For every hour of tape you use you have to spend an equal hour to capture it, sometimes more if you log your tapes. This can make the time between shooting and editing a long gap. Enter portable capture devices. These are not new but only in recent years have they started to shrink down to the size where you can easily carry them with you, be able to capture more than an hour of footage, and have a battery life long enough to fill the hard drive.
The next biggest issue that the big name portable capture devices get faulted with is the FAT32 File size limitation (and its inability to format to NTFS or other file systems). When filming short takes most people never even realized the issue as short takes fit into the 4 GiB file size limit. When longer takes were shot most capture devices will divide the file up into 4 GiB files. This requires you have to join a longer shot in your video editor or in some cases, via a command line in Windows. Others, when filming in HDV, sometimes experienced a drop of about four frames when a new file was made which is pretty much unacceptable.
This has held me off from purchasing this type of device until I found a product from a California based company named nNovia. Their product offered the ability to format either FAT32 or NTFS (the latter removing file size limitations) and its power input was varied enough to allow your standard camera batteries to power the device.
Using the QC HD
I setup my QC HD to run without sync to the camera. This means that I have to manually start the record on the QC HD, but when I stop the tape to switch at the end of 1 hour the QC will keep recording. You are able to set a number of formats for recording in DV mode. One thing to make note of is that the drive can either record DV or HDV. If you set it up to film in HDV and want to record some DV you have to reformat the drive which deletes all your current material.
For my first test I filmed a lacrosse game. This consisted of filming for four 15 minute quarters. There is a two minute break between the first and second quarter, as well as the third and fourth with a ten minute break between halves. Usually I film each half on a tape. I recorded to tape for a backup and shot in SD 4:3 60i. I filmed each half which actually runs for about 20 to 30 minutes depending on the ammount of stops in play. I record it all because we have commentators talking during the game. Making use of the stop function between quarters the result is 4 videos in bin01 totaling one hour and 34 minutes. Each file weighed in around 5 GiB (take that FAT32!).
Before pulling the content from the drive you need to prepare the files. nNovia says this is for added safty. Because it writes the files directly to the hard drive without formating less data is lost in the event of a power failure. After you are done filming the device applies the formatting, which takes about 3 minutes for the whole game. When I got home I put the QC HD into Hard drive mode and was met by Windows Vista 64 Bit Ultimate asking me if I wanted to repair the drive. I allowed it to do a scan which returned no errors. It does this eavery time I plug it in, and I am not sure why but there are no errors. The second issue I had was that it was slow, about 500 kbit/s slow when transfering. A third party firewire repacement driver fixed this issue. It turns out some people have this issue with all firewire drives, but with the new driver installed I average about 37 MiB a second and had all of the game off of the drive in about 11 minutes. (~15 including formating) A lot faster than two hours via tape capture. I was able to import the AVI files into Premiere CS3 for editing without any problems. I have also successfully tested it in HDV mode with the .M2T files. Another useful feature are the Bins; You have 99 bins to put files into and each bin can have 99 clips in it. I use a new bin for each game as I often have to film two games back to back. I have also shot a short film using it and I used a new bin for each scene.
The Customer Experience
I called nNovia directly to make sure about the NTFS support and the devices ability to capture long takes without breaking up the file. I spoke to a Mr. Soper who was able to tell me about the device and its abilities and limitations. He suggested the QC HD 120 instead of the original product I was inquiring about as it still did everything I needed, but saved me about $300. It is not often that a salesman does this. Once I decided that I wanted to buy he was happy to provide a list of vendors in my home state that carried their products. A bonus that I got for calling the company however is that I was able to use their new pricing which included bundle savings from their new catalog which none of their dealers were using yet.
The next step was figuring out how to power this thing. I use a Canon XH-A1. The tripod mount that I wanted to use however is sold with a Sony Battery mount. I was willing to buy a long life sony battery to use with the device but Mr. Soper commented that they had received a lot of interest in a small camera mount that could use the Canon Batteries. He offered to ship me a canon mount as soon as they came in. They are easily switchable by removing 2 screws.
As luck would have it they had a canon battery plate in the office and they made the switch on the spot before shipping out my package. This is what I call top customer service!
* Drive can only record HDV or DV. Requires format to switch modes
* Drive requires “quick format” once filming is done to be readable
* Can select FAT32 OR NTFS after filming
Supported Formats in DV:
* .MOV Quicktime
* .AVI Microsoft
* .AVI Canopus
* .MXF OP1A
Supported Formats in HDV:
* .M2T – Currently not supported in Final Cut Pro
Josh Chesarek has been working in the technology industry since 2000 and filming sporting events since 2003. He currently resides in Winter Park FL working as a technical support specialist and event videographer. He can be contacted through his website: http://www.simplethoughtproductions.com/contact/.
Written and photographed by Josh Chesarek.