Focus on the Future
Portable DTE (direct-to-edit) recording has been around for a few years now, thanks to Focus Enhancements’ 2001 invention. Focus recently decided to stratify their offerings with a host of new camera-specific recorders. The original Focus FS-4 brought us a speedier DV workflow and more options by recording video straight to a portable hard drive. The new Focus Enhancements FireStore FS-100 takes aim at the HD market by adding DVCPRO HD recording.
Although the Focus FS-100 is made specifically for the Panasonic AG-HVX200 camcorder, it’s also compatible with other camcorders. But you’ll need an HVX200 to take full advantage of the FS-100. Whether you’ve just purchased an HVX200 or are still salivating at the prospect of shooting HD, the FS-100 makes a good case for the HD upgrade.
A Cool Fire
When unpacking the FS-100, you’ll find that it looks larger than some other portable hard drive recorders. It features more ventilation than its competition with an internal fan that draws air into the six vents along its edges. The large design seems to really work in aiding heat distribution. The FS-100 felt only warm after a half-hour of constant recording, which is really acceptable.
The FS-100 fits nicely in hand, and isn’t heavy. At one pound, the FS-100 can be easily attached to a camcorder or belt clip. We’re glad that Focus has kept its established button and LCD interface of their FS-4 product. The configuration is asymmetrical, but allows for either right- or left-handed operation. This is good because we found ourselves operating the camera with our right hand and the FS-100 with our left.
Atop the FS-100 are two 6-pin FireWire ports, a control jack, and two small colored LEDs. One FireWire port is for computer I/O, while the other is for camera I/O. Focus ships the FS-100 with a handful of accessories including a replaceable battery. The battery comes un-mounted, but it easily locks into place much like a laptop battery does. Focus includes a pair of spring loaded "pinchers" with the unit. One is a belt clip attachment and the other is a cable wrangler. We were a bit skeptical about hanging our new FireStore from a plasticy-looking belt clip, so we gave it an extra working over. You’ll be glad to know we couldn’t break it. Our only complaint was with the defective 4-pin to 6-pin FireWire cable that shipped with our unit.
In the Field
We ran the gamut by recording high quality DVCPRO HD, DVCPRO 50 and DV video with the FS-100 and the HVX200. We recorded for much longer than the HVX200's P2 cards would allow; a boon for anyone shooting longer-format events or commercials. Setting up to shoot with the FS-100 and HVX200 takes a few steps (eight, to be exact). Some of these include: Navigating to the FS-100's tapeless setting, pressing the REC/PAUSE button before attaching the device to the camcorder, navigating the HVX200's menu to properly to send the audio, video and timecode over the FireWire, and restarting the camera. If you're new to both products, we suggest taking 15-20 minutes for setup time. It may take longer if you go by the FS-100 user manual, which doesn't clearly outline the process. Focus told us they'd be updating the user manual soon, so be sure to stay tuned.
The FS-100 records video in 14 different file formats. In DV mode you can choose from all of the major formats: AVI, QuickTime, Avid OMF, Matrox, Canopus, P2 and Pinnacle. The HD mode allows for your choice of P2 or RAW DV format recording.
At one point we encountered a problem; the unit stopped recording after about 20 minutes of use. We spoke with Focus and downloaded a new software update right away. Since our footage was totally intact, we just started recording again. We didn't encounter any subsequent problems after performing the software update. We even used it to record a full episode of Videomaker Presents. Nice save, guys!
Recording in the P2 format allows for DVCPRO HD transfer over FireWire, however some of the HVX200's features are not supported. A hi-def time-lapse feature is one of them. We applaud the FS-100 for being able to record the rest, including true 720/60p for the smoothest of smooth slow motion. The FS-100 allows the user to record HD to its hard drive while the camera records DV to tape. Pretty cool.
In the Edit
A Direct To Edit can save your production a ton of time at the edit stage. With a DTE, there's no time spent sitting and transferring your tape to your computer. When you're ready to edit, connect the FireStore to your computer via FireWire, change the FS-100's menu option to HDD mode and your video is ready to edit right out of the device. The FS-100 acts as an external hard drive allowing you to edit straight from the device, or you can quickly transfer your video at a faster-than-real-time pace. The Focus FS-100 records video in the FAT32 storage system, which means that long clips are broken up into 2GB chunks. Thankfully, Focus allows you to organize these. The P2 (MXF format) files may look daunting, and they require you to copy all the many parts with care. So don't forget to transfer that LASTCLIP.TXT file!
If you own or are looking to rent an HVX200, there isn't a reason not to try the FS-100. It will certainly make for more creative shooting if you need the extra recording time, or don't have an assistant who can hand you empty P2 cards every 10 minutes. The overall functionality of the Focus FS-100 has added value to the Panasonic HVX200 camcorder.
Platform: PC or Mac
OS: Win 98SE/2000/XP, Mac OS9/X
Default Format: FAT32
Dimensions (mm): 40 x 142 x 95
Weight: 1.0 lb.
Speed: 5400 rpm
Recording Time: HD, 90-100 minutes
- Records DVCPRO HD format
- User interface
- Replaceable battery
- Confusing user manual
The FireStore people have been consistent with quality and innovation which hasn't stopped at the FS-100.
Andrew Burke is Videomaker's Editorial Assistant and a member of AIVF.
Focus Enhancements, Inc.
1370 Dell Ave.
Campbell, CA 95008