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Reviewing Panasonic's AJ-HRW10 P2 Rapid Writer

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Panasonic Rapid Writer
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Helmut Kobler reviews Panasonic's Rapid Writer

Helmut KoblerHelmut Kobler
Los Angeles CA, USA

©2010 Helmut Kobler and CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.
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In this article, CreativeCOW leader Helmut Kobler reviews Panasonic's AJ-HRW10 P2 Rapid Writer, which is designed to simplify the process of offloading P2 cards to multiple hard drives, especially as you work in the field.

Before the Rapid Writer

To appreciate the Panasonic's AJ-HRW10 P2 Rapid Writer, first imagine offloading cards in the field without it. To back-up P2 cards, most people cart along a laptop, an external P2 card reader, and an external hard drive or two (some of which may require wall power to run). In addition, these folks probably run some card transfer software like Panasonic's P2 CMS app, or the popular ShotPut Pro.

There's nothing wrong with this kind of setup, except that it involves keeping track of multiple pieces of gear and their cables, then taking the time to connect them all, and then learning the ins and outs of basic-though-not-foolproof software. If you do this regularly, it comes pretty naturally, but there's still some fallibility involved, and it isn't something you would trust to just anybody on set. That means managing card transfers takes some of your valuable attention, or the attention of someone else you're paying a moderately high rate.

Panasonic's Rapid Writer




The Rapid Writer Way

Now here's the Rapid Writer way: The Rapid Writer is a single piece of hardware designed solely for P2 offloads. It's the size of a small suitcase, weighs about 16 pounds, requires just 60 seconds to boot, and lets you copy up to five P2 cards to not one but two removable hard drives. You can configure the drives to work independently (known as JBOD — for "Just a Bunch Of Disks"), but the Writer also lets you configure them in a RAID 1 setup, writing the same data to both drives at the same time, and giving you an automatic backup in case one drive goes down.

Another distinctive Rapid Writer feature is its 5" LCD touch screen, which displays custom software for copying, formatting and playing back P2 cards, along with editing metadata. You don't have to manually launch the software, it's there as soon as the machine boots up.
All this means the Rapid Writer is designed to work more like an appliance instead of a computer. Cards start copying as soon as you insert them (after a short countdown, in case you want to abort) and you could quickly train a PA to operate the machine with few, if any, opportunities for screw-ups.

Card Copy Speed

But the Rapid Writer could still use some improvement, especially given its rather high $9,995 price tag. For starters, performance on the Rapid Writer is solid, but not quite as good as I'd hoped, given some of Panasonic's other card-copying hardware. I own — and love — Panasonic's PCD35 five card reader, which attaches to my Mac tower via a speedy PCIe interface card, and copies a 32GB P2 card to a FireWire 800 drive in about 5 minutes, 45 seconds (using Imagine Product's ShotPut Pro with fast verification). The Rapid Writer, on the other hand, copied the same card to one of its two hard drives in 10:09, with no verification. It needed about 19 minutes to do the same thing with full verification.

So that performance was a little disappointing. On the other hand, if you've set the Rapid Writer up for RAID 1 mirroring, you lose no speed while gaining extra security. Also, not everyone has been spoiled by Panasonic's blazing PCD35 five card reader, as I have. Producers I've worked with seem fine copying a 32GB card in under 20 minutes, since that's still faster than the cameraman will want the P2 card back.

The Touch-Screen Interface

The Rapid Writer's touch-screen interface is also solid, but could be better. The good news is that it's straightforward to initiate a copy, format cards, choose drive settings (RAID 1 or JBOD) and see all the P2 footage folders you've copied (labeled by date). But when you try to playback footage you've already copied, things get clunky.

Panasonic's Rapid Writer Touch Screen




In the Age of the iPhone, you'd expect to simply touch a folder of footage to see its clips, and then touch a clip's thumbnail image to play the clip itself. Not so! Instead, you have to touch a folder's icon, and then touch an on-screen Open button to finally open the folder and see its thumbnail. And to actually play a clip, you can't just touch its thumbnail. Instead, you have to first touch the thumbnail to highlight it, and then press an on-screen Select button to officially select the thumbnail, and then click a Play button to open the clip with standard playback controls. And yet the clip still won't play! Finally, you have to click the in the standard playback controls to actually see the clip play (DVCPRO HD clips play smoothly, while AVC-Intra clips can be a little choppy). So it takes 6 finger presses to open a folder and play a single clip, whereas most people would expect a touch-screen to do it in two presses.

This kind of complexity works against the Rapid Writer's appliance-like appeal. When a new user can't figure out how to play a clip using a touch-screen interface, you know there's room for improvement, and hopefully, Panasonic will streamline things in a firmware update.

Removable Hard Drives

At some point, you'll probably want to move your footage from the Rapid Writer's hard drives to an editing machine. To do that, you'll use the touch-screen interface to dismount a drive, and then physically pull the drive enclosure from the Rapid Writer body (a small lock keeps the drives secure until you're ready). Each drive enclosure carries a 3.5" hard drive mechanism in a rugged metal case, and you can actually open the case and install your own drive. The case also features a power jack (adapter included) and an eSATA port. The good news is that eSATA is fast for file transfers — close to 3 times as fast as USB2 and often 50% faster than FireWire 800. The bad news is that most computers don't have eSATA ports built-in, so you'll probably have to buy an eSATA expansion card for your desktop or laptop.

Panasonic's Rapid Writer Drive




The Rapid Writer has some other compelling features, including being able to run from an Anton/Bauer-mount camera battery. I attached a Dionic HC battery — similar to the popular Dionic 90s — to the Writer's backside, and was able to copy four 32GB cards to one of the Rapid Writer's drives before running out of juice (no verification). The Writer also has two gigabit Ethernet ports, which lets you copy its footage over a network... though you can't edit over the network. Having two ports means the Rapid Writer can work with two independent networks at the same time. I'm not sure when you'll really need that functionality, but hey, it's good to be prepared.

Finding Its Place

So, given the Rapid Writer's unusual design and features, what kind of P2 workflow is it suited for? At $9,995, it's obviously overkill for smaller productions that have to copy a few cards throughout the day. I would also hesitate to install a Rapid Writer in a post-production office, because you can buy a desktop computer and PCD35 card reader for less money, and enjoy 2x faster copy speeds. Finally, the Rapid Writer isn't the only mobile P2 offloading station around. A company called 1 Beyond makes similar stations that also offload multiple cards to multiple drives, and those start at a couple thousand dollars less than the Rapid Writer... though they're heavier and don't have the Writer's touch-screen simplicity.

But the Rapid Writer still has a place in the P2 universe, and that's with high-volume projects operating in the field— for instance, a fast-paced reality show or documentary with multiple cameras quickly filling up card after card. On that kind of production, you could quickly set up the Rapid Writer wherever the action is, load in multiple P2 cards, and run on battery power for significant chunks of time. Under these conditions, the Rapid Writer can be an effective hub for ambitious P2 workflows.


Comments

Re: Reviewing Panasonic's AJ-HRW10 P2 Rapid Writer
by tim glomb
Thx for posting this review. Been waiting to hear real world feedback. The cost, speed and functionality will keep me dumping via laptops (which have a purpose offset) and external drives (which hold other data as well). Plus my laptop, reader and drives fit in a pelican 1520 and weigh just over 12lbs.
@tim glomb
by Helmut Kobler
Tim, one thing you might consider is Panasonic's upcoming AG-MSU10. It's fast and very portable. Only hitch is it's not due until around September.

http://www2.panasonic.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/prModelDetail?storeId=1...

Re: Reviewing Panasonic's AJ-HRW10 P2 Rapid Writer
by david kulawick
Please help Panasonic engineering and product management understand that although the big A [Firewire] and the big S [iLink] both have proprietary names for the IEEE 1394 protocol, it is a superior serial connection, and would boost the speeds of any and all P2 devices were they were willing to use it.

IEEE 1394 supports TCP addressing, is not "bursty" the way USB is and therefore supports data streaming at 400 mbps, 800 mbps, and higher speeds, and does not require any interrupts or activity by a device's CPU to control the buss.

Thanks for your time
Re: Reviewing Panasonic's AJ-HRW10 P2 Rapid Writer
by John Cummings
I guess I missed the mention of USB in the product review. Didn't he say it used a faster eSATA connection?

By the way, a much faster USB3 is right around the corner (heck, my new desktop PC already has it) and that will speed up things considerably, if only the manufacturers will start implementing it.

J.Cummings
Chicago
HDX-900/HDW-730S/DXC-D50
847-220-3172
Re: Reviewing Panasonic's AJ-HRW10 P2 Rapid Writer
by david kulawick
Previous Pan P2 readers [excepting the HVX200 and other P2 camcorders that I know of] use USB interconnects to talk to Host devices. Bursty 480 mbps peak < 400 mbps sustainable via IEEE 1394.
Re: Reviewing Panasonic's AJ-HRW10 P2 Rapid Writer
by Aaron Sherman
***WARNING - BLATANT PRODUCT PLUG!!!***

Besides 1 Beyond, my company also makes a portable field unit called the Director. The Director is essentially a briefcase sized server with a large 17" display (touch screen available) and the AJ-PCD35 reader built right into the box.

Although the RapidWriter can do backup and verification (ours is faster) and some limited clip playback, there are some big gaps in the workflow, particularly for reality/documentary productions. The biggest is metadata - I don't see anything in the RapidWriter that lets you view or edit metadata at the earliest stages so that all copies of a given clip have common metadata intact. The other is transcoding - if you need to create proxy files, whether it's a QuickTime (drop into FCP), Flash (web), or some low-bandwidth archive format, you still need to dump the data to another machine go through another process which takes time you have to pay someone else to do it. Our system lets you do that automatically on ingest.

AND we can run it off an Anton/Bauer if you need too...

Check it out: http://www.nextcomputing.com/products/nddir.php

Thanks,
Aaron
NextComputing


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