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Thursday, December 9, 2010

What’s with those new discs?

We don’t normally spend a lot of time talking about equipment, but we’ve been working with Sony’s XDCAM system for a little over a year, and it deserves a few kind words.

XDCAM started as a disc-based field recording system for standard NTSC. The camcorders now shoot gorgeous HDTV images on discs that use technology similar to Blu-ray DVDs. The real difference is that the video is recorded as individual files, rather than as a continuous stream on a videotape. Each file is recorded twice; you get both a low-res “proxy” file to view or edit and a high-res HDTV file to finish your program with.

The proxy files are easy to put on a disc for screening on a PC, and you can quickly load them into the Avid for editing. In fact, they load so quickly that it offsets a good bit of the extra cost of shooting in HD. As the video is recorded directly on a disc, you have a piece of physical media with your original footage that you can keep on your shelf.

While this may seem trivial, a lot of digital video is now recorded on reusable memory cards and then transferred to portable hard drives for storage. I’ve never been comfortable with this. It’s not unusual for video to be transferred incorrectly and the mistake not noticed until the original memory cards have been reused. Then you’re out of luck. That won’t happen when you record directly to an XDCAM disc. It’s a much more robust solution.

XDCAM is great for mastering, too. While it’s essential to keep a master copy of each project, videotape masters are obsolete. Our solution is to archive projects on XDCAM discs. Not only do we put a hi-res digital copy of the finished video on the disc, we put all the files related to the project on the same disc: the Avid project file, files for a DVD, a video file for the Internet, raw graphics files, etc. So you have everything you need in one place if you need to change the video down the road.

Over the years, I’ve found that it’s good to be skeptical about the never-ending stream of new formats that come along. XDCAM was worth waiting for.

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