Standalone Video Recorders: “Corders”

Standalone Video Recorders are quickly emerging as an exciting new category of video accessory. The reason for this is obvious, there’s an artificial hole in the market. The optics, signal processors, and image sensors of consumer and industrial level camcorders have reached the “good enough” stage for professional production. So how does an electronics company maintain the value of it’s high-end broadcast cameras? Cripple the recording format to barely acceptable, and save the “good codecs” for your higher end units. Also make sure the high end codecs you do use are proprietary and incompatible with other manufacturers models.

Filling this gap are enterprising companies that capitalize on the fact that on most camcorders there is an uncompressed video signal, that bypasses the awful in-camera compression, and is meant to go straight to a monitor, or switcher. The two main signals used are HDSDI and HDMI, both of which support beautiful 10 bit 4:2:2 video, that these devices can then capture and record into a variety of high quality mastering codecs. Apple ProRes is the most common, but also Avid’s DNxHD, and uncompressed are also starting to show up more.

In addition, it’s becoming standard to include the recorder in some kind of playback/confidence monitor so you can watch clips divorced from the camcorder. This is a brilliant idea, that only is possible with new digital tapeless acquisition. In hindsight, you could have said these devices were even inevitable, once videotape was taken out of the equation.

But now let’s look forward to a world where standalone video recorders become the norm. The new “tape” as it were. Are camcorders now simply optics and signal processing boxes with HDSDI outs? If the common standard by which we record video is now HDSDI, or HDMI, it promises to break the cycle of 3-5 year camcorder upgrades. You simply buy another stand alone video recorder that comes with the codecs, compression, and capacity that you need, while still keeping your high quality image sensor and DSP.

In fact, doesn’t it look a bit like the film camera model? You buy a light-tight box, with a shutter. That’s your camera. You have a common lens mount that takes a variety of glass (which we are starting to see become the norm). Finally you choose your own recording format with standalone video recorders, much like you chose your own film stock. It’s all held together by standards (ATSC, HDMI, HDSDI, PL-mount), much like 35mm and 16mm film were standards.

Funny, the more things change…

But we need a new name for these devices, because Standalone Video Recorders is too hard to say, and too long to type. The video industry will probably do something unimaginative and abbreviate it to SAVR’s or something (Like we need more acronyms in the film and video business). I propose we use the word “corders” instead, after all that’s what you have when you remove the “recorder” from “camcorder” isn’t it?

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