High Definition VCR Replacement

At NAB 2005, producers and directors of photographers wondered what would become of the video cassette recorder (VCR), as solid state flash memory devices usurp the legacy tape based formats like DigiBetacam, DV, HDV, and DVCPRO 50. Sony has chosen a proprietary XDCAM format, based on a magneto optical disk, while Panasonic is going to a SD format PCMCIA card called P2.

As a VCR replacement one would have to consider these factors:

  1. Speed must be near real time (one hour video transfered in around an hour or less)
  2. Media should be around the same form factor as a video tape
  3. Drive price must be near VCR price or lower

Cloak Media has run some tests using published transfer rates and data capacity. The results for a sample four hour project (250 GB):

VCR Information Technology Replacement (4 hour project, 250 GB)
Storage Media Backup Time (hr)
Media Count Drive & Media Cost* Media Only Cost*
LTO 1 4.34 2 $1783 $58
LTO 2 3.47 1 $1780 $30
LTO 3 1.02 1 $5124 $109
VXA 1 24.27 8 $880 $413
VXA 2 11.57 3 $1147 $225
AIT 1 23.70 10 $1140 $470
AIT 2 11.85 5 $1266 $270
AIT 3 5.93 2 $1929 $120
AIT 4 2.96 1 $3002 $60
AIT-E 20 11.85 12 $641 $204
AIT-1 turbo 11.85 6 $673 $138
SAIT 2.37 1 $6681 $207
SDLT 600 1.98 1 $3553 $47
DVD+R 8X 6.73 57 $97 $17
CD-R 24X 20.23 366 $74 $44

* prices from summer 2005 survey

Today, the only viable VCR replacment on a small four hour project is the LTO series, AIT 3/AIT 4/SAIT, and the DSLT 600. In the IT industry, data centers have gravitated towards the multivendor LTO. Quantum is the sole provider of DSLT. Sony maintains a strong following for the AIT and SAIT series.

IBM totalstorage ultrium LTO tape drive
IBM totalstorage ultrium LTO tape drive

Terabyte Tyranny

In an all electronic workflow, producers and directors cannot rely on video tapes or film as an emergency backup. Previously, a still photography or filmaker would keep their negative or positive, and strike new prints as needed. With the advent of digital photography, and soon in affordable digital filmmaking and video production, there is no physical backup, but only the bit buckets, which when arranged properly would describe a vast landscape, a human face, or an airplane landing.

In the still photography realm, image makers have embraced the new workflow, because they realize the potential for new creativity:

    Every copy of the image is an original
    Since the image is already digitized, it is easily shared
    Digital photos are more easily manipulated and cropped
    The arduous process of scanning film is eliminated

However, since the bits become supreme, over the film strip or video tape, special storage considerations must be analyzed and scrutinized. Also, still photography describes a single moment in time, while moving images records that same scene but at 24 to 60 frames per second, so a 2 MB still frame file, can become a 48 MB file per second for video, and with Panasonic DVCPRO HD codec 60 GB per hour. How does one store that much data for archiva purposesl and retrieval in the future?

Today, we have current technology, and very soon the future will be now (Blu-Ray Disc, holographic storage, VXA 3, etc). It used to take a simple trip to the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas, to get a bead on storage, but for all practical purposes Comdex has ended, and may never return. Instead, we need to look to manufactucturer events and niche events like Macworld Expo, Storage Networking World, or AIIM Expo.

To manage and harness the growing terabyte requirements in entertainment consider these storage solutions:

Archival Storage Mechanisms
Storage Media Native Capacity (GB) Transfer Rate (GB/hr) Drive Cost* Media Cost*
LTO 1 100 57.6 $1725 $29
LTO 2 200 72 $1750 $30
LTO 3 400 245 $5015 $109
VXA 1 33 10.3 $467 $59
VXA 2 80 21.6 $922 $75
AIT 1 25 10.5 $670 $47
AIT 2 50 21.1 $996 $54
AIT 3 100 42.2 $1809 $60
AIT 4 200 84.4 $2942 $60
AIT-E 20 20 21.1 $437 $17
AIT-1 turbo 40 21.1 $535 $23
SAIT 500 105.5 $6474 $207
SDLT 600 300 126.6 $3506 $47
DVD+R 8X 4.38 37.2 $80 30¢
CD-R 24X 0.68 12.4 $30 12¢

* prices from summer 2005 survey

Panasonic AG-HVX200 Camcorder History

panasonic AG-HVX200 camcorder front view

During the Panasonic CES 2004 keynote address, Andrew Nelkin, Vice President of Panasonic Consumer Electronics Company first hinted that by the first quarter of 2006, Panasonic would produce an affordable high definition camcorder using solid state flash memory devices (secure digital memory card or SD cards). The magic date became Torino 2006, the home of the next Winter Olympic Games, where Panasonic traditionally has a commanding sponsorship.

Fortunately, Panasonic did not wait until CES 2006 to announce the new products, but instead had a very large presence at NAB 2005 for the professional DVCPRO HD AG-HVX200 rollout, and IFA 2005 for the consumer MPEG-2 based camcorder rollout. Both products are expected in the fall of 2005.

Unlike traditional portable video capture devices, these new camcorders have no need for magnetic tape. Video tape has it litany of problems including jams, dropouts, snags, tape breaks, curl, and video tracking along with environmental issues like susceptibility to humidity, magnetic field erasure, and simple aging. The era of the cassette is over, and the opportunity to be creative faster and more robustly has arrived.

The first generation product, with a 2 GB to 16 GB starting storage capacity, will need a new workflow. The recording medium, a reusable SD memory device, once filled, needs to be put somewhere, and a storage area network (SAN) or RAID device would be ideal to protect the invaluable electronic image capture. As the era of solid state recording dawns, notably other backup devices are either already mature or nearly ready to archive the DV, DVCPRO HD or MPEG-2 recording.

Today, DVD+R makes an entry level archive medium, with a 4.38 GB (17.5 minutes in DV format, 11 minutes DVCPPRO HD 720p/24) storage platform. DVD+R is cheap, reliable, and long lived. On the horizon, look to Blu-Ray Disc with a capacity of about 25 GB, five times the capacity of DVD+R. Also on the cusp is holographic storage at some 300 GB a cartridge.

panasonic AG-HVX200 camcorder P2 memory slots
panasonic AG-HVX200 camcorder P2 memory slots
panasonic AG-HVX200 camcorder side view
panasonic AG-HVX200 camcorder side view