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Recording Medium

This web page is for the producer, DP, or other interested party to assist  them in deciding what the appropriate recording medium is for their project. 

There are now four  primary recording formats in wide use.  

The First and oldest is videotape, followed by the newer hard drives, optical disk, and now Flash Memory Cards, and SSD.  Each has it' advantages and disadvantages.  

Click Here to see the Recording Format Selector Chart 

Selection Consideration

The selection of the recording medium for your project has to be based on current and future need.  The first consideration is where will the end product be viewed.  Is it only for the internet, for internal corporate use, for broadcast television, or theatrical release?

Video Acquisition technology is always evolving and will become cheaper and cheaper for the filmmaker.  But there are and always will be the question of archiving.  For some projects archiving the camera masters is not an issue, while for other projects it is a major consideration. 

Videotape gives you the confidence of long term, proven archiving assurance, while hard drives offer the same archiving potential, and essentially for less cost than videotape.  But as of this writing the ability of the hard drive to hold the data for decades is still unknown, whereas videotape has shown it has decades of endurance.

Optical archiving, such as DVDs has proven to be less reliable and is entirely dependent on the coatings used during manufacture.  As consumers demand cheaper disks the DVD and Optical Disk manufacturers outsource their manufacturing and often change the chemical composition.  In some cases same brand and model of disk can have different coatings and thus different life spans.  It is difficult to determine what coatings are being used, so it is still best to back up the data to a hard drive or videotape for long term disposition.

Flash Drives, which include Compact Flash (CF), SD Cards, SXS, Red SSD, and P2 were never intended to be used for long term archiving, as they are exclusively acquisition tools, and are for the most part cost prohibitive for long term archiving. This issue is changing for SD cards as the cost of this flash memory has come down significantly and will continue to do so, to the point where it may be practical.  But again the long term ability of the flash memory to hold over decades has not been proven.

There are several flash drive card variations, and the jury is still out as to how long data remains viable on these microscopic memory chips.

When Selecting a flash memory device such as a Compact Flash Card or SD Card, you must consider two factors when selecting or purchasing one.  The first is capacity.  How much data can the card hold.  The more data the card can hold, the more expensive it will be.  But before buying a memory card you must also determine the write speed.  The faster the better for all applications, but this adds significantly to the cost of the card. 

Also to be considered are the number of days in which you will be shooting.  For projects shooting for multiple days or weeks and are using two or more cameras will most likely require an on-set person to transfer the data from the acquisition device to hard drives

Remember the higher the resolution and the less compression being used results in greater data.  This greater data means more data management and the longer it will take to do the transfers and the more hard drives for storage will be required. 

Videotape

Videotape offers the producer longevity.  For projects in which the camera master video recordings have future value, it is still best to record on videotape which can be easily and relatively inexpensively stored for future use.  Archival value is the determining factor.

Videotape is excellent for recording productions intended for HDTV broadcast, however, for feature film production, most videotape formats simply do not provide the quality necessary to fully support the video to film process.  Unfortunately the higher quality Videotape recording formats are not available in a portable version, with the notable exception of the Sony HDCam SRW. 

The simplicity of loading and unloading of videotape is generally superior to mounting and dismounting hard drives, but videotape is a mechanical process and like all mechanical processes is subject to  failure.  Tape threading and unthreading has the greatest potential for disaster.  In addition to mechanical issues videotape can be very sensitive to temperature and humidity and brings along huge potential for recording failures.

Videotape is viable for all forms of production, including ENG, EFP studio, mobile, flight pack; and the post-production suite.  I generally recommend that all Hard Drive and Memory Card Masters for feature films be transferred to SRW Videotape formats.  This gives you the Longevity of videotape and the simplicity of Hard Drive Master Recordings.

For productions shooting Standard Definition, videotape is more than adequate for most recordings.  Using a digital format such as DigiBeta or DVCPro gives the best quality and allows for the highest quality transfers to Hard Drives for editing.  In addition, if the project is intended only for current internet release and has little or no archival value, Standard Definition videotape recording is more than adequate.  If, however, there is any potential that the recording will have future value, it is still better to record using HD Cameras, as it increase the future value of the production.

There are essentially five video recording standards worthy of consideration in today's high definition environment.

HDCAM

First is Sony's HDCAM.  Although one of the least robust recording standards it has been widely adopted as the most economical and cost-effective recording formats for HDTV.  It has excellent shelf life and, because it is a digital standard, allows for high quality copying and digitizing to hard drives for editing.

Once recorded on videotape the master recordings will remain in tact and be available for future use, and as long as they are stored in the proper environment, in terms of temperature and humidity, offer the producer future options other formats may not.

The limiting factor of videotape is that the format, with one notable exception, has very limited quality compared to other digital media formats.  The primary consideration in the quality of video recording is bandwidth and the wider the better.

HDCAM offers 143 Mb/s of recording bandwidth, however, to fit all of the information, it only captures the 1440x1080 frame which is very poor.  Sony uses video compression technology to "fit" all of the data onto the videotape.  Whenever high levels of video compression are used there is always some loss, and what can't be compressed is essentially thrown away.

DVCPro HD

Panasonic has introduced DVCProHD format which records at 50 MB per second. Even though there is 50 MB of Bandwidth, the video still must be compressed to fit on the recording medium.  This reduces quality and can add artifacts that the professional may be aware of but the average viewer usually won't be.  But as television sets get larger screens these artifacts are becoming more obvious and less acceptable.

This videotape recording format was designed to record in the 720P format, however, to achieve 1080i or 1080p output the video is up converted. There is no camcorder or portable deck capable of recording the DVCPro HD format on videotape in 1080 24psf.  This relegates the videotape recording devices to broadcast applications and not feature film production.  The P2 Memory Card variant of the DVCPro HD does have full 1080 23.98 psf and 4:4:4 capability.

HDCAM SRW

The exception to quality videotape recording for feature film production, is the SRW series of recorders from Sony.  The portable SRW-1 and the studio SRW decks are capable of recording at 880 MB per second.  In addition they can record using the preferred 4:4:4 versus 4:2:2 recording modes.  This quality allows for very low compression ratios, ensuring greater picture quality.  The cost of these units is very high and the technology is very complex, but the results are spectacular for videotape. 

The SRW-1 is portable and can be mounted like a film magazine on a variety of cameras from different manufacturers.  Obviously Sony has mated the SRW-1 to their F-23 and F-35 cameras, but there are kits available for other brands.  If budget permits this would be the best choice for videotape acquisition.  It gives the producer the exceptional quality of digital media, but more importantly retains archival potential.

Panasonic D5

Another videotape format is Panasonic's D5.  This is a wide bandwidth Videotape recorder capable of recording in all popular HD formats, however, there is no battery operated portable version so this recorder is limited to studio, edit room, mobile unit, and flight pack applications.  The D5 quality is excellent and offers recording durations of up to 120 minutes for 1080i and 155 minutes for 1080 24psf.  The major limiting factor for this recorder is that it only handles 4:2:2 video, so it is not the preferred format for feature film productions.  Because there is no portable version of this recorder it is not recommended for most productions.

Sony HDV

The Sony HDV format is a low bandwidth Prosumer videotape recording medium offering the producer economical recording capability in almost all recording formats.  HDV is excellent for internet and Blu-Ray, and can be used acceptably for broadcast.  It should not be the first choice for any true broadcast production and definitely not for feature film.  The Panasonic P2 Card HVX-200 and 170 series cameras are much better suited and deliver more of the picture quality required for Feature Film applications, when shooting on a shoe strong budget.

The HDV format uses a very high level of video compression, plus the overall video processing system is very limited and does not have the range a more sophisticated camera and recording format use.

The great advantage for HDV is it is truly a hand-held camera and the pictures are really quite good when compared to standard definition.  

HDCam Videotape

Panasonic DVC Pro HD


Sony HDW-2000 HDCAM Studio Deck


Sony HDW-250 HDCAM Portable Deck


Panasonic AJ-HD1800 DVCPro HD Recorder

SRW-1 mounted on a Sony F-23

SRW-1 Connected to an F-23 using a Fiber Optic Link

Videotape Advantages Videotape Disadvantages
Simplicity of Loading and Unloading

Longevity of recording (Archival Potential)

Reliability during rugged shooting

Digital format (For HD) for best quality

Easier Media Management during Acquisition

If the Tab is pushed, the videotape can not be recorded over

SRW-1 and SRW-5800 Recorders allow for huge Recording Bandwidth for low video compression and very high quality pictures. 

Very simple to ship anywhere in the world and is not subject to breakage due to being dropped or roughly handled when in a properly packed shipping container.

Mechanical Process and is subject to failure.

Transfers to Hard Drive Editing Systems can be time consuming

Limited Bandwidth recording for most formats, reducing recording quality

Subject to Temperature and humidity restrictions during recording, playback, and storage

Media can be accidentally recorded over during the acquisition process if the Camera Operator or Assistant reviews a recording and fails to re-cue the tape to an unrecorded section

Optical Disk

Optical Disk was Sony's way of increasing their revenue by adding a new recording format for video, but one that was strictly an intermediary to keep Sony in the recording Medium business as videotape's limitations became evident, and thus Sony revenue would fall.

Sony introduced this format to give greater bandwidth over videotape, and allow for digital recording.  The disks are reusable, however, their overall life is really unknown.  This format is limited to Standard Definition and Sony no longer manufacturers cameras or playback devices for this media.

Optical Disk Advantages Optical Disk Disadvantages
None - format discontinued. The Medium is Optical and subject to contamination in the acquisition Process.

This recording format will be phased out in the near term as it is replaced by memory card and hard drives. time so the value of past recordings is greatly limited

Hard Drives

Hard Drives have been a Post-Production Standard for years, but the original cost was far too high and their tendency to be too delicate for use as a acquisition format. 

But times and technology have changed.  The recording capacities have risen, the costs have come down, and the ruggedness has improved.

Each camera system has their own recording attachment requiring the acquisition of the Hard Drives from the camera manufacturers, so cost is going to be  higher than your average computer Hard Drive.  They also require mounting hardware and often operate using proprietary software and recording technologies.  

But Hard Drives do have their limitations.  Once again, these are mechanical devices subject to failure.  In fact, a Hard Drive failure potential is much greater than videotape.  If the camera with a Hard Drive is operating in a rugged environment there is a strong chance the hard drive can be damaged, or the recording can be compromised.

But Hard Drives allow for faster downloads to editing systems, and can be backed up relatively easily.  NEVER EVER ship a Hard Drive via Federal Express, UPS, or other courier without first making at least one, preferably two back ups.  Shipping always subjects the drive to a harsh, rugged environment, and the potential for damage to the Hard Drive is significant.

Hard Drives are subject to Mechanical Shock conditions.  If the camera is going to be mounted on a tripod, dolly, Steadicam, Camera Crane, in a studio, or on the street, then the Hard Drive offers exceptional value and ease of acquisition.   It can be used in most hand-held configurations as long as the camera is not subjected to enormous forces. 

Hard Drives provide high quality recording, and allow for enormous bandwidth depending on the camera and recording format being used.  However, if you are shooting in a rugged environment, in which the camera is going to be subject to heavy vibration or physical shocks, the hard drives CAN NOT be mounted on the camera.  A remote or independent recording device connected to the camera via cable must be used and the hard drives must be in a buffered or protected environment to prevent physical abuse.

Often the Hard Drives are not even mounted on the cameras, instead they are attached to a Crash Cart, or to an independent Recording system, via one or two high bandwidth coax cables.  Whenever cables are added there is an additional potential for failure as the connectors on cables can be pulled off if the cable gets caught on something .  In addition, cables are limited in the length they can be as the signal loss becomes too great.  Usually this length is limited to 30 to 50 meters (90 to 150 feet), depending on the cable and camera.

The best method is to mount the hard drives directly on the camera, however, this usually requires proprietary hard drives from the camera manufacturer.  This increases the cost to the rental house, which it then passes down to the producer as a higher rental fee.  In addition, if you run out of hard drives or one or more fail, you have to go to a rental house with these specific hard drives.  This places a huge burden on the producer, especially those shooting on a shoe string budget.

Sony has developed the XDCam Hard Drive (Disk) Recording system in which the Disk can be removed, and the mechanical writing system remains in the camera.  This recording technology has limited Bandwidth (Generally 50 MBs) but reduces the potential for catastrophic Hard Drive failure.  It records in the 4:2:2 format so it is best limited to broadcast television production.  

XDCAM

The XDCam Disk holds a large volume of data (23 GB) and can be removed from the camera just like videotape.  It has a tab to prevent any potential for accidentally recording over  material.  The only disadvantage to this system is the Bandwidth.  For most television productions this format is very affordable.  You also have the potential to cost-effectively archive the camera masters, or easily erase and reformat the disk for new acquisition. 

XDCam should not be used for feature film production, as it's bandwidth is not really good enough and it only records in 4:2:2 format.  It is acceptable, but not preferable for commercial production, and really shines for Reality Shows.

Red Hard Drive Recorder

AJA Ki-Pro

Ki-Pro 500 GB Drive

Sony XD Cam Removable Hard Drive

 

Hard Drive Advantages Hard Drive Disadvantages
Simplicity when hard drive is mounted on camera

Fast Transfers to editing systems (Digitizing)

Unlimited Bandwidth potential (depending on camera and recording software)

Can be mounted Directly on the camera, allowing for true film operation.

Offers 4:4:4 recording capability

Mechanical devices subject to failure. 

Can Not be Used in a rough environment when mounted directly on a camera.

Hard Drives capable of being mounted directly on the camera are often proprietary devices and must be purchased from the manufacturer.  This limits the number of hard drives available

Shipping must be done carefully and back ups made.

Memory Cards

There are several variations of memory cards.  Some use proprietary software and/or hardware, while others use common Memory Card formats.  

Memory Cards, commonly referred to as Compact Flash Cards are for most productions requiring the most robust and sophisticated new media recording approach.

These cards offer a tape less environment, but, unlike Hard Drives, these units are not subject to shock abuse and have the capability of being mounted in series so, as an example, four 64 GB Memory Cards have the equivalent of 256 GB recording capacity.  They can be hot swapped without having to stop recording (the card currently being recorded on can not be removed, but the others can be) so they have the capability of lasting almost forever.  With the introduction of 64 GB loads, the Memory Card has now reached a performance level that makes them practical for almost every application.

Because Most Camera Manufacturers have made their memory cards proprietary ( Sony uses the Memory Stick, while Panasonic uses the P2 Card), these cards cannot be interchanged.

The Panasonic P2 Card

The Panasonic P2 card is being phased out and replaced with other more common memory cards, such as the Compact Flash and SD Card.  The Panasonic P2 Card began the Memory Card revolution as a camera acquisition media.  The P2 has evolved and is now available with up to 64 GB of storage on a single card.  Depending on the camera, it can record in all formats including:  NTSC, PAL, 1080/23.98 psf, 1080i, High Speed recording, etc.  Also capable of recording both 4:2:2 and 4:4:4, making it acceptable for use in productions requiring significant color accuracy, such as for Chromakey.

This card offered the Producer the first digital media with full HD quality, however it is a proprietary device so it can only be used with a Panasonic Camera or recording device.  The Panasonic series of cameras offer excellent picture and color quality, and meet the needs of any broadcaster, or internet delivery requirement.

The SD Card

The SD Card is the best flash memory drive for many, but not all video acquisition devices.  Like all flash drives there are two factors to consider when electing, the capacity, and the write speed.  The capacity is obvious, but what must be careful considered is the write speed.  The higher resolution the camera and the less compression used, the more data that must be transferred to the memory.  

Because there is a large amount of data being transferred to the card, it must have a very high writing speed, limiting the brands and variations that can be used on some brands of cameras.

The Compact Flash Card

Just like the SD Card, The Compact Flash Card is excellent for most, but not all video acquisition devices.  Once again you must  consider the capacity, and the write speed.  Many 2K and 4K and greater Cameras are designed to work with Compact Flash Cards, as they have very good write speeds and significant capacities.

SSD (Solid State Disk)

SSD Drives are like computer hard drives, except there are no mechanical parts, so the stability and reliability of the recording medium is significantly better.  These drives are designed for a high volume of data and thus are recommended for most Raw Data Recordings.  When shooting in 4K or higher resolutions, the SSD card is really the only choice.  The write speeds for all other mediums is just not fast enough.

Memory Card Info

Like videotape most memory cards have a tab which prevents additional recording on the card.  This is especially critical when dealing with Media transfer management to prevent accidental reformatting of memory card before transfer to Hard Drive.

Memory Cards often require a person on set who should be devoted to media transfer to Hard Drives.  It is critical that these transfers be done properly and that at least two hard drives are used for the transfer process.  One hard drive must be marked as Master, with the other stored away as a protection in the event the master should fail.

The alternative to having someone on set doing the transfers is to purchase or rent a large quantity of Flash Cards

Once transferred to Hard Drive, the memory card is then reformatted and placed back into the camera for re-recording.  Once the card has been reformatted there is no potential for data recovery if there was a problem transferring the data to Hard Drive. 

Hard Drives have the potential to be long term archival devices, as long as the hard drive is stored in an anti-static bag and a non-magnetic and non-radiation environment.  How long a hard drive will hold the data is up for debate, but with the cost of hard drives is dropping making it very cost-effective to maintain two hard drives for archiving.  The Master and Protection Hard Drives should be stored in two different locations so if there is a fire or some other catastrophic event there is a strong likelihood the other drive will survive if one is damaged.  

There is no official source as to how long a hard drive will retain it's data, if not powered and not running while being stored. Some say 5 years, some say 20, others say indefinitely.  Even the manufacturers opinions vary.

For any project considering using a Memory card, especially for cameras like the Red, the card must be considered like a film magazine.  Once shot, the magazine has to be unloaded, and then reloaded and sent back to the set.  The same is true with the Memory Card.  Once the Card is full, it is sent to a media transfer specialist, who "unloads" the data from the card, and then once transferred to at least two hard drives, the memory card is then "reloaded" by formatting the memory card, erasing all of the data.  The Memory Card is then sent back to the set for reuse.

For Feature Film Production with reasonable budgets the Memory Card is an excellent media device for acquisition.  When using a camera like the Red One, the 8 GB Memory Card has the capacity to act like a 400 foot film magazine,  and because the data is raw, it allows for sophisticated and comprehensive manipulation during edit.  


Panasonic P2 Card - 64 GB

 

 

Sony S Xs Card

 

SD Card

Compact Flash Card

 

Red SSD Card

Memory Card Advantages Memory Card Disadvantages
Simplicity of Loading and Unloading

Fast Transfer to Hard Drives

Reliability during rugged shooting

Digital format (For HD) for best quality

Easier Media Management during Acquisition

If the Tab is pushed, the Memory Card can not be recorded over/

The Cards on some brands of cameras have virtual unlimited recording times because of the ability to hot swap Memory Cards that are not currently being recorded on. 

Very simple to ship anywhere in the world and is not subject to breakage due to being dropped or roughly handled when in a properly packed shipping container.

Unlimited Number of times the Memory Card can be recorded over without any loss in quality.

Capable of recording 4:4:4 on some brands of cameras, and 4:2:2 on all cameras.

Technology is continuing to evolve and will only get better.

Less vulnerable to heat and humidity, but still has issues with very cold weather.

By Design it is difficult to over record previous recordings

Very Expensive to purchase the Memory Cards, but they offer unlimited re-recording.

Must be Transferred to other Digital Media such as Hard Drive for storage and forwarding to editing in most circumstances.

No Archival capability without being transferred to other Digital Storage devices such as Hard Drives.

Every project requires the purchase of at least two high capacity hard drives (typically 500 GB for most non-feature film projects).  This adds expense, however, the cost of these drives is very reasonable, when compared to videotape.

Cards are Proprietary so you must use the right card for the right camera

Often requires a digital media management person on the set to download memory card to at least one hard drive.

Content can damaged or lost due to radiation and magnetic fields

Transfer from Memory Card to Hard Drive risks loss of data if Hard Drives are damaged or the media was not fully transferred correctly.

 

Click Here to Go to:

Recording Format Selector

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