PREFACE: The ProRes Dilemma
Let's start this review off by dispelling a long-held rumor. I'm a PC guy, just always have been, and after reviewing just about every PC NLE at least once, I have settled on Adobe Premiere Pro (and the CS 5.5 suite) as my editor of choice. Not too long ago, I had a freelance client that absolutely insisted on Apple ProRes files for the output of a project. Unfortunately, Apple does not allow PCs to write ProRes files, and at the time PC's couldn't read them either.
Fast-forward a few months: Imagine my dismay as I walked the aisles of NAB 2011, looking at all kinds of new recording devices from Aja, Atomos, Sound Devices and others that promised long recording times and transfer speeds - yet the catch was: Only records in Apple ProRes.
So when I was offered the opportunity to review the Fast Forward Video Sidekick HD combination video recorder and camera-top monitor, I was distressed to think that I could shoot the footage, but couldn't edit it. So I put the question to my colleagues on the Vidpro listserv - can PC Premiere Pro play back ProRes? My pal (and fellow Wisconsinite) Steve Oakley FTP'ed me a few Apple clips that seemed to work, so I went ahead and received the Sidekick HD. And I can now say with 100% certainty - Adobe Premiere Pro 5.5 can play back Apple ProRes files, even happily combining them on the same timeline with just about any other type of clip you want to add - .AVI, .M2T, Photoshop files, Canon 50Mb, Sony 35Mb, After Effects comps, you name it. (The theory is that the ProRes playback capability came along with one of the many Quicktime updates Apple shoots out. Hey, who knew?)
Mounted on a Sony HDW-790 HDCam - mount not included
The Fast Forward Video Sidekick HD arrived in a fairly small box containing the Sidekick, a 120GB solid-state drive that acts as the recording and playback storage, a miniSATA-to-USB2 cable, a power supply and AC cord, and a manual that could more accurately be called a "pamphlet" (more on that later). I've been reviewing alternative recording devices for more than a decade now, and early on I realized the most important questions about any of these devices are "How do you mount it and how do you power it?" For the Sidekick HD, mounting is taken care of with a 1/4"-20 threaded hole on the bottom, suitable for screwing into any kind of arm, shoe-mount or other support with the right sized screw. However, no mount is included with the device. The unit feels solid, with a sturdy hard-plastic case, and even with the solid-state drive installed it weighs much less than one pound. The only power option included with the Sidekick is AC, via the power adapter that terminates in a 3-pin MiniXLR jack. If your camera has an Anton-Bauer battery mount with a D-tap, you can easily power the Sidekick from there (the cable runs about $100 on the street.) Other than that, you will likely be using the AC adapter, since there are no mount points on the back of the Sidekick for the common Sony, Panasonic or Canon batteries (Fast Forward Video makes mention of an accessory battery solution in the manual, but I have seen no mention of it anywhere on the Web.) If you do decide to experiment, the Sidekick can operate on voltages from 7 to 16VDC, so it might be a worthwhile task if you have a pile of batteries lying about.
I suppose there is a reason the manual is so sparse: Operating the Sidekick HD is pretty simple. The faceplate is adorned with a grand total of eight large buttons and a jog wheel; the power switch sits on the right side. HD-SDI loop connectivity is provided by two BNC jacks on the bottom; if you want to connect via HDMI, there are two mini-HDMI jacks on the left-hand side, along with the headphone jack and a 1/8" mini jack for line-level analog audio in. The Sidekick HD works best with embedded audio and time code; if your camera has that ability you can slave the recorder to rec-run time code on your camera, for one-button rolling and stopping. The Sidekick also records up to 8 channels of embedded audio; who would have ever thought that so much good stuff could flow down a single BNC cable? Of course, you should make sure that your chosen camera supports embedded audio and time code - my camera, the Canon XL-H1, does not. While this doesn't stop the Sidekick HD from being useful, it does require the use of analog audio in, with an unbalanced stereo mini-plug jack on the side.
This makes for a pretty tenuous connection (same with the mini-HDMI loop connectors) with no built-in way to strain-relief it. Looks like gaffer's tape or Velcro will be needed to hold those connections together securely.