HD Field Recorders for Live Production

Streaming Media Producser by Shawn Lam

This article looks at a handful of portable and rackmount external video recorders for live HD production, specifically in the role of recording the master program feed from a live switch.

Recorder History

I got my first external recorder in early 2005--the 40GB Firestore FS-4 that recorded DV via FireWire. I eventually upgraded the firmware with the HDV codec and replaced the hard drive with a 120GB model for longer record times. Then in 2008 I started using the Sony HVR-MRC1 CF recorder that came with my Sony HVR-Z7U. It accepts a FireWire input but also clipped directly on my old Sony video cameras (I bought a Sony Z5U as well) for a direct connection. I could use either of these models to record the program output from my video switchers if I first converted the analog output to FireWire; for this, I used my Canopus Twinpact 100.

What I liked about these recorders is that they extended the record time from 60 minutes on tape to 2.5 hours on 32GB CF cards, or just over 3 hours on the 40GB FS-4. The bitrate was also a very reasonable 25Mbps. Unfortunately, both were limited by FAT32 recording that broke the files into 4GB chunks that needed to be restitched with a special utility or they suffered from audio drop-outs and drift on longer recordings. I also fell out of love with the HDV codec when I switched to the full-raster AVCHD codec on my Sony FS100 and upgraded my video switcher to a digital HD switcher: the Blackmagic Design ATEM 1 M/E.

But just before I sold my HDV camcorders, I bought a pair of Atomos Ninja HDMI recorders in an attempt to improve their recording quality. It worked beautifully but there is only so much improvement you can realize before you run into another limitation: The signal-to-noise ratio on the 1/3” CMOS sensors was relatively low to begin with when you compare it to the low-noise image from a large-sensor video camera like the Super35mm Sony FS100 and FS700 that I now own. A noisy image is undesirable, especially when webcasting, which I do a lot of. I sold both my camcorders, one of the Ninjas, and everything else above, with the exception of the Twinpact 100, which I couldn’t unload--the FireWire ports eventually burned out, and as an SD-only device, it was already obsolete. read more...

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