Isn’t tape dead yet? The tenacity of the recording medium that first recorded video in the mid-1950’s is pretty impressive, especially lately. Almost a dozen hard-drive and solid-state recording devices have come to life since the turn of the century. The assets these formats bring to the table are formidable – most have no or many fewer moving parts than a tape drive, and all offer almost instantaneous access to footage. However, all of these challengers to the crown share one huge negative attribute – they are, on a minute-by-minute basis, from a dozen to a hundred times more expensive than recording on a tape. And how do you archive with them? A field tape is its own archiving solution. Still, the appeal of the upsides of non-tape recording are pushing more and more production companies into hard-drive and solid-state recording.
Focus Enhancements has been on the leading edge of this revolution for almost a decade. As hard discs simultaneously became larger in capacity, smaller in physical size and much more affordable, their products have tracked that Moore’s Law-powered curve. The FS-3 came standard with a 40 gigabyte removable drive in an enclosure that measured 5″x 4″x 6″ and required external power. The FS-4 added HDV capability, jacked capacity up to 80Gb, reduced size to 1.5″ x 6″ x 4″ and includes a battery. The FS-5 took all that capability and added a 100Gb hard drive, packed it into a little black slab reminiscent of the Monolith in “2001 – A Space Odyssey” sized at 1.5″ x 3″ x 5″ and added an internal (removable) battery and WiFi-powered remote metadata collection. A later software revision added video preview on the LCD display. What could they possibly come up with for an encore?
Not long after NAB 2009, I received an email announcing the FSH-200, the first Focus Enhancements product to lose the spinning disc and replace it with flash memory. The FSH-200 is physically identical to the FS-5 with one important exception: There is a slot on the right side to accept the Compact Flash card that replaces the hard disk. (At this writing, the only CF cards on the compatibility list are the SanDisk Extreme III in 16Gb and 32Gb capacities.) A rubber boot covers the slot both whether it is empty or occupied. IEEE-1394 (Firewire) is the port of choice for video recording, with a USB2 port used to offload files (assuming you don’t want to remove the CF card from the machine.)
If you have any experience at all with the FS-5, using the FSH-200 will feel very familiar. The display looks exactly like the FS-5 in operation, with a large, bright LCD screen announcing many parameters, including: recording status (rec, stop, play, etc.); battery status; the DTE format, which determines what codec you are recording into (more on that later); several counter choices, including synchronous DV/HDV timecode or shot-length counter; and time remaining on the CF card.
The face of the FSH-200 sports a grand total of nine buttons and one multi-functional wheel. Four of the buttons can have their functions assigned to them through the menu system, such as internal or external roll control, what type of time code is displayed on the screen, and CF, the button you must push before removing the flash card. The wheel, while fairly tiny for a guy with mitts like mine, is essential to navigating through the menu structure.
It is probably important to talk a moment about what the FSH-200 does *not* do compared to its FS-5 cousin, namely: no remote metadata collection, no video preview on the display, and no timelapse recording. However, the FSH-200 does feature the most useful ability of new-tech recorders – Retro Cache. Essentially, if Retro Cache is invoked in the menus, the FSH-200 is always in record, saving 5 seconds at a time. But it waits for the [REC] button to be hit to save the pre-recorded file. Think of Retro Cache as the fishing-show lifesaver – you don’t have to eat away at the CF card capacity while you wait for the bass to hit the bait. Once it does, hit [REC] and you just saved that shot of the lunker flying out of the water, even though you weren’t really “rolling tape.” (Jeez, am I going to have to put “rolling tape” in quotes from now on?)
One of the main reasons anyone moves towards non-tape acquisition is to be able to more quickly start editing the footage. Focus Enhancement has long offered recording into multiple codecs – called “DTE”, for “Direct-To-Edit” – to get editors up and cutting without capturing or rendering. In the FSH-200, the DV formats offered are:
AVI Type 1 and 2
In the HDV world, the choices are M2T and Quicktime.
After my test shoots in both DV and HDV, here’s what I did to capture my footage:
I pushed the “CF” soft button on the FSH-200, to close the files;
I removed the CF card from the FSH-200;
I inserted it into the multi-card slot on my Dell 2407WFP monitor;
I copied the files to a hard drive.
The files imported to Adobe Premiere Pro without a hitch, and were immediately editable. Even if you aren’t under a deadline, that kind of workflow enhancement feels really powerful.
As cool as it is, there are still some missing pieces in the FSH-200. I would really like to see the return of time-lapse recording – what better use of solid state recording is there? A larger Retro Cache would be nice – maybe a minute? Avid editors will want support for Avid-native files, as in the FS-5. And right now, the SanDisk Extreme III cards are about $82 (16Gb) and $171 (32Gb, at Amazon.) While that is still a lot more expensive than tape for either 1+ or 2+ hours of recording, I can really see a use for the FSH-200. For those of us with DV and HDV camcorders, DTE recording and workflow is a technological kick-in-the-pants, without having to replace the cameras that we know and (assumedly) love. And the cost of solid-state storage is dropping quickly. I’m currently doing dual-record – tape for archiving and hard-drive for editing. At a street price of $899 (without media) I can easily see the FSH-200 and Compact Flash recording being added to my arsenal.