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Sonnet EchoExpress Thunderbolt Adapter SxS Speed Tests.

Sonnet EchoExpress

I have had this little box for a couple of months now, but until the recent release of SxS drivers by Sonnet you couldn’t use it as an SxS card reader. There are two versions of the EchoExpress, the standard one, which is the one I have and a “Pro” version that offers higher speed transfers when using PCIe 2.0 adapters. When Apple removed the express card slot from their MacBook Pro laptops, they severely restricted the ability to connect high speed external hard drives. I have a Convergent Design Gemini which records on to SSD’s and the fastest way to offload these on location (for me at least) was to plug an eSATA PCI Express card into the slot on may older MacPro and then connect the Gemini Docking station to one port and then an external eSATA drive to the other. However, the processing power on my older MacBook was falling somewhat behind the modern machines and when trying to transcode from the uncompressed Gemini DPX files to ProRes or DNxHD was taking ages. So I decided to upgrade to a new MacBook Pro, but this then meant the loss of the Express Card slot. This is where the Sonnet EchoExpress became a “must have” add on, as it provides an external ExpressCard slot connected to the computer using Thunderbolt.

By using the EchoExpress box along with a Sonnet eSATA express card adapter I can connect eSATA devices to my MacBook Pro. The transfer speeds with my original version EchoExpress are not as fast as when I had a built in ExpressCard slot, but it’s still a massive improvement over USB, about 4 times faster. Initially SxS cards didn’t work with the EchoExpress, but Sonnet recently released a dedicated SxS driver that allows the EchoExpress to work as a SxS card reader.

So how fast is it? One thing to consider is that when using the EchoExpress as a card reader, on a MacBook Pro or 21″ iMac you only have a single Thunderbolt port, so there is no way to connect a second EchoExpress to add an eSATA port. That restricts you to using either the computers internal drive or an external Firewire 800 drive. For my tests I made copies of a full 16Gb Blue SxS card to both the internal drive as well as an external Seagate GoFlex FreeAgent drive fitted with a Firewire 800 interface.  There was very little difference between the transfer speeds to the laptops internal drive and the Firewire drive, so I suspect that the transfer speed is limited to that of the Sonnet EchoExpress.

Copying 16Gb from the SxS card via the EchoExpress took just a shade over 4 minutes. That’s pretty good performance and only marginally slower than when I had an express card slot built in to the computer. Typically with a built in slot it would take about 3 1/2 minutes. Compare that to copying the exact same data from the camera using USB which took 11 minutes! So, as an SxS card reader the Sonnet EchoExpress works really well offering transfers around 3 times faster than USB which is a big time saver. Imagine you have been shooting all day and have 5 hours of footage. With USB it would take you at least an hour to transfer your data, with the EchoExpress just 20 minutes.

I give the Sonnet EchoExpress a big thumbs up. Now all I need is a Thunderbolt hub.

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Monday, April 23rd, 2012 Uncategorized 6 Comments

Sonnet SDHC to SxS Adapter Review.

I recently reviewed the rather excellent Sonnet QIO I/O device that allows you to very quickly ingest material from SxS cards, P2 cards as well as SD cards to your computer. Along with the QIO I was sent a Sonnet SDHC to SxS card adapter to take a look at. Now I’m going to lay my cards on the table here and say that I strongly believe that if your going to shoot with an XDCAM EX camera you should be using SxS cards in order to get the best possible reliability. However as we all know SxS cards are expensive, although a lot cheaper now than they used to be, I remember paying £600 for an 8Gb card only 4 years ago!

So ever since the launch of the XDCAM EX cameras, users including me have been trying to find alternative recording solutions. I found that it was possible to use an off-the-shelf SD card to express card adapter (the original Kensington Adapter) to record standard frame rates on class 6 SD cards in the EX cameras.  However the SDHC cards stick out of the end of the generic adapters so you can’t close the doors that cover the card slots in the cameras. Following that initial discovery various companies have brought out flush fitting adapters that allow the use of SDHC cards. Then about two years ago Sony openly admitted it was possible to use an adapter in the cameras and released their own adapters (MEAD-SD01 and MEAD-MS01) as well as making some firmware changes that made using adapters more reliable. The key point to consider when using an SxS adapter and SD cards is that the media, the SD cards, are consumer media. They are produced in vast quantities and the quality can be quite variable. They are not made to the same standards as SxS cards. So I choose to shoot on SxS whenever possible and I’ve never had a single failure or unexplained footage loss. BUT I do carry a couple of adapters and some SD cards in my camera kit for emergencies. You never know when you might run out of media or find yourself in a situation where you have to hand over you media to a third party at the end of a shoot. SDHC cards are cheap and readily available. You can buy an SDHC card just about anywhere. I’d rather switch to SDHC cards than try to do a panic off-load to a backup device mid-shoot, that’s a recipe for disaster!

Sonnet SDHC adapter for SxS Camera Slot

Anyway… on to the Sonnet SDHC to SxS adapter. It feels as well built as any other adapter on the market. It is mostly metal with plastic end pieces that are made from a nice high quality plastic. I have other adapters that use a very brittle plastic and these can break quite easily, but this one appears to be well made. The SDHC card slots into a sprung loaded slot in the end of the adapter making a reassuringly positive sounding click when it’s latched in place. Once inserted the SDHC card is slightly recessed into the adapter. This is good as it helps prevent the SDHC card from being released from the adapter as you put the adapter into the camera. It means that as you push the adapter into the camera you are pushing on the end of the adapter and not on the SDHC card like some other adapters I have used. To remove the SDHC card you simply push it quite firmly, further into the adapter until you hear another click and it then pops out far enough to be pulled out. This is certainly one of the better made adapters that I have come across.

To test the adapter I used some Transcend class 6 SDHC cards as well as some Integral Ultima Pro class 10 SDHC cards. I used the adapter in my PMW-F3 with firmware version 1.10 as some user have reported problems with other adapters and this firmware revision. I was able to completely fill the cards shooting using S&Q motion at 50fps or 60fps using long and short clips with lots of motion. This is I believe the toughest test for these adapters as the recording bit rate is close to 70Mb/s. I had no issues at all with either type of SDHC card and there was very little delay between finishing a recording and being able to start the next, a good indicator of the cards high performance. I also tested recording very long clips to ensure that there would be no issues when the camera breaks the recording into 4Gb chunks. Again, no problem.

So if you are going to use SDHC cards and an SxS adapter I would suggest you consider the Sonnet SxS adapter. It’s certainly cheaper than the Sony adapter. Sonnet are a large business with a wide range of products and a global distributor and dealer network, so you should have no problem finding a local supplier.

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Friday, June 17th, 2011 cameras, Uncategorized 14 Comments

Sonnet QIO Review – Really, really fast!

Sonnet QIO

I had heard about the QIO some time ago, so I approached Sonnet to see if I could borrow a unit to review. I was given the loan of a Sonnet QIO at NAB. I have been playing with it since then and you know what, it’s a great device. So what exactly is it? Well it is an extension box that allows you to connect a range of peripherals and flash memory cards to your computer via the PCI bus. The reason I wanted to borrow one was because the QIO is one of the few devices (the only device?) that allows you to connect SxS, Compact Flash and P2 cards to a computer using the high speed PCI bus with hot-swappable functionality.  Hot Swap means you can eject and remove cards without having to re-boot the computer or do anything else, something that some of the other adapters on the market force you to do.

PCI-E extension board.

Installation was very straight forward. On my Mac Pro workstation I had to plug in a small PCI-X card into one of the vacant slots inside the rear of the machine. This is easy to do and should not put anyone off buying the device, it took me all of 5 minutes to plug the card in and install the drivers. Then a short cable runs from the back of the Mac Pro to the QIO and a separate power supply is plugged into the QIO for power.

 

 

 

On my Mac Book Pro I simply slotted the Sonnet express card PCI bus expansion adapter into the express card slot and then connected this to the main QIO unit via the extension cable and installed the drivers, again a 5 minute job, very simple.

PCI-E Express Card Slot adapter

If you do want to use it with a Mac Book Pro, you will need a model that has the express card slot. At the time of writing the device only works with Mac’s, but Windows support should be coming very soon. When buying a QIO there are two versions. The desktop version supplied with the desktop adapter or the laptop version with the express card slot adapter. The functionality is the same for both, it’s just a case of which adapter you need. You can buy the alternate adapter should you want both as an accessory.

So, I have it installed, how is it to use?

It’s really extremely straight forward. You simply pop your media into the slot and away you go. When your done with that card you eject it as you would with any other removable media and stick in the next card. On the workstation this was so much better than plugging in my XDCAM camcorder via USB.

Of course convenience is one thing, but how about performance? The QIO is fast, very fast. I was able to offload a full 16Gb SxS card in about 150 seconds, less than 3 minutes to the internal drive on the Mac Pro. That equates to an hours worth of XDCAM EX material in around 3 minutes or 20x real time. The performance for compact flash cards doesn’t disappoint either at around 15 seconds per Gb so clearly the transfer speed is limited by the speed of the CF card and not the connection as would be the case with USB or firewire. If you want to use the QIO for SD cards then you can use the supplied adapter. Again the performance is very good, but not as good as SxS and CF due mainly to the lower speeds of the SD cards.

Laptop Performance and Expansion.

One of the issues with Laptops is how do you expand them? It’s all very well being able to put an SxS card into the express card slot for fast off load, but where do you then put the material? On a Mac Book Pro you do have firewire 800 but this is still nowhere near as fast as the SxS card. As the SxS card is in the express card slot you can’t use it to add an eSATA drive, so your a little stuck. But not with the QIO. You see the QIO has a built in eSATA controller and 4 eSATA connectors on it’s rear. This means that you can plug in one or more eSATA drives to the QIO and transfer directly from the SxS card to an eSATA drive or drives. So now even on my Mac Book I can make multiple eSATA copies of my media at speeds of up to 200MB/s (total). So once again the speed is usually limited by the card and not the interface.

Torture Test:

For a real torture test I put two full 16Gb SxS cards into the QIO and offloaded both cards at the same time to the Mac Pro’s raid drive. Where one card had taken a little under 3 minutes, two cards took abut 190 seconds, just a little over 3 minutes. Transferred this way, two cards at a time you could offload 2 hours of XDCAM EX material in around 4 mins, that’s an incredible 30x real time. I tried the same test with CF cards  and again there was little difference in transfer speed between one card and two cards.

Conclusions:

This is one fast device. If you have lots of media to off-load and backup it’s going to save you a lot of time. If you are a production company that works with large volumes of solid state media it will pay for itself very quickly in saved man-hours. If your working in the field with a Mac Book Pro the ability to connect both the media and eSATA devices at the same time makes the QIO a very interesting proposition. It is well constructed, simple to install and use, what more could you ask for.

Value for money?

That’s a little harder to answer. It depends on how much material you work with. It’s a fairly pricey device at around $800US or £700GBP for a card reader, but the time savings are substantial, especially if you are asking people to back up material at the end of a days shoot. The faster it can be done, the more likely it is that it will be done straight away, rather than put off until later. It’s also a lot more than just a card reader, the eSATA ports make it so much more useful for connecting drives or even a raid array to a laptop. Overall I think it is actually well worth the investment for the time savings alone. 8/10 (it would have been 9/10 if it didn’t require the power adapter). Great product.

 

I approached Sonnet and requested a loan QIO for this review, which Sonnet provided. I was not paid to write this and the views expressed are entirely my own. Speed tests were conducted using my own SxS (blue) cards with the QIO attached to a 1.1 first generation Mac Pro with an internal 4 drive raid array, or with a 15″ Mac Book Pro.

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Tuesday, May 10th, 2011 Uncategorized 4 Comments

NextoDI Demonstrate writing to BluRay from NVS2500


At the recent BVE show in London, NextoDI were showing a demo of what will be available in the next firmware release, due around NAB time. The most significant feature is the ability to archive your material directly from the NVS2500 to BluRay!

You will be able to plug the NVS2500 into a USB BluRay burner and burn your files from the NextoDI straight on to BD-R discs!

So, no need for a computer or BluRay software, just the NextoDI and a BD burner. This makes the NVS2500 a truly pivotal device. You take your rushes in the feild, back them up on to the 2500, then plug in a BD writer and produce your archive discs. Remember that BD-R should have a shelf life of around 25 years. It doesn’t tie up a computer and there’s no reason why you couldn’t do this on location, the recommended LG drive even runs off 12v so you could do it in a car or running off another 12v battery.

As well as writing to BluRay the new firmware will also have the ability to recover some types of corrupt clips. To be honest, if you use SxS this should not be a problem, but it’s a useful tool to have. It will also reject bad sectors when writing to a hard drive thus reducing the risk of errors in the first place.

I know the NVS2500 is not the cheapest piece of kit on the planet, but it really, really, really is worth every penny. If you took mine away from me now it would be like cutting off an arm. It is one piece of the whole file based jigsaw that has really made my life so much simpler, faster, less stressful.

10/10 product, fantastic, excellent….

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Friday, February 19th, 2010 Uncategorized No Comments

PXU-MS240 SxS Backup device. First Impressions.


I have been playing with a Sony PXU-MS240 SxS backup device. It’s quite different to my NextoDi NVS2500 even though it essentially does the same job. I will be reviewing it in some detail very soon, but here are my first thoughts.

The key feature is that unit has a removable 240Gb hard drive module. Extra drives are readily available and the removable drives can be used as stand-alone USB hard drives without the main unit. Each hard drive cartridge comes in a sturdy box that is much like a Betacam cassette box. There is space on the drives for labels and the box has an insert sleeve that can be used to write on, just like a tape. Clearly this has been done so that as you fill up drives you can pop them on a shelf for longer term storage as you would with a tape. The beauty of the MS240 is that you never need to off load footage, you just add cartridges as you fill them up.

The main unit is 12 volt powered or can run off a standard EX battery. There is a slot at the front for a SxS card and a big Copy button on the top panel along with the power button and menu controls. There is also a small and very clear LCD display that tells you what the unit is doing. In the setup menu you can choose whether to simply copy the SxS cards contents or to do a copy with full verification in one pass.

Another way to verify your clips is to plug it in to an EX camera. The MS240 is supplied with a USB to Express card adapter. You plug the adapter into an EX’s SxS slot and the USB end into the MS240 and then you can use the EX to  playback any clips on the  MS240 in full HD. This is something the Nexto cannot do. It also means that you could use the MS240 to store finished edits for playback via an EX over HDSDi.

The build quality is good and the range of connectivity is also good with eSATA and USB on the main unit and USB on the cartridges. A 16Gb card can be copied to the drive in around 5 mins.

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Monday, November 30th, 2009 Uncategorized No Comments

Working with XDCAM EX (or other file based) material.

The one big question of everyones lips is how do you archive your material? Well here are my thoughts and some ideas.

The most important thing is to think ahead and plan your end to end workflow. You also need to consider the fact that hard drives will almost certainly fail at some point (maybe not now but in the future) and the vast majority of problems are due to human error. Possibly simply forgetting to copy something or not fully understanding the workflow.

Some Golden Rules, no matter what format or workflow you are using are:

Copy EVERYTHING off the card, keeping the original file structure.

Ensure all copies incorporate some kind of error correction or error checking.

Don’t skimp on the quality of your backup system.

Check, check and double check your workflow before you start shooting.

So you go on a shoot and start filling up you expensive memory cards, at some point you will have to start off loading your material onto something else. In the field this is likely to be hard drives of some sort. Backing up to a single hard drive should only be done as a last resort or for media that you don’t mind loosing. You have several options here, you could use Shotput Pro to backup to single or multiple drives. I really like shotput as you can use it to eliminate a lot of user errors. For a start shotput can be set to backup to multiple locations simultaneously from the source media. Then once it has made the copies and verified the copies it can, if you wish, format the card, ready for re-use. Allowing Shotput to format the media helps prevent human error. How? Well if I ever put a card in my camera and find it has footage on it, it means that card has not been backed up and verified by Shotput. This is better than backing up yourself as there is always the risk of a mix up between backed up and not backed up cards. The other way to backup with a computer is to use the Sony XDCAM EX Clip Browser. You should never use the windows explorer or Mac finder to backup your valuable media as there is no form of error checking. Clip Browser has built in error checking which is enabled under the preferences tab.

A further option is to use a dedicated backup device such as the NextoDi products or soon to be released Sony PXU-MS240 backup device. These are easier to use than taking a laptop into the field. The NextoDi devices can backup to 2 drives at once (full review of the NVS2500 comming soon) and the Sony device backs up to removable esata drive cartridges.

So what sort of hard drives should you use? Well I am currently using pairs of USB Western Digital “Elements” hard drives. Where possible I use 3.5? drives as opposed to the smaller 2.5? laptop type drives. These are low cost yet so far have proven to be reliable and of good quality. The larger 3.3? drives should be more reliable, but they are bigger and bulkier and require mains power, so in the field I use the 2.5? drives. By storing these drives at separate locations, one at home and one in the office, I have a very safe system. If my office were to burn down or get flooded, I would have a spare copy at home. Over time however these drive will fail so every couple of years I move my footage on to new, larger hard drives. Another hard drive option is to use G-Tech G-Raid drives. These units contain two separate hard drives and can be used in raid 1 mode so should one of the drives fail your data should be safe. The cost is similar to using a pair of drives and it’s certainly less fiddly than using pairs of drives but it doesn’t give the security of separate storage locations. If you are doing corporate videos then you could consider selling drives to your clients. The client then keeps the drive and as a result you are no longer responsible for it’s storage or safety, just like if the client kept your rushes tapes.

For longer term storage, again there are many options. I backup a lot of my material to BluRay discs. This is not a fast process, use high quality discs and you should be good for 20+ years. Another option is to backup to Sony Professional discs using a Sony PMW-U1 drive. This is a lot faster than most current BluRay burners and the discs are protected in a rugged caddy. Sony claim a life of 50 years for the discs so it is a very good long term storage solution. The new Sony PMW-350 and EX1R as well as the Convergent Design NanoFlash (next firmware release)  have shooting modes that allow footage to be saved on XDCAM discs (Sony Professional Discs) as video clips and not just data files. Using these modes you can put the discs in a player and play back the material directly.

A further long term storage solution is LTO tape. It seems strange to be going back to tape, but LTO4 tape is very reliable and widely supported. It’s not suited to applications where you need quick access to your footage, but is very good for long term security. A good compromise may be one copy on a hard drive as a working copy along with a backup on LTO for archive.

Raid Arrays can be used for long term storage, but even Raid arrays can fail. If the lookup table becomes corrupted it can be next to impossible to recover the data off the discs, so do be careful. Do remember however you store your footage try and be organised. Store your material in a sensible folder structure that will help you find your rushes quickly and easily. If you are out shooting for a day you may be generating a hundred or more files, do that day in, day out and you will generate thousands and thousands of files. Make sure you work out you clip naming and clip prefixes in such a way that you won’t get duplicate names and can find your footage quickly and simply.

And just one more reminder, always save the full file structure. In the case of XDCAM EX keep the full BPAV folder and all it’s contents, also don’t rename the BPAV folder. Even if you edit on a Mac and use the Sony Transfer Tool to make .mov files you should keep the BPAV folders as trying to edit the  .movs on a PC or AVID is a nightmare. If you have the original material you can easily work with it on any platform.

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Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009 Uncategorized 1 Comment

Challenge Alister No 2


Challenge Alister No2

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Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009 Uncategorized No Comments

ShotPut, ProxyMill and Primera


I’m a bit slow on this one but it is a really excellent workflow. You use Imagine Products ShotPut Pro to backup your SxS cards (highly recommended) and then add a Primera BluRay burner to you system. Shotput will then write you files to the BluRay disc, extracting the metadata and printing that data on the face of the disc! What a neat workflow. Add in ProxyMill and you can create Proxies with burnt in timecode to hand off to your clients for logging or offline editing. I’m hoping to get a Primera system to evaluate. As soon as I do I’ll let you know.

So with Calibrated Q’s pluging allowing the use of MP4?s in FCP, Imagine Products making Proxies and auto backups of those MP4?s to BluRay or whatever the EX and SxS workflow is really, really making a lot of sense.

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Sunday, June 7th, 2009 Uncategorized No Comments