Video Storage Spins, For Now

Maxell iVDR VC102

Maxell iVDR VC102

Got a shelf of hard drives sitting idle in an office or closet? Most video producers probably do. Whether your facility backs up its projects a different way every time or it has a well-articulated deep-storage plan that involves lots of checkboxes and offsite storage, there's likely a measure of uncertainty that still exists within the workflow. After all, digital storage continues to undergo radical changes even as most of the industry has left tape behind.

Recently I chatted with Rich D'Ambrise, director of technical services for Maxell. While continuing to spool every type of tape still in use, the manufacturer has long since started focusing on newer capture and storage formats such as Blu-ray Discs and hard drives. D'Ambrise emphasized to me the mechanical and somewhat fragile nature of most off-the-shelf 250GB-to-1TB or so spinning hard drives that all of us own. "Hard drives last anywhere from three to five years, sometimes a bit more than that," he says. "That's just the nature of the hardware."

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For best results, he recommends making sure that shelf of hard drives is getting some regular exercise. "When you store a drive, we recommend that you spin it up about every three months or so," he says. "You should never leave a drive at rest longer than that. When you spin a drive down, it's idle. It tends to collect dust. It's just not meant to work that way."

Of course, even under ideal conditions, hard drives are bound to fail. A video production facility thus needs a hybrid approach to storing its valuable digital assets. Multiple backups on various flavors of storage (disc media, hard disk drive, linear tape) in more than one location. There's nothing like a fire to drive home that last point.

What about solid-state storage? Drives with no moving parts are inherently more stable that the hard disk drives we've all adopted. For field acquisition, solid-state capture is the present and future default choice as manufacturers introduce new camcorders. Prices of professional media (P2, SxS) have become reasonable, and consumer choices such as SDHC cards are now viable for many users. But for deep storage, solid-state drives are too expensive for most facilities. "We're looking at solid state [for deep storage]," D'Ambrise says. "Right now it's not the solution because of price."

Shooting to hard drive

If hard drives aren't the best long-term choice, what about the immediate term? For years, Focus Enhancements has sold spinning-hard-drive video acquisition devices, for instance. For its part, Maxell is promoting its iVDR spinning-hard-drive device as an acquisition choice that can capture video concurrently with tape or solid-state media. Developed in conjunction with Shining Technology, the new iVDR VC102 is an adapter for a ruggedized 250GB hard drive and connects to a camera via USB or FireWire. (A 500GB version is expected to ship soon.) The VC102 Direct-to-Disk Adapter has an MSRP of $1,000; the media cartridges cost $150 each.

The cartridges aren't designed to sit on shelves; D'Ambrise says they were shaped to fit in shooters' pockets. According to Maxell, they're also rugged enough to ride on FedEx trucks, with bumpers that absorb shock. "We basically have the drive floating," D'Ambrise says. "The drive doesn't touch any part of the outer casing."

More from Maxell's PR: "iVDR EX is rated to withstand non-operating shock of more than 2000Gs and operating shock equal to or greater than 350Gs. Its temperature range is -40 degrees C to +70 degrees C, which complies with MIL standards for thermal shock. It is also rated to operate at a maximum altitude of 10,000ft." Flexible connectors on the adapter unit further the system's durability.

Shooting to spinning hard drive certainly isn't the state of the art, but for many production companies, it still hits a sweet spot in terms of price, capacity, and reliability.