|A Creative Cow Feature Story
Lakewood, California, USA
©2009 Michael Palmer and Creativecow.net. All rights reserved.
In today's High Definition video production world, digital acquisition is now the mainstream workflow for a wide spectrum of production levels. In this article, CreativeCOW leader Michael Palmer takes a look at Convergent Design's new nanoFlash SDI/HDMI digital recorder.
In today's High Definition video production world, digital acquisition is now the mainstream workflow for a wide spectrum of production levels. Even though Panasonic, JVC and Sony all have tapeless HD solutions you're going to want to consider Convergent Design's new nanoFlash SDI/HDMI digital recorder.
The nanoFlash is a small standalone High Definition and Standard Definition digital recorder, allowing the user to choose higher bit rates beyond most cameras capabilities, recording to affordable compact flash media cards.
I've been lucky enough to have received the first nanoFlash unit just a few months back, and I must say it has been an extremely easy unit to operate. I don't even need to push the record button, as it can be triggered from the record button on the camera. I also can't get over the size: while the nano has the most powerful feature-set of any digital video recorder on the market, it is by far the smallest. I own the Sony XD Cam PMW-EX3 camera and I conveniently placed the nano on the back cold shoe using a small tripod Manfrotto ball mount. I can power both the EX3 and nano using the Anton Bauer (QR-EX3 Gold Mount) adapter using the D-Tap to 4 pin Hirose cable. The nano is extremely power-friendly using only 6 watts of power during recording and 0.2 watts in standby mode.
Ok, so it's the smallest digital recorder on the market with the most features of any digital recorder on the market and it's power-friendly. So what is the big deal? Well, the nano allows you to take full advantage of your camera's front end capabilities, while bypassing the native compress level of your current tapeless or tape based system's back end, creating solid digital video files up to 5 times the quality of your current camera's capabilities. Yeah, that's beyond HD Cam levels and the closest yet to uncompressed levels. Oh, and you can even choose how the files are wrapped, either as MXF or Quicktime .mov, creating edit-ready files for any NLE. This is a huge time saver, as there is no time spent rewrapping the files. In fact, you can actually start editing directly from the CF card.
The Sony PMW- EX3 is limited to 35Mbps 4:2:0 VBR, but it does have Sony's new EXMOR 3- CMOS (true 1920x1080) progressive sensors that delivers an outstanding HD image, and you can access this 10bit uncompressed signal from the SDI port. The nano supports several bit rate levels and allows you to record digital (Master Quality) video files to qualified compact flash media cards up to 220 Mbps. By simply choosing the 50 Mbps (or higher) level you will now create files with full-raster, 4:2:2 color space.
The nano uses the latest Sony "Torino" MPEG-2 encoder, yes the very same encoder found inside the Sony PDW-F800, and while many people believe it can only encode as inter-frame (Long GOP), it can also encode as intra-frame (all I-frame). The I-frame feature choice begins at 100 Mbps. However, Convergent Design believes you will see a superior image using the Long GOP option at the100 Mbps bit rate, and they recommend using the I-frame at the 220 Mbps level for best results.
As broadcast standards are being set it seems more and more networks are now requiring 50 Mbps 4:2:2 as the minimum HD levels and in some cases require a second redundant copy during acquisition. For my workflow I record to both the native SxS cards and to the nano to be completely redundant. I mainly use my nano at the 100 Mbps level with affordable 32 gig CF cards yielding 40 minutes record time to each card. The down load speeds can vary depending on the CF adapter you use and the drive connection, but typically I can download a 32 gig card in about 10 minutes using a express 34 CF adapter on my MBP to an external firewire 800 drive.
Here is a single frame capture example of the 35Mbps 4:2:0 vs 100 Mbps 4:2:2 nano recording. This is an extreme shot as the camera was simultaneously panned and rotated, to create a real CODEC torture test. The differences are quite dramatic and clearly demonstrate the advantages of higher bit-rate and 4:2:2 color. This comparison clearly dispels the notion that Long-GOP cannot handle high-motion, especially at the 100 Mbps level.
MPEG-2 compression has long been criticized and made to believe (by the P2 camp) it used more computing (CPU) power to edit inter-frame compression. This is simply not true; MPEG-2 is a CODEC that decodes extremely fast, making it very easy for non-destructive NLE's to work with. Even conforming MPEG-2 with software is no longer an issue with today's computing power standards, and if you work with Final Cut Pro 6.0.4 or newer, you can set your sequence compressor to render (Sony XD Cam) to Apple's new Pro Res codec for final out put.
Convergent Design has just added support to allow you to create MPEG files specifically for DVD and Blue Ray. You will simply play back your rendered sequence directly from your timeline recording to the Nano. This is just another way to use this powerful hardware encoder in your post production, saving you the time and aggravation that comes from working with your current compression software.
So now you want to know about all those features stuffed inside this little box. Here is a list of the current features:
- Supports a wide range of bit rates, DVD & Blue Ray; 18Mbps Proxy up to 220Mbps I-frame Master Quality
- 3:2 Pull-down removal
- 7-Second Record Cache
- Records / Plays back both SDI or HDMI signal
- Time-Lapse Interval recording
- Choice of Quicktime, MXF, or MPEG wrapped files
- Full-Raster 4:2:2 Color Space (50/100/140/160/220/280 Mbps)
- Intra Frame recording (100/140/160/220/280 Mbps)
Convergent Design is also working on several new features that will be available in the next few firmware updates.
- Under and over cranking support.
- Hot Swappable CF cards
- Redundant Recording to both cards
- GPS Metadata Support
- Loop Recording for surveillance/weather monitoring
- Metadata support
The nanoFlash is in my opinion a long-term investment, as I plan to use it through several generations of cameras. I can hardly wait for a DSLR camera that outputs a clean full raster HD signal from the HDMI output, as the nanoFlash will become the perfect recorder these new cameras. So if you want to take full advantage of your current camera the nanoFlash is the perfect solution. For me, the nano has taken my EX3 to a whole new level.
Los Angeles, California
Michael Palmer has been a film production professional since 1981, started as a Gaffer mastering the art of lighting for features, episodic TV and commercials shot on film. Michael has embraced the HD digital cinematography and now enjoys work as a DP,
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