Yet another reason why the Atomos Samurai is one of the best things to hit the video market since DVCProHD: If you have an all-day video job, you don’t have to worry about media, and you don’t have to use tape. A cheap 750GB 2.5″ HDD means I can bypass in-camera compression and record from uncompressed HD-SDI for up to 15-hrs straight in 720/30p if I need to. Hooray for cheap media!
My Atomos Samurai arrived yesterday, and after trekking to AllTex Electronics to pick up an SSD drive, I finally had a chance to try out the little recorder that I’ve had my eye on since I first saw it behind glass at NAB in 2010. The only SSD that AllTex had in stock that was fast enough, and not insanely expensive, was the 90GB Corsair Force SATA 3. It was not on the Atomos approved list of drives, but I figured with a peak write rate of around 500MB/sec it was plenty fast to record ProRes422 (HQ), which puts data down at around 220MB/sec, give-or-take. It was strange, though, that there was absolutely no information in the Corsair tech specs at the store about the drive’s sustained write rate. I decided to take a gamble on it, and sure enough, it seems to work just fine. After recording a single fifty-five-minute take in ProRes422 (HQ), I didn’t get a single glitch from the drive.
If I had to choose one word to summarize my unboxing experience of the Atomos Samurai, it would be, “impressive.” The unit comes in its own custom hard case, similar to a Pelican, with custom foam inserts and an included shoulder strap. In this case is everything you need to get started using your Samurai, including the recorder, SSD dock, batteries (2), charger, USB cable, USB bus power cable for the dock, and a FW800 cable. An especially-appreciated inclusion were two (2) BNC to Mini BNC adapter cables for your camera’s SDI feed, so that’s one less thing you would have to order separately, as you would with other recorders on the market. In fact, the ONLY two things you have to supply separately of what is in the Samurai’s case is the SDI cable that leads from your camera, and the hard drives to record to.
Immediately after opening the case, it was obvious how nice the build quality is. The Samurai unit and the dock are both very well put-together, and I immediately fell in love with the fact that the dock is bus-powered; you don’t have to plug it into shore power, and this is so incredibly handy for field work. I was also impressed with how well the SSD fit snugly into the drive caddy. Tolerances through the system seem to be engineered very precisely; seams are nice and even, components fit together tightly, and the drive caddy fits into the Samurai with a nice snug click that inspires confidence.
There were some other features about the package that I thought were just plain cool right out of the gate. The battery charger not only has two slots for batteries, but it also charges those two batteries simultaneously, which most dual chargers do not do. Also, Atomos has included four different standards of plug adapters for the charger, so if you’re traveling, you don’t have to worry about powering your Samurai… Just the rest of your gear, which likely did not include this amenity at time of purchase. Yet another nice touch.
I didn’t think I was going to have anything to shoot that first night after getting the Samurai, but as luck would have it, my friend, comedian Jay Whitecotton called, and had something to shoot. We’re working on a documentary together, and it turned out that night was opportune to shoot something. I recorded a single take that was fifty-five minutes long in Apple ProRes422 (HQ). The file size was about 60GB. At the end of the night, the power meter on the Samurai showed that I had used less than 1/4 of one battery. Good power consumption? Check.
Next: Using the Samurai
Many of you already know about BlackMagic Design’s new SDI/HDMI recording device, the Hyperdeck Shuttle. If you don’t know, then the short of it is that the Hyperdeck Shuttle takes an incoming video feed from either SD/HD-SDI or HDMI, and transcodes it to 10-bit uncompressed Quicktime on the fly, and writes it to a 2.5″ SSD drive. There are several good products that do this, but none that do it so cheaply, at US $350.00. I think the closest competitor is the Atomos Ninja at $995.00. What makes the Hyperdeck Shuttle so cheap is that fact that it’s so simple. No display, no menus (unless you’re using the computer interface app). Just standard record/play deck buttons to worry about, and you’re off to the races. Plug your camera in, hit record, and go.
The only drawback to the Hyperdeck Shuttle, in my opinion, and the only reason why I won’t buy one yet, is the fact that you have to hit RECORD manually; the unit will NOT detect time code from the camera and start on its own. When BlackMagic fixes this issue, I’ll probably buy two of the things. My friend Ed, however, DID buy one, and last week, we found another great use for it: acting as a real-time record backup unit for a TriCaster.
If you don’t know, a TriCaster is a miracle machine made by the folks at NewTek. It is, essentially, a TV studio in a box. It takes in multiple camera feeds and allows the operator to switch, add titles, graphics, transitions, etc. and output a ready-made show while simultaneously outputting to a live web stream if desired, and it’s only the size of a small desktop computer case. However, the TriCaster does have one very annoying trait (at least the model I have): Once your show is finished, instead of copying the final file off of the machine’s internal hard drive for delivery to the client, you have to actually PLAY the file out from SpeedEdit in whatever format the client wants, just like you were writing to — shudder — tape. You can’t copy the original AVI from the hard drive because it is written in some proprietary NewTek codec, and it can’t be played unless it’s on the TriCaster, or at least, taken into SpeedEDIT.
But, thanks to the Hyperdeck Shuttle, we have a workaround. Simply take the TriCaster’s HD-SDI out feed, plug it into the Hyperdeck Shuttle, and hit RECORD. While the show is in progress, the Hyperdeck Shuttle writes the program to a .mov file on the SSD, which you can then simply hand to your client when the production is over. Just bill the cost of the SSD into the job, and you’re golden. DON’T leave it up to your clients to supply the drive; they will inevitably cheap out and think that a slower drive is just as good, and you will end up with an SSD that isn’t fast enough. You should have a drive that can sustain a 250mb/sec write speed, especially if you are recording an HD feed.