 and OTT. He also writes for Radio World, along with other publications in aerospace, defense, public safety, streaming media, plus the amusement park industry for something different.