added 30 November 2001
The Focus Enhancements FireStore FS-1
by Chris Hurd
Go tapeless with FireStore and set yourself free from video capture.
I like to live an exciting life: I shoot event video with a Mini-DV camcorder. For those who don't get the joke, it means that invariably, at some point, there's a moment or two when I scramble to change tapes while events threaten to unfold before my temporarily sidelined camera. Does this by chance sound familiar to anyone?
I'm smart enough to know I need a DV camera that records on full-size cassettes, which can hold three hours or more of video. I'm smart enough; but not rich enough. I own a three-year-old XL1 and I'm not changing cameras anytime soon. And since it records only on the small Mini-DV cassettes, the longest I can go before changing tapes is 80 minutes (on a paying shoot, you couldn't pay me to shoot in LP mode... too risky). So, my heart beats a little faster when the tape indicator shows less than five minutes remaining and we seem to be nowhere near intermission.
Fast-forward to the editing suite, and another bit of irony: I have a real-time non-linear editing system. It edits in real-time, it outputs to DV in real-time. Sounds great, right? But guess what: it captures in real-time, too. And that's a hassle. For as fast and powerful as non-linear editing is these days, video still has to be fed into the computer no faster than... real time. If you have three hours of source material and you need all of it, then it'll cost you three hours to put it into your editing machine. Video capture is without a doubt the most tedious and boring part of the entire non-linear editing process. And if you don't have a DV deck, you're forced to put more hours on your camera just to play back everything you shot in the first place. Indeed, some aspects of the DV Revolution are revolting.
Enter the Focus Enhancements FireStore FS-1. It does two things, primarily: it frees you from the limitations of short recording times and completely eliminates the video capture process. How can it do that? Because it is the video capture process.
Your DV camcorder connects to FireStore via standard 4-pin DV cable, and from there connects to any of a broad range of available external FireWire hard drives. Basically, you're recording DV straight to the FireWire hard drive. FireStore writes the DV files seamlessly, in a choice of formats that your NLE computer will understand (whether you're using a Canopus DVStorm, Final Cut Pro or whatever). FireStore also provides a way to manage the DV files on your external FireWire drive with a VTR-style interface.
There's a wide variety of external FireWire hard drives to choose from these days. I had to do a bit of homework on them, and spent some time researching the available options. Allowing myself a budget of $250, I wanted a fairly compact drive that would hold about three hours of DV. That narrowed the field down to a spread of several 40 gigabyte drives (see a table of drive capacities below). Basically there are three different physical sizes of external hard drives currently on the market: a compact "pocket" size; a rather large enclosure in which you install your own IDE drive, and a medium-sized enclosure with a factory-installed IDE drive. They each have their own advantages and disadvantages.
The small ones such as Lacie's popular Pocket drives are highly portable, and bus powered (meaning, they get power through the FireWire cable from the FireStore itself). These two lucrative features make the small drives ideal for field use, but the penalty you pay is expense. These drives are quite pricey. My $250 budget would allow only a 10 gigabyte Lacie Pocket drive... which would have such a limited recording time that I had to exclude it from consideration. If money is no object, however, these drives are the way to go. The twin advantages of small size with no need for a separate power supply make them perfect for location work.
The large FireWire drive enclosures (such as those offered by Pyro) are best suited for those who have spare IDE drives lying around the studio. For about $100 or so, you can add your own IDE drive, sort of like assembling your own external FireWire hard drive. If you already own an extra IDE drive, then these enclosures are certainly affordable, but not if you need to buy a drive to go into it... for the price of the enclosure plus the drive, you can get a ready-made solution. Plus, these "add-your-own" enclosures are big; a little too big, in my opinion. They're usually about eight or nine inches wide by eleven inches deep and a couple inches high. I think any external drive that's larger than FireStore itself is too large, but that's just my own personal preference. And not owning a spare IDE drive for this purpose, I had to pass on this option as well.
This leaves the middle ground, which is composed of medium-sized external FireWire hard drives requiring their own power source. I found a 40 gigabyte drive from cooldrives.com for about $230, well within my budget. Measuring less than five inches wide, nine inches deep and an inch and a half high, it's a bit smaller than FireStore and easily portable. My CoolDrives FireWire hard drive included a 12-volt wall-wart transformer for power, two six-pin FireWire jacks on the back and cool-looking enclosure (they call it their "ice" housing) composed of clear plastic and aluminum, with a stylish FireWire symbol on top. The only thing you need to watch out for on such hard disks is the drive speed. Look for this specification and make sure it's at least 5400rpm. I paid a little extra and chose a 7200rpm drive with an Oxford 911 chipset, and performance has been most pleasing.
The only fault I can find with FireStore lies in its form factor. Clearly it was designed for the studio environment; its size and shape and the layout of buttons on its front panel are intuitive for editors who are used to working with similar-looking VTR's. FireStore is made like a deck. And that's fine when you're in post; it nestles in nicely with your other VTR's and your various decks. It's at home there. That's how it was designed and intended. FireStore can be adapted to field-portable use; however I think Videonics should consider remodeling it for the run-and-gun location videographer. There's a lot of air inside the FireStore cabinet, and I would like to see a much smaller, battery-powered unit in a compact, field-ready housing. The drawback to this idea is less real estate for the front panel and its buttons and display... a compromise would have to be made somewhere. A small, highly portable version of FireStore could piggy-back with one of these tiny "Pocket" drives on the back of an XL1S. That would be my dream rig.
FireStore represents a significant leap in productivity for any time-conscious videographer. By effectively eliminating the tedious video capture process, FireStore provides an instant bridge from acquisition to editing. Now I can quickly turn around long-form projects with ease and confidence... and I don't have to worry about running out of tape during the shoot. This is to date the most serious and viable push towards a truly digital acquisition environment. It could very well hasten the end of tape-based media. We all know that the industry is gradually heading in this direction; but FireStore is available now and if videographers want to go completely tapeless, they can do so today, thanks to Videonics. Our camcorders will eventually have the ability to record on an internal hard drive or disc-based media, but for those of us who don't want to wait in order break free from the limitations of tape, FireStore makes the process possible right now.
|Approximate DV recording times for common FireWire Hard Drive capacities.
Assume appx. 4 min 30 sec / GB
...or appx. 13 GB per hour of DV
|| 0 hrs 45 min
|| 1 hrs 30 min
|| 2 hrs 15 min
|| 3 hrs 00 min
|| 4 hrs 35 min
|| 6 hrs 00 min
|| 7 hrs 35 min
For more info, see www.focusinfo.com/products/firestore/firestore.htm
Thrown together by Chris Hurd