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Record to hard drive and skip the digitizing process By Stephen Schleicher

While non-linear editing has been a boon to the post production process, digitizing video from tape is still one of the biggest time killers out there.  One method that has emerged in the last couple of years is digitizing footage directly to a hard drive.  This eliminates the digitizing process altogether.  A new kid on the block, Shining Technologys CitiDISK for HDV is small, compact, and gets the job done. 

Users will be able to tell there is something unique about the CitiDISK drive as soon as they open the box.  It is really small.  It is about the height of the Focus Enhancements FS100, but only about the third the thickness, and a bit more narrow.

The size is due to the small hard drive (2.5), lack of LED screen, and no fan.  This means the drive is small and lightweight (10oz); able to fit in just about any space.  The leather belt clip is very handy and because of its slim design it doesnt protrude enough for it to be constantly knocked about and possibly dropped like some other systems currently on the market.

The drive is very simple and easy to use.  The videographer connects the camera to the drive using a FireWire cable (usually a 4 to 6 pin), turns the unit on and whenever the user presses the record button on the camera, the signal is simultaneously recorded to the drive.

The largest of the models, the FW1256H-100 (reviewed here), can capture 420 minutes of HDV or DV.  Even the smallest drive Shining Technology offers can capture 180 minutes of video goodness.  With a huge drive size, you dont have to worry about changing to a new tape at an important moment.  In fact, if you run out of tape, CitiDISK will continue to record, while you pop in a new tape.

Why use tape if this disk takes care of everything for you?  Connectors are a tricky thing and Ive found during tests of this and other HDD recorders that if the connection is lost, so is the video.  Best to have a back up than nothing at all.  If the connection to the camera (or computer) is lost, all three of the lights on the front of the CitiDISK will flash to let you know there is a problem.  If you want to risk it, you can manually start and stop the record process.

The CitiDISK captures in Raw DV, Windows AVI2, QuickTime MOV, and M2T for all HDV footage at a sustained 12MB/second.  While having the M2T is great, Final Cut Pro does not natively recognize the format.  You will have to use a conversion utility to do that.  Not a big deal, but it does increase workflow time.

Because the CitiDISK is compatible with Windows and Mac, the drive is formatted as FAT32, which means files will have a 2GB size limit.  If you record over the size limit, CitiDISK HDV will automatically create a new clip sequentially numbered.

To do a quick check of the video captured, CitiDISK HDV has a Quick Play function.  By switching the camera to VCR mode and pressing QPlay users can spot check their work with ease.

But dont be fooled, the CitiDISK HDV drive is a barebones system.  There are no transport controls during Quick Play.  There is also no way to tell exactly how much time remains on the drive.  Instead the system resorts to changing the color of an indicator light.  While it is helpful, when the light turns red, the user still has no way of knowing if there is 20 minutes or 5 minutes remaining.

This lack of control feedback is the biggest disappointment for me.  It is really difficult to remember all of the button combos that need to be pressed to get certain desired results.  Also when first starting the system, all of the lights blink randomly for about 15 seconds.  For a new user, this could cause them to think there is something seriously wrong with the unit.  Unfortunately the manual, while thin, is too wide to slip into the belt-clip case, so the best bet for users is to take the Ron Popeil approach and set it and forget it.

I also ran into a problem during my testing that my Mac failed to recognize the captured files on the drive.  The PC found the clips without a problem.  I could transfer the files to my PC then network to my Mac.  I ended up having to reformat the drive using Shining Technology CD that came with the unit and all was well.

Even with the capacity to record nearly 8 hours of footage, the enclosed rechargeable battery will only last about 90 minutes, which makes it pretty short for most long form events.

To the Rescue
What you really need to get the best bang for the buck is the accessory pack.  This includes a hot shoe adapter that allows you to mount the drive directly to your camera.

I so love having the CitiDISK HDV drive mounted on the camera, as it ensures the FireWire cable wont accidentally come loose.

Also nice is an external battery that adds an additional 3 hours of record time to the unit.  This unit doesnt need to be connected to the CitiDISK HDV to charge, but it is hot swappable meaning during your 8 hour recording marathon, if the external pack is starting to fail, you can attach another without losing power.  Of course this means you need to purchase a second external battery pack, which may not be that bad an idea.

The drawback of the accessory pack is that it adds $160 to the overall price, and when attached to the hot shoe adapter on cameras like the Sony Z1U it prevents the LCD panel from opening or closing.  Not that big of a problem because the unit will slide on and off with ease.

Bottom Line
Of the HDD systems Ive tested to date, I think the CitiDISK HDV hard disc drive recorder is a winner.  No noise is a big plus for me as is the ability to flawlessly record HDV footage.  With a price of just under $1000, event videographers, news photogs, and really anyone shooting in the DV/HDV format should invest in this unit.  I give CitiDISK HDV 4.5 of 5 stars.

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Stephen Schleicher has crossed the country several times over the last couple of years going from Kansas to Atlanta , Georgia, and Southern California. In his time traveling, he has worked as an editor, graphic designer, videographer, director, and producer on a variety of video productions ranging from small internal pieces, to large multimedia
corporate events.

Currently, Stephen shares his knowledge with students at Fort Hays State University who are studying media and web development in the Information Networking and Telecommunications department. When he is not shaping the minds of university students, Stephen continues to work on video and independent projects for State and local agencies and organizations as well as his own ongoing works.

He is also a regular contributor to Digital Producer, Creative Mac, Digital Webcast, Digital Animators, and the DV Format websites, part of the Digital Media Online network of communities (, where he writes about the latest technologies, and gives tips and tricks on everything from Adobe After Effects, to Appleā??s Final Cut Pro, LightWave 3D, to shooting and lighting video.

He has a Masters Degree in Communication from Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas. As a forward thinker, he wrote his Thesis on how Information Islands and e-commerce would play a major role in keeping smaller communities alive. This of course was when 28.8 dialup was king and people hadnā??t even invented the word e-commerce.

And, he spends what little free time he has biking, reading, traveling around the country, and contemplating the future of digital video and its impact on our culture. You can reach him at [email protected]

Related Keywords:citidisk, shining technology, hdv, hdd recorder, disc recorder, digitize, mac, pc, videographer, event videographer, photographer, photog


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