Will 'Tape' Disappear From Camcorders?

Manufacturers working on dockable, disk-based capturing tools


Eight years ago, Ikegami and Avid introduced a disk-based camcorder, now known as the Editcam.

Theoretically, acquiring video on a camera-dockable disk drive unit has had tape-based acquisition beat from the time a field disk unit was introduced. The process was digital, it facilitated random-access editing and the video material could be transferred off the drive at a higher speed than possible from tape.

The theory broke down, however, over the weight of those early units, power consumption and the astronomical cost of the removable hard-drive recording media-$2,700 for about 18 minutes.

In eight years the Editcam has come a long way. Now marketed by NonLinear Technology LLC, the disk recording technology is available as a camcorder, a dockable field recorder or a standalone recorder.


As a camcorder, it is available with an Ikegami front-end as either the DNS-201W, with IT sensors, or the DNS-21W, with FIT sensors. The dockable recorder, the DNR-20, will mate to virtually any camera that would accept a dockable VTR. And the standalone field recorder, the DNE-11, can accept composite, component and SDI inputs.

Compared to the units introduced in 1995, the Editcams have slimmed down to 10 pounds and achieve a much longer battery life. A 40 GB FieldPak is now available for $770. Though the Editcam units can record in a wide variety of compression bit-rates, at the most commonly used compression rate it can hold three hours of video material.

The original concept of the disk camcorders was to acquire video material on the FieldPaks and then remove them for editing in a nonlinear editor. Over the years a variety of functions have been added to the recording section.

Among these is Retroloop, in which the operator can designate an amount of disk space, between five seconds and three minutes, which will continue to be recorded, over and over. This allows a cameraman to shoot a random event, such as a leaf falling from a tree, without going through a lot of recording media.

Utilizing the SAT100 Adapter, the Editcam can be connected to a laptop or desktop computer to edit the material on the disk. The SAT100 can also connect the Editcam to a nonlinear editing system.

For a long time, the Editcam had the disk-based camcorder field all to itself. At some NABs you had to look really hard to find it anywhere on the floor. According to the manufacturer, it has been most widely adopted by the U.S. military, which has 170 units in service.


There is a sign that the Editcam concept's time may have come because it's now being imitated. Sony is showing its DSR-DU1 docking to the rear of compatible camcorders, using the CA-DU1 camera adapter. The portable 40 GB, 2.5-inch hard drive attaches directly to professional-quality DVCAM camcorders via FireWire, recording up to three hours of video. Tape recording on the camcorder can continue in tandem.

Incite Multimedia Corp. has partnered with Sony, offering both its Remote Producer and Newsmaker software-based editing applications, which connect to the Sony disk recorder to provide nonlinear editing of field-acquired material.

These hard drive-based camcorders that bring the ability to record video material onto media that can be taken directly to a nonlinear editor also offer some other enticing capabilities not possible in the tape environment. But having been at the 1995 rollout of the Ikegami/Avid system, this writer has heard numerous potential purchasers point out they could buy a lot of videotape for the price of one removable hard drive.

Then last spring at NAB, Hitachi Denshi America Ltd. showed a working model of a dockable DVD-RAM recorder section (docked to a Hitachi Z-3000W camera) and a nonworking prototype of a DVD-RAM camcorder.

This disk-based, camera-dockable, field acquisition recorder uses low-cost 8 cm DVD-RAM discs, which hold around 4.7 GB of data. Video is encoded using MPEG-2 compression, which yields a minimum of 40 minutes per disc at the highest picture-quality setting and 60 minutes at the standard setting.

This month, Hitachi began delivering the CR-D10 recorder unit, capable of recording on either DVD-RAM or DVD-R discs. Its size and weight are competitive with similar tape-based dockable recorders.

The recorder can be delivered with Hitachi's electromechanical docking to the company's Z-series cameras, but is available with other camera adapters as well.

In addition to an Anton/Bauer battery bracket on the back, the CR-D10 features a 3.5-inch swing-out color LCD screen for viewing recording, playback and menu navigation for picking and arranging video clips on the disc. (The LCD screen is also a handy viewfinder when the camera is on a tripod or used in studio configuration.)


Several methods can be used to move video material from the CR-D10 to other equipment for editing or storage. The easiest is to simply remove the DVD-RAM disc and place it in a player elsewhere. Alternatively, the video material can be offloaded utilizing a digital USB connection or sending it as baseband video through a composite analog video and audio connection.

Hitachi's revolutionary DVD recorder was made possible by its DVD Micro-Drive. The company has addressed the problem of vibration- and shock-produced recording and playback errors through a shock protection system that is activated during read and write operations. A separate laser head unit on the drive with a built-in vibration sensor is designed to protect the unit from up to 1 G of force.

Hitachi also showed a prototype of a DVD-RAM camcorder at NAB2002 that will likely be a product at the 2003 show. Looking into the future, the company is working toward the use of higher-capacity DVD-RAM discs for use with HDTV cameras or to make longer SDTV recordings.

Will you see DVD-based field recorders from other manufacturers in the spring? When TV Technology queried a number of manufacturers about the prospects, we received several "We're not ready to talk about that yet" answers. That's code for "This is too hot an idea to let Hitachi have it all to itself."

Meanwhile, someone up in the Netherlands asked the question "Why does the camera even have to be attached to the recording device?" and came up with the Digital Wireless Camera System, introduced at this fall's IBC.

Instead of a dockable tape deck, Thomson Grass Valley introduced a dockable transceiver to send video and audio to a remotely located base station. The bi-directional system allows genlock, tally, communication and other signals important to remote operation to be sent back to the camera unit.

The first units are made to be docked to Thomson Grass Valley's LDK 100 and LDK 200 camera heads.

The antennas are omnidirectional to obviate the need for aiming them. To overcome limitations of line-of-sight transmission, two antennas can be networked using Antenna Management Unit modules. The AMUs can be connected via triax at a distance of up to 400 meters to allow the camera operator to roam more freely. The company says it may develop a system for networking even more antennas if the market demands it.

Current units operate on the 2.5 GHz band, but Thomson Grass Valley is surveying customers to see if the compnay should build the units to handle other frequencies as well.