Get Uncompressed Recording on the Road: Blackmagic Design HyperDeck Shuttle Is Portable and Affordable

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The video industry has been moving toward completely file-based workflows, but that paradigm doesn’t replace all of the functions that traditional videotape recorders served. To bridge the gap, companies such as AJA, Blackmagic Design, Convergent Design, Sound Devices and others have developed solid-state recorders for field and studio operation. I recently tested Blackmagic Design’s HyperDeck Shuttle 2, which is touted as the world’s smallest uncompressed recorder.

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Blackmagic Design HyperDeck Shuttle

Blackmagic’s HyperDeck series includes the Shuttle and two Studio models. The latter are rack-mounted VTR-replacement devices equipped with dual SSDs (solid-state drives). The Shuttle is a palm-sized, battery powered “brick” recorder. A single SSD slides into the Shuttle enclosure, which is only a bit bigger than the drive itself—just enough to accommodate battery, controls and internal electronics. To keep the unit small, controls are basic record and transport buttons, much like those of a consumer CD player.

You can operate it connected to an external power supply, onboard camera power or battery-powered. The internal, non-removable, rechargeable battery holds its charge for a little over one hour of continuous operation. The purchased unit includes a 12-volt power supply and a kit of international AC plug adapters.

The HyperDeck Shuttle includes 3Gb/s SDI and HDMI for digital capture and playback. Recording formats include 10-bit uncompressed QuickTime movies, as well as Avid DNxHD 175x or 220x in either QuickTime or MXF-wrapped variations. At the time I tested this device, it would not record Apple ProRes codecs. Since then, in November, Blackmagic Design released a free software update, version 3.6, that added ProRes HQ to the uncompressed and DNxHD options. It also added closed captioning support to all HyperDeck models.

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Front of the HyperDeck Shuttle unit

Since the unit is designed for minimal interaction, all system setup is handled by an external software utility. Install this application on your computer, connect the HyperDeck Shuttle via USB and then you’ll be able to select recording formats and set preferences, such as whether or not to trigger recording via SDI (for on-camera operation). The unit has no menu, which means you cannot alter, rename or delete files using the button controls or the software utility. There is a display button, but it was not active in the software version I tested.

Solid-State Recording

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Rear connections

The SSD used is a standard 2.5” Third Generation SATA drive. Several different brands and types have been tested and qualified by Blackmagic Design for use with the HyperDeck units. These drives can be plugged into a generic hard drive dock, like a Thermaltake BlacX Duet, to format the drive and copy/erase any files. The SSD was Mac-formatted, so it was simply a matter of pulling the drive out of the Shuttle’s slot and plugging it into the Duet, which was connected to my Mac Pro tower. This allowed me to copy files from the drive to my computer, as well as to move files back to the SSD for later playback from the Shuttle. (At IBC in September 2012, Blackmagic also announced exFAT support with the HyperDeck products.)

The naming convention is simple, so recorded files are labeled Capture001, Capture002 and so on. Unfortunately, it does not embed reel numbers into the QuickTime files. Placing a similarly named file in the correct format (more on that in a moment) onto the drive makes it possible to use the Shuttle as a portable master playback device for presentations, film festivals, etc.

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HyperDeck Shuttle mount plate

My evaluation unit came with a 240 GB OCZ Vertex 3 SSD. This is an off-the-shelf drive that runs under $200 at most outlets. By comparison, a Sony 124-minute HDCAM-SR videotape is now more expensive. It’s amazing that this SSD will sustain extended 10-bit uncompressed 1080i/59.94 recording and playback, when even most small drive arrays can’t do that! In practical terms, a 240 GB drive will not hold a lot of 1080i 10-bit uncompressed media, so it’s more likely that you would use Avid DNxHD 220x or Apple ProRes HQ for the best quality. You could easily fit more than 90 minutes of content on the same SSD using one of these codecs and not really see any difference in image quality.

In Use
I tested the unit with various codecs and frame rates. As a general rule, it’s not a good idea to mix different flavors on the same drive. For example, if you record both 1080i 10-bit uncompressed and 1080p/23.98 Avid DNxHD clips on the same drive, the HyperDeck Shuttle will only be able to play back the clips that match its current setup.

The Shuttle does auto-detect the incoming frame rate without the user having to set it using the utility, but the unit sometimes got “confused” in this process, making it hard to access the clips I thought it should have been able to play. The clips are on the SSD, though, so you can still pull them off of the drive for use in editing. For standard operation, I suggest that you set your preferences for the current production and stick to that until you are done.

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HyperDeck SSD cases

Blackmagic Design sells a mounting plate as an accessory. It’s easy to install by unscrewing the HyperDeck’s back panel and attaching the mounting plate in its place. I loaned the unit to a director of photography I work with for use with a Canon EOS C300. Although there are common mounting holes, the DP ended up having to use Velcro as a means to install both his battery and the Shuttle onto the same camera rig. The recordings looked good, but the SDI trigger did not properly stop the recording, requiring the DP to manually stop the unit with each take. Another issue for some is that it uses Mini-BNC connectors. This requires an investment in some Mini-BNC adapter cables for SDI operation if you intend to connect it to standard BNC spigots.

Overall, the unit performed well in a variety of applications, but with a few quirks. I frequently found that it didn’t respond to my pushing the transport control buttons. I’m not sure if this was due to bad button contacts or a software glitch. It felt more like a software issue in that once it “settled down,” stepping forward and backward through clips and pushing the play button worked correctly. The only format I was not able to play back was 24p media recorded as MXF. (The MXF formatting was correct, as I could drop these files right into an Avid Mediafiles folder on my media hard drive for editing with Avid Symphony.)

HyperDeck Shuttle As A Portable Player
If you intend to use a HyperDeck Shuttle as a master playback device, there a few things you need to know. It can capture interlaced, progressive and progressive-segmented-frame (PsF) footage, but it will only play these out as either interlaced or progressive via the SDI connection. Playing PsF as progressive is fine for many monitors and projectors, but the signal doesn’t pass through many routers or to some other recorders. Often these broadcast devices only function with a “true” progressive signal if the format is 720p/59.94. This means that it would be unlikely that you could play a 1080p/23.98 file (captured as PsF) and record that output from the HyperDeck Shuttle to a Sony HDCAM-SR video recorder, as an example.

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HyperDeck Shuttle and mount plate combo

It is possible to export a file from your Avid NLE, copy that file to the HyperDeck’s SSD using a drive dock and play it back from the unit; however, the specs get a little touchy. The HyperDeck Shuttle records audio as 16-bit/48kHz in the little-endian format, but Avid exports its files as big-endian. “Endianness” refers to how the bytes are ordered in a 16-, 32- or 64-bit word and whether the most or least significant bit is first. In the case of the Shuttle, this difference meant that I couldn’t get any audio output during playback. If your goal is to transfer a file to the Shuttle for duplication to another deck or playback in a presentation environment, then I would recommend that you take the time to make a real-time recording. Simply connect your NLE’s SDI output to the HyperDeck Shuttle’s SDI input and manually record to it, on-the-fly, like a tape deck.

The HyperDeck Shuttle is a great little unit for filling in workflow gaps—for example, if you don’t own any tape decks but need to take a master to a duplication facility. You could easily use the Shuttle to transport your media to them and use it for on-site master playback. It’s a bit too quirky to be a great on-camera field recorder, but at $345 (plus the SSD), the Shuttle is an amazing value for image quality this good. As with their other products, Blackmagic Design has a history of enhancing the capabilities through subsequent software updates. I expect that in the future we’ll see the HyperDeck family grow in a similar fashion. 

Product:Blackmagic Design HyperDeck Shuttle
Pros: Uncompressed 10-bit recording in the smallest package on the market. Avid DNxHD and Apple ProRes compatibility with a wide selection of frame rates.
Cons: Operation did not seem consistent at times. SDI triggering did not function correctly. Non-removable battery.
Bottom Line: Unrivaled image quality in a package this small. Rugged build suitable for field operation. Great value for the money if it fills your workflow gaps, but limited operational capabilities.
MSRP: $345 (plus SSD media)

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