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Laird Capdiv Direct DV Recorder

Is that a disk recorder in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me? By Charlie White
Laird Capdiv DV recorderThe holy grail of tapeless DV is here with Laird's Capdiv DV disk recorder ($1295). Plug it into your DV camcorder and it acts just like a little VTR, recording everything your DV tape does, and arranging it on its 40GB disk in separate clips. Then when you get back to your edit bay, it can act like either a VTR or a hard disk, able to store three hours of DV footage. It's a great system, but it's not flawless. Let's take a look.

When the Capdiv arrived here at the Midwest Test Facility, I was startled at how heavy its package was. I thought this unit was supposed to weigh only 19 ounces. Well, it does, if you don't count its anvil-like lead-acid battery, which weighs in at a rotund 4.2 lb. on our scales. Nice paperweight, but I wouldn't want to drag that sucker around with me all day. Anyway, it's billed as "wearable," but you won't be seeing it clipped onto any svelte fashion models slinking down the runways in Paris, I can assure you of that. Put the thing on, and it instantly starts pulling your pants down. Reminds me of the old battery belts of olden times, where you'd better have had a hefty belt on your pants or everybody would get an surreptitious peek at your butt crack -- whether you liked it or not.

After charging the battery pack for six hours, it's ready to go. Plug the battery into the Capdiv using the included cigarette lighter-style plug, flip the switch on the back of the Capdiv to VTR, and you're set. Oh, wait, there's a little catch to this -- it's not written in the documentation, but to get start/stop functionality with your camcorder, you must push play and record on the Capdiv first. This required a call to tech support by us, but we were pleased to reach an astute and friendly tech support woman at Laird who was able to solve our problem in less than a minute, with no hold time at all. If only all tech support could be like this!

Anyway, once you've gotten everything plugged in and strapped on, the Capdiv follows along with your camcorder as if they were synchronized swimmers. Everything your tape does, so does the Capdiv. The start/stop button on your camcorder sends its pulses through the 1394 cable where they're picked up by the Capdiv, flawlessly starting and stopping the recording there as well. There's another benefit here, too: You always have your footage recorded on tape as a backup for archiving purposes. That also gives you an extra measure of confidence in the unlikely event your files get inadvertently deleted. By the way, the Capdiv's menus are well-designed, making it hard to delete all your files unless you absolutely want to. Still, I'm sure there will be shooters who are glad that footage is also laid down on tape at the same time.

After shooting, the Capdiv shows its versatility. At the end of your shooting session, you select the menu item called "Making Media Files" and about five seconds later the Capdiv is ready to function as either a hard disk or a VTR. I was able to use the files as-is straight to the Vegas timeline playing right off Capdiv's FireWire disk, or I could go into the capture routine and auto-capture them as if the Capdiv were a VTR. Flip the VTR/HDD (hard disk drive) button and Windows XP recognizes what you're doing right away. The system works beautifully, and fulfills the promise of disk recording admirably. And if the three-hour capacity isn't enough for you, there's also a 4.5 hour unit (60GB) that sells for $1595.

There were a few minor annoyances with Capdiv, one of which is when you plug the unit into its cheap-looking cigarette lighter plug AC charger, there's no indicator light to show that the unit is actually charging. Heck, even my bargain basement electric razor can do that. Surely in this $1295 unit there could have been placed a little "charging" indicator light, like the one on every cell phone charger in the world?? Another picky problem I had was with that portly battery I mentioned before. There must be a lithium-ion battery that would be lighter. Or, maybe just break this boat anchor up into six smaller units and distribute them equally around a more comfortable belt. Anything but this. And my final complaint is the second-rate documentation that could certainly use some improvement. Thankfully, Laird tells me they've improved it, so let's hope the newer version is quite a bit more thorough.

Aside from those amateurish features, the Capdiv has a lot going for it. Its ability to generate its own time code or pass through the camcorder's numbers is a big plus. Its Mac and PC agnosticism will come in handy, as well as its ability to blast your DV files to your hard disk at 4x real time. All these great features, and its relatively low price and native DV file format make this a user-friendly device. I like the Capdiv, and frankly am amazed by its ability to get the job done. It's a delight to be able to skip the capturing process altogether, plugging your disk full o' shots directly into the computer and getting to work with no muss or fuss. It wasn't too long ago when a disk recorder with fewer capabilities than this cost $30,000. It certainly bodes well for the future -- think about it -- as these units get smaller and lighter, the days of tape will soon be over.

Charlie White, your humble storytellerDigital Media Net Executive Producer Charlie White has been writing about new media and digital video since it was the laughingstock of the television industry. A technology journalist and columnist since 1994, White is also an Emmy-winning producer, video editor, broadcast industry consultant and shot-calling television director who has worked in broadcasting since 1974. Talk back -- Send Chazz a note at

Read Charlie White's editorials by clicking here.

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Related Keywords:Review, Charlie White, holy grail, going tapeless, DV, Laird, Capdiv DV disk recorder, DV camcorder, little VTR, 40GB disk, separate clips, edit bay, hard disk, three hours, DV footage, great system, not flawless


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