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Field Work: Possibilities for Portable Video Recording and Storage

2/20/2013 11:38 AM Eastern

Go back a few years and it’s easy to recall that the process of getting video from the field and into the studio involved a fair amount of schlep and prep. Then came an inkling of change on the horizon with the advent of palm-sized digital devices that could record and transport high-resolution video and eliminate the bulky videocassette entirely.

A camera operator records footage in the field with Atomos’ Ninja 2.

It’s true that the process of recording in the field has changed—so much so that the question is now not whether you can record in the field but rather how extensive you want the features on your portable recording device to be.

Compile a list of what’s featured in the newest batch of portable storage and recording devices and you’ll see high-res LCD screens and on-the-fly NLE editing features, with even the smallest models offering immensely powerful processors. There’s an enormous amount of technology available to developers to make what was previously a simple step in the video acquisition process—record in the field, then get footage back to the studio—into an elegant and practical procedure that just happens to occur out in the muck and snow and wind of the real world.

Size Matters
One reality that’s easy to see: size matters when it comes to successful solutions. For storage and recording options on the road, Blackmagic Design offers the updated HyperDeck Shuttle, one of the industry’s smallest solid-state 4:2:2 video recorders. The unit is a 2.5”, palm-sized broadcast deck.

Blackmagic Design HyperDeck Shuttle

Footage is captured as native uncompressed 10-bit QuickTime and compressed Apple ProRes 422 or Avid DNxHD MXF files. ProRes compression on the next-generation HyperDeck Shuttle 2 serves to reduce the size of uncompressed HD video files while preserving full-frame 4:2:2 quality, allowing customers to record up to six times longer. “Adding ProRes 422 recording and playback gives users the freedom to work in either compressed or uncompressed formats,” says Blackmagic CEO Grant Petty.

The shuttle has standard deck-style function buttons with LEDs to indicate input signal lock, recording status and battery status, as well as closed-caption support.

At their simplest, portable recorders are designed to help videographers accelerate their workflow. Simplifying the production and post checklist was a primary goal behind the development of Sound Devices’ PIX 240i recorder, which records NLE-ready QuickTime files in either ProRes or DNxHD format.

Sound Devices PIX 240i

What sets the system apart, according to Jon Tatooles, vice president of marketing and business development, is its flexibility. The device may serve as recorder, frame rate scaler, converter, timecode generator and field monitor. The latest generation supports ProRes 4444 and can record to removable CompactFlash cards or 2.5-inch solid-state drives.

“The way we approach the market is to spend a lot of time with our customers in the field to see where trends are going,” Tatooles says. “We offer features customers are wanting to use now.” The company also sells the PIX 220i, which adds QuickTime recording using Apple ProRes or Avid DNxHD to HDMI or HD-SDI equipped cameras.

What You Need

AJA KiStor Dock (rear)

Not only are a growing number of manufacturers entering the portable storage market, more companies are recognizing the need for accessories to streamline the production process for users. AJA recently introduced new storage and dock accessories for its Ki Pro family of tapeless video recording devices, including the KiStor drive, a line of USB 3.0-enabled storage devices, and the Thunderbolt-enabled KiStor Dock with USB 3.0 connectivity.

KiStor Dock, an accessory for KiStor drive modules, allows KiStor drives to be mounted on Mac or Windows desktops for rapid file transfer. Dock uses a SATA connection internally for the KiStor drive modules and provides both Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 connectivity to the computer. KiStor drives are available in 250, 500 and 750 GB versions.


Calling it a removable archive that works alongside the company’s XT/XS series of server solutions, EVS offers the XF2 removable server. The system has two removable hard disk drives that provide backup and transfer during live or near-live production scenarios. It can serve as a backup platform for content in the XT3 and XS production servers and a gateway platform between EVS servers and NLE stations with gigabit Ethernet connection.

The newest solution to hit the road is EVS’ XFly, a portable and compact storage platform that includes eight removable SATA hard drives with up to 6.2 TB of storage, providing storage for up to 140 hours of 100 Mb/s HD footage.

EVS’ portable solutions offer operators an easy way to back up clips and feeds. When live shooting is complete, the operator is able to transport the entire production—including program feed, multicamera angles and highlights—in a single storage case. Features include on-the-fly MXF or QuickTime file wrapping and the ability to automatically generate proxy files while streaming multiple live feeds simultaneously.

Roland F-1

Roland Systems Group’s F-1 video field recorder is able to capture HDV or DV directly to a hard drive in the field. The system offers two channels of balanced audio, a removable HDD, multiple power options and an RGB output for quick control and thumbnail viewing. The system offers HDV/DV and MPEG-2 50 Mb/s recording. Users can record up to 27 hours of HD video on a 120 GB hard drive at 8 Mb/s.

In addition to a long line of professional desktop storage solutions, Sonnet Technologies’ mobile storage offerings include Fusion F2, F2QR, F3 and Mobile Rack. The Fusion F2 portable SATA RAID storage system offers 1.5 TB of storage. The two-drive Fusion F2QR contains two 2.5” 1 TB drives. Fusion Mobile Rack is an internal one-bay removable storage solution for PCs, and Fusion F3 is a portable two-drive SATA RAID storage system with 6 TB of storage. F2QR and F3 sport quad-interfaces, with eSATA, FireWire 800/400 and USB 2.0.

Sonnet Fusion F3

One of the first companies to introduce a portable digital video recorder with full-color video monitor was Fast Forward Video, which found success with the SideKick HD recorder, a camera- or battery-mountable device that captures video directly from the camera’s HD-SDI or HDMI output and records in the user’s choice of codec, including ProRes 422 and DNxHD. The system records to off-the-shelf, hot-swappable 2.5-inch SSD drives. A 4.3” onboard confidence monitor offers playback options including scrub and jog capabilities.

DVEO Millennia HD

Portable options also come in the form of the HD3, a portable broadcast-quality deck from Fast Forward Video that can configure into a single channel (one HD monitor) or dual channel (two HD monitors) system. (Please note that while products are still available for purchase, Fast Forward Video is no longer in business.)

DVEO’s Millennia HD is a portable 1920 x 1080i H.264/AVC recorder with both removable 120 GB hard drive and CompactFlash card storage. The device, which records and encodes simultaneously, works with cameras that support the HD-SDI standard.

Atomos’ Ninja
is a relatively inexpensive portable 10-bit HD recorder and monitor that records ProRes via HDMI and offers the ability to play back video on its touch-operated screen. The so-called “all-in-one solution” includes the aluminum chassis Ninja unit, HDD/SDD master disk caddy, batteries, charger and docking station.

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