In the last few years, with expansion of large sensor compact cameras able to capture quality video, a market of external recorders once reserved for high-end has widely spread. Sound Devices, company known for its quality solutions in professional audio domain, was one of the fist to join the market and has recently expanded its offer through its subsidiary brand, Video Devices.
Mr. Paul Isaacs, Director of Product Management and Design at Sound Devices, is responsible for the development and evolution of both Sound Devices-branded audio products and Video Devices-branded video products. His background as an Engineer with the BBC, Product Developer with HHB Communications, and his creative side as a musician, has given him a broad technical and creative palette to draw from when it comes to developing and designing new products for this industry. Mr. Isaacs was a key figure in development and definition of iXML format for broadcast wave files, adopted as metadata interexchange format in many location recorders and digital audio workstations. We’ve had a talk with him about technology of video recorders and new PIX -E series.
Sound Devices has joined the video recording domain with earlier Pix 200 series. We have seen Pix-E series proceeding on that path with Video Devices subsidiary and domain specialization. In which context do you see this series moving on ?
Paul Isaacs: We plan to continue to expand our presence in the video industry with our Video Devices brand which encompasses both portable field 4k recorder/monitors and AV/Broadcast Video decks.
What are the sound options of PIX-E series, in terms of sound quality and control and compared to other models, along with PIX-LR module option ?
Paul Isaacs: Our heritage is high quality sound. Sound Devices products are used globally in the highest profile film and broadcast productions. The PIX-LR accessory mic pres are ultra low noise and wide dynamic range with great limiters for preventing distortion due to excessive level. The PIX-E has up to 8 audio tracks with digital gain and delay, the latter being useful for fixing AV offsets due to camera delay. PIX-E supports analog audio, HDMI audio, and SDI audio. You can also use the analog line inputs a timecode input.
Reaching a good balance between quality and size, Prores has become pretty much a standard as both external recording and delivery format, while platform dependency is limiting its practicality on PC platforms. Your thoughts ?
Paul Isaacs: With PIX-E supporting all the way up to ProRes 4444XQ, 12-bit, picture quality is hard to rival. MAC seems to be dominant in the video production world, so we don’t often here about the PC limitation. I haven’t looked recently, but I’m sure there are plugins for handling ProRes on a PC.
Pix-E series supports very high quality 12 bit Prores, while 8 bit output is predominant in compact cameras and 10 bits are a practically a standard in mid segment. Since Pix-E series pricing-wise aims at those market segments, this suggests forward thinking and one can perceive these features as future proofing. Is there room for any new codec implementation via firmware ?
Paul Isaacs: As a company, Sound Devices does not talk about future firmware plans but we do listen to user requests and implement where possible. With PIX-E, we have pushed out almost 1 firmware update per month with new features since introducing the PIX-E5.
Sound Devices products are known for their durability for set work. How does this translate to Pix-E series and working in harsh environments ?
Paul Isaacs: PIX-E products are designed and manufactured to the same rigorous, robust standards as all our products. The die cast aluminum chassis, gorilla glass LCD protection and rugged connectors make the PIX-E suitable for use in extreme conditions. You can even drive a vehicle over one and it’ll still work. Try that with the competition!!!
How is data processing handled when recording from 8 bit 4:2:2 sources, predominant in compact camera segment ? Since Prores is a lossy compression, is there any benefit, in the context of data preservation, by recording to 12 bit Prores, regardless of 8 bit source ?
Paul Isaacs: Quality is not just based on bit depth – bit depth affects luma and color dynamic range. But the overall visual accuracy and pixel reproduction is heavily determined by the compression algorithm itself. In general, a codec with a higher bit rate will do a more accurate job of capturing an image. So there is advantage to using the ProRes 422 10-bit codecs for 422 sources.
Speed Drives seem like a really smart and pretty affordable solution. What kind of transfer speeds do they support and does the media offloading require any specific procedure ?
Paul Isaacs: Think of SpeedDrive simply as a super fast USB3.0 thumb drive. Just plug into a USB port on any computer and transfer away!!! You can transfer about 1GB in under 5 secs (USB3.0). When plugged into the PIX-E USB port, SpeedDrive very cleverly switches to an eSATA transfer mode. This is totally unique in the industry and allows the PIX-E to record at really high data rates which are needed for 4k UHD or DCI recording as well as ProRes 4444 XQ
SpeedDrive is affordable, yes! Inside the SpeedDrive enclosure is an off-the-shelf mSATA drive which can be purchased from many online retailers. We keep a list of approved media on our website so you know which have tested successfully, giving the user confidence. (link) No expensive proprietary media here!!! Its easy to fit your own mSATA drive, undo a couple of screws, pop open insert drive, than screw back together – takes a couple of minutes max.
Compared to other external recorder manufacturers Sound/Video devices has the edge in audio domain experience. Can you summarize what you have learned throughout the years in professional domain and implemented in new generation of video recording devices ?
Paul Isaacs: Professionals trust us; we have learned that this is because we offer superior build quality, exceptional audio and video performance, easy to operate interfaces, comprehensive and evolving feature sets, and last but not least, our phenomenal technical support. When your shooting in the field, knowing there’s a human expert at the other end of a phone/email/web to help you out of trouble or simply to offer operational advice, that is invaluable to anyone making a living in this industry.
One thing we have really covered here is the monitor aspect of PIX-E which was designed from the outset to be as much an effective on-camera monitor as a recorder. There are two sizes the 7″ PIX-E7 (1920×1200 resolution LCD) and the 5″ PIX-E5 (1920×1080 resolution LCD). To just name a few cool monitor features – full range of scopes, tapZoom, peaking, false colors, zebras, LUTs, anamorphic de-squeeze, 3:2 pulldown, SDI/HDMI conversion marker guides, and more.The PIX-Es also benefit from a best-of-both-worlds interface with touchscreen and tactile buttons.
We thank Mr. Isaacs for his time and look forward to new features and products from Sound/Video Devices.