Benefits of Dual Hard Drive Recording     by Kelly Hughes, 2009

I'm already tapeless in the field. I don't use the camera to record, I have a pair of hard drive equipped DVD recorders doing the task. It makes my kit a little heavier having an extra deck, but I don't mind that. There are several advantages I get from this arrangement that make it worth it. Let's look at those:

  1. No risk of a master recording getting wrapped around a pinch roller or capstan
  2. No chance that your recording will be pixelated due to dirty heads or alignment differences with the client's equipment
  3. No tapes to stock
  4. No blank tape charges to pass on to the client
  5. No need to stop for tape changes during the depo
  6. Convenience of dividing the depo into DVD tracks AFTER the depo is over (when I know how long ALL the segments are)
  7. Making SP 2hr discs and LP 4hr discs at the same time, with no re-encoding to degrade video quality
  8. Very little chance of any camera maintenance/repair needed

The first four benefits are what drew me in initially -- the security that comes with an all-solid-state system, as well as the convenience and cost savings. These are obvious, and powerful enough all by themselves. But it's the remainders that are the focus of this article, since I didn't anticipate them before I started using the technique.

#5: No need to stop for tape changes
Many attorneys don't like having to stop for tape changes, especially if they have only been going 30 minutes since the last break. They like the freedom of going on and off the record on their own schedule. Also, many of them are bad about saying they'll take a break in a few minutes (when you warn them of 5 minutes left on the tape), and then not actually doing it. Then you have to ask them again with only seconds remaining, and they STILL don't want to go off the record yet. We've all been there, and it's stress we don't need.

Now I don't worry about it anymore. I don't have to ask for tape changes. Here's how it works. When you record to a tape, there's a hard limit you absolutely can't go past -- the end of the tape. Go past it, and you simply aren't recording anymore. That's not the case with HDD recording. Each track can usually be up to eight hours long, sometimes unlimited.

#6: Divide the depo into DVDs after the depo is over
DVD recorders provide a function to divide the tracks after the recording is finished. So I record the entire depo in one big track and figure out how to best divide it into smaller pieces later, using chunks that will fit onto DVD disc blanks, based on what breaks they take. Will I have some DVD discs that aren't completely full at the end? Quite possibly. Do I care? Not at all!

See, it might make sense to use all the available time on a MiniDV tape and fill them as efficiently as possible. You have limited stock, they are expensive, and you charge a per-tape cost upon delivery. Does that make sense on DVD blanks that cost less than 25¢ each and come in spindles of 100? Some might say yes, but I think it's hardly worth trying to be efficient. If you get one that's 75% empty here or there, who cares? It's only about 25¢ wasted for the convenience of not making the attorneys stop for tape changes! Secondly, it doesn't matter to the attorneys because they'll be getting MPG-1 most likely, and the video dept will just stick all the files on a DVD data disc anyway. If the attorney orders DVD, he can get a one-disc solution using #7 below.

#7: Making SP and LP discs at the same time
By making SP and LP discs at the same time, you can usually deliver a one-disc version of the depo, regardless of whatever whacky on/off schedule they followed. LP discs hold 4 hrs (4:22 in my case), and most depos will fit on that in their entirety. The only way they'd get a second DVD is if they went over 4 hours, and I don't think any attorney is going to be shocked to see a second DVD for a 5 to 6 hr depo!

At first thought, people might be tempted to shy away from LP discs, thinking the quality will be noticeably less than SP. As it turns out, most people can't tell the difference between SP and LP, especially when the LP disc is recorded natively at LP, and not converted from another format causing loss of quality. (This is true on my Panasonic DMR recorders. Your equipment may vary.) The difference between SP and LP could only show up during fast action sequences. Since depositions are usually comprised of a person sitting in a chair talking, there isn't much fast-moving action to notice any artifacts.

My only real limitation is that I deliver DVD masters in SP format. That means I have a two hour limit on any given segment. But that's only a SINGLE SEGMENT limitation. Each time they go back on the record, the clock starts over and I only have to stop them if they make the two hour mark. As long as they take breaks under the two hour mark, I can just sit back and let them go on and off the record as they wish, without ever calling for a tape change. In most cases they'll do this on their own, for the sake of the court reporter (or their bladders, lol). It's also worth pointing out that this is a self-imposed limitation for me. If I were delivering LP masters, there would only be a four hour limitation, rather than two.

#8: No Camera Maintenance
Lastly, it's worth pointing out that if you use dual HDD recorders, your camera only needs to provide a video signal. With no actual tape usage, you can kiss head cleaning, head replacements and most expensive camera repairs goodbye.

As more videographers shift towards all solid-state recording methods over the next few years, new flexibilities will come into play that didn't exist in the realm of tape-based media. The court reporting firms will be able to tell the videographers what they want, rather than letting the recording media dictate the runtimes of the masters. Having hard drive based recording gives the videographer the flexibility to do whatever they need, and when they don't have low runtime restrictions, you can pass that freedom on to the attorneys at no extra effort. That makes you and your client look good.   §