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NAB Roundup: Monitor/Field Recorders from Atomos, Sound Devices, Convergent Design, and Blackmagic

As large-sensor cameras at all price points become more prevalent, one of the most limiting factors to the image quality is the native video codec used for compression. Many of us are used to DSLR codecs that may hold up initially, only to fall apart during color correction (some codecs don’t even hold up very well initially, except for viewing on the web). One way to overcome this limitation is to buy a much more expensive camera with superior recording options, like a RED or ARRI ALEXA. Another way to overcome the same codec issue is to pair an external recorder with a cheaper camera. Here’s a roundup of the field recorders I saw on display at NAB.

Sound Devices Pix 220 and Pix 240

Sound Devices, known for their pro-level audio field recorders, was a surprise entrant into the monitor/recorder space with their Pix 220 and Pix 240, which are HDMI and HDMI/HD-SDI recorders, respectively. They record to CF or SSD media in ProRes or DNxHD codecs and, as you’d expect, have a more audio-centric focus, with full-size XLR inputs. They felt extremely solid, with excellent tactile, backlit buttons and a rigid cage. Their 800×480 resolution is standard at this size. One thing that stood out to me was the SSD drive caddies, which protrude significantly from the side (not pictured). I was told by their rep that they use the drive sleds because the SATA connector is not designed to be plugged in and out hundreds of times. Pricing for the 220 will be around $1,600 and the 240 will $2,600, with both shipping in July. Here’s a look at the PIX in action from Coffee Sound:

Convergent Design Gemini 4:4:4

I’ve covered the Convergent Gemini previously, and it’s a product I was looking forward to getting my hands on. It’s an absolutely perfect match for the Sony F3 — so much so that Sony was displaying a Gemini in their own booth (well, not really a booth — Sony had an entire corner of the central hall, and it was more like their own mini-hall). The Convergent’s main selling points are its size and weight (it’s no larger than a field monitor alone), and the fact that it offers a plethora of recording formats (including 1080p/60p) as uncompressed data. Of course, if you’re going to be transcoding to an editing format when you offload your footage, wouldn’t you rather have your recorder use that file format natively? Sure. But the Convergent is a fraction of the size and price of the $10k Cinedeck (whose booth I didn’t visit, as I figured that $10k field recorders are out of the purview of most indie filmmakers), and by recording uncompressed without the need for extra encoding silicon, the size, weight (and to a limited extent, price) of the device are the advantages to codec-less recording. The device felt extremely solid in-hand — it’s a great form-factor — but the monitors were not working in record mode yet, so I didn’t get a chance to test out the touch screen or menus. Here’s with a look at Convergent’s NAB booth:

The Gemini should be shipping in the July-August timeframe at a price of $6k — you’re not going to use it with a DSLR, but it’s a great match for the F3′s terrific S-Log mode.

Atomos Ninja and Samurai

Atomos made a big splash when they announced their Ninja $995 ProRes HDMI recorder, a good match specs- and performance-wise for DSLRs. DSLRs with a good HDMI output, that is, of which there should be more in the coming months. The HDMI connection is a consumer-level port (in terms of robustness), and the Ninja followed suit in my hands-on: it’s a nice device for the price but it didn’t feel like something you’d base a professional production around. The 480×270 screen felt a bit flimsy to me and is not to be used for focus-pulling purposes. However, at $1k the recorder is a nice complement to inexpensive shooting packages, and it comes with drive caddies, batteries, and a case. For higher-end work, the Ninja has a big brother, the Samurai. The Samurai wasn’t anywhere to be seen when I visited the booth, but $1,500 should get you a HD-SDI input and 800×480 resolution monitor that is presumably better suited for pro work. We’ll see when the Samurai ships in “summer 2011.” Here’s a look at Atomos’ NAB presence from Tony and Sean at NextWaveDV:

Blackmagic Design Hyperdeck Shuttle

All of the aforementioned units are both monitors and field recorders. Some of them are more capable monitors than others, but if you already own a nice high-rez monitor, do you need a second monitor built into your recorder? If not, the Blackmagic Design Hyperdeck Shuttle might be your best option. At $345 (there’s also a $995 Studio version), it’s ridiculously cheap, and it does 4:2:2 10-bit uncompressed recording through either HDMI or HD-SDI. This is a disruptive product for the market because of its price, and while I didn’t get a chance to do any sort of hands-on (given it was under glass), it’s a pretty straightforward device as you can see in this video from DVXuser:

Similar to the Convergent Gemini, the Hyperdeck captures to uncompressed Quicktime files, leaving you to transcode to your preferred editing format during the offload. The Hyperdeck uses larger 2.5″ SSDs, offers none of the monitoring options of the Convergent, is limited to 4:2:2, and does not list 60p 1080p on its specs page, but unless you have a Sony F3 upgraded with the S-Log firmware and need 4:4:4 output, the fact that Blackmagic’s uncompressed device is 5% the cost of the Convergent makes it a very attractive product. And you can record S-Log to 4:2:2, toss on a $1,000 HD monitor like the SmallHD DP6 or ikan VX7e and you’re looking at $1,400 instead of six grand. Seriously, $345? Some monitor arms cost that much. Blackmagic has come up with a product that’s a no-brainer purchase, assuming it delivers good reliability to go along with its low price — even if you only keep the Hyperdeck on-set as a backup recorder. The Hyperdeck starts shipping in May.

For more coverage of the gear on display at this year’s NAB show, click here.


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Description image 16 COMMENTS

  • I’m curious about the Atomos and the Hyperdeck. Wondering, first of all, if the Magic Lantern firmware would make one of these devices apt for a 5D user as well. But secondly, if working from a field recorder as the “record button” changes the ergonomics and feel of shooting, handheld run-and-gun in particular. Can’t wait till the field reviews start rolling in.

    • at least on the 550D, ML delivers clean HDMI out, as in “with no overlays”, but it doesn’t change the quality of that output (resolution, black bars at top and bottom, frame rate, color depth and subsampling, etc); I don’t see anybody using it, so probably it’s just not good enough

    • I have observed that over the csorue of making a relationship with real estate homeowners, you’ll be able to get them to understand that, in each and every real estate financial transaction, a commission is paid. In the long run, FSBO sellers really don’t save the percentage. Rather, they struggle to win the commission by doing a good agent’s job. In the process, they invest their money in addition to time to complete, as best they are able to, the obligations of an real estate agent. Those assignments include getting known the home by means of marketing, presenting the home to willing buyers, developing a sense of buyer emergency in order to induce an offer, booking home inspections, dealing with qualification assessments with the bank, supervising maintenance tasks, and assisting the closing of the deal.

  • Hey Raafi,
    I wondered the same and dropped and then realised these recorders have LANC sockets, means you can either trigger the recorder direct with a LANC remote mounted to your handlebars or slave sync the recorder with the a LANC compatible camera. So it records when you hit REC on camera. Haven’t tried it, so I might be wrong, but Atomos, Ki Pro Mini and SoundDevices recorders all are LANC compatible with this issue in mind. The Hyperdeck does not seem to have LANC, but that’s just a guess from the pics available. Correct me if I’m wrong.


  • Something always misunderstood is that the HyperDeck is a shell with no drives and of course no screen. So yes, it’s cheap because in and of itself it does nothing until a drive is installed. SSDs are preferred because it is recording completely uncompressed footage, no ProRes or anything like that because they did not license that option from Apple. So once you buy a bundle of drives for it, and SSDs are the better choice which the little cheap 40GB versions are a joke here, you need the larger SSD drives for sure, you have spent plenty of money on a device that created files far larger than any DSLR shooter ever needs to use or store. If someone spent $13K on a Sony F3 then the HyperDeck is not really their go to device. They’ll buy one of the other higher end units that actually is a swiss army knife instead of a knife handle. No reviewing of footage until connected to a computer can be a put-off. Kind of like selling a car with no wheels and no engine at a low price. Interesting product but too much “amazement” has been placed on this thing. Last thing I want is uncompressed and outside of the hollywood types, most real world users would fall into the same camp of not needing or wanting 422 uncompressed.

    Atomos needs to sell a single product with both HDMI and SDI and not an either or which makes their offerings seem less attractive. The HDMI only product is hindered in firmware and hardware capability for higher end cams, and the SDI product has no ability with far better firmware to work with HDMI cams.

    Sound Devices with their HDMI/SDI combined product seems to be the one who gets it as far as what users need with options on board. It can service DSLR crowd and higher end cams in one which on any real set would be the case of varying needs and cameras.

    • I state clearly that it has no screen… and if the Hyperdeck is hooked up to a high-res monitor (like the DP6 or ikan), are you saying that it’s incapable of playing back footage to that monitor?

      • Just seems like a kludge of a work around to save a few bucks. And honestly, just a few dollars savings with the HyperDeck, SSDs, SmallHD added up. Otherwise yes you stated the facts correctly. But I sense readers are blinded by the price and glaze over the facts and actual usability because the price is clearly targeted to the DSLR crowd even though they are the least likely users to understand how it really won’t help them.

        I appreciate all the NAB roundup write-ups!

        • I will admit to be lured in by the price, but I don’t know if the DSLR crowd can really make use of this. Unless someone has tested the D7000 and found it has clean HDMI out, nobody in that crowd can use it. Now as for smaller form camcorders with a depth of field adapter, at a slightly higher price point, this is very nice.

          • The GH2 has clean HDMI out. Only disadvantage is that ETC mode will not work. I am definitely looking at a Field Recorder solution because AVCHD… just isn’t the best thing. As a student, I’m very glad the price is dropping gradually!

      • BMJ actually had functioning units out (by the wall) and they demonstrated that you can do live playback of recorded files. (That’s what the Play button is for…..) What wasn’t working yet was the Display button so we couldn’t see what the OSD gives.

        I voiced my opinion that the two missing things are physical mounting options (someone needs to make a cage..) and API via the USB port. The only limitation from making a remote start/stop trigger via USB is firmware, so let’s hope they implement it. Then Dolgin Engineering or someone can make a LANC-to-USB adapter (for $345 :-D )

  • The HyperDeck is an exciting product and BlackMagic keeps blowing up the market, for better or worse. Video compression was invented because raw video took too much space and bandwidth. We all know that… but might’ve forgotten about Moore’s law. With USB3, Thunderbolt, and cheapo 3TB drives we are now reaching the point where compression is not as critical. The fact, developing algorithms and licensing codecs costs the same because of salaries and royalties. Drop those, make a cheapo data dump device with a serial interface, and just wait for the (storage) technology costs to keep falling. That’s what the HyperDeck does, and it might be the future.

    I just don’t think it’s the present… $345 is great until you factor in the SSDs: two 500GB drives, each holding about an hour of uncompressed 1080/24p, will run ya $2,400. Suddenly the PIX-240 seems attractive… but look 2 years down, JPEG2000 recorders will be the new $3-6k recorders but that 1TB of SSD will be $600.

  • One thing I’m curious about is what impact the new Thurderbolt interface will have on film and audio systems, and whether I should delay purchases waiting for it. 10Ghbs bidirectional throughput, and you can daisy chain different hardware with minimal or no latency. The Intel site says you can transfer a blu-ray disk in 30 seconds. Imagine a cam cabled to a field video recorder cabled to a field audio recorder. They also talked about going from a netbook to an outboard GPU to a large HD monitor. Modular digital connectivity.

  • Drew, I browsed around a bit, and found a Pegasus RAID array announcement, no price yet, that has the Thunderbolt interface and uses revolving media drives which should be much much cheaper than SSDs.
    They claimed throughput of 800Mbps, and another article testing USB3 and getting 425Mbps.
    I was wondering if a system with a smaller Thunderbolt SSD connected via Thunderbolt to a large portable hard drive or NAS would be fast enough. The NAS media would certainly be cheaper than SSDs. We might be able to get two TB for $400, making the entire system affordable for news/documentary work and even to the DSLR crowd. The devices introduced at NAB may be obsolete in six months.

  • I look forward to the time when these things will be regarded the same disbelief that we look back on the two part Beta/VHS camera/recorder kits of yesteryear…

    The technology now exists to incorporate what these things do WITHIN the camera…simply marketing smoke and mirrors that the camera manufacturers don’t do so affordably…

  • I am definitely keeping my eyes on Atomos (Specifically the Ninja) because it can do some clean GH2 Video Output. Honestly though, I wonder why there isn’t an option to upgrade the screen on the Ninja to that on the Samurai. I want the higher definition screen, but do not want the SDI interface. Simply because it’s not for me.

    I guess you win some, you lose some…

  • Augusto Alves da SIlva on 04.30.11 @ 5:10AM

    All these products are really nice but many people including myself tested both AVCHD recording and external Nanoflash and other devices and no significant difference to justify the expense or carrying another unit around. I might use the Ninja to have the files already in prores 422 HQ after I finishin shooting…this is a nice shortcut to my workflow.