Focus Enhancements FS-5 100GB Direct Capture Device Review

Capture Pod

Focus Enhancements’ FS-5 direct capture device marks a sea change in how we use video. Not only does the device capture video from a Mini DV or HDV camcorder, it allows editing directly on the computer it is attached to, and it also allows something very revolutionary – the ability to add metadata to clips on the fly via an Ethernet or a Wi-Fi connection.

The FS-5 is smaller in size than its predecessors in the FS-4 family. That’s because it utilizes a 1.8″ hard drive with a 4200rpm spindle speed and 8MB cache. This probably also adds to the cost of the unit.

Navigation

The controls are simple: there’s a power button, four function keys, record, play, stop and pause transport controls, and a primitive click wheel (well, compared to, say, an iPod’s) with a rotary control, four buttons and a center button. The rotary control responds a bit more slowly than we would have liked.

The menu structure takes some getting used to – we initially thought there were only two configuration menus, but we eventually figured out there are four (operation, setup, functions and utilities).

By default, the function keys are mapped to external trigger/local control, timecode display mode, record/play or HDD mode (for attaching the FS-5 to a computer for editing and for locking/unlocking the keypad). Other functions that could be mapped to the function keys include synchro record, LCD power, alarm (to tell you when you’re running out of battery or disk capacity), view filename or normal name, and reel number/reel marking (for organizing the clips being acquired).

Capturing

Like any direct capture device, the FS-5 captures the video that is being recorded, live, to its internal hard drive. There are two ways to do that-bypass tape and just use the FS-5’s record and stop buttons, or synchronize the tape and the hard drive’s contents (e.g., recording to tape and hard drive whenever the camcorder’s start/stop button is pressed). There are two settings for the latter: synchro and external. But be sure to check Focus’ website to see which mode to use for your particular camcorder.

A new feature is called Retro Cache, which saves up to 10 seconds prior to the time you actually press the start/stop button, so you don’t miss any action.

Online

Focus sent us some goodies to put the FS-5’s capabilities to work, namely, an iPod Touch and an Asus USB Wi-Fi adapter. This gives you access to the coolest feature of the FS-5 by far, the aforementioned ability to remotely add metadata to clips.

The FS-5 works with any Wi-Fi adapter that uses a Ralink chipset. Linksys and Belkin models are mentioned by name in the manual, but a litany of other manufacturers offer USB Wi-Fi adapters using the same chipset (the problem is that it’s usually difficult to tell what chipsets are used by a particular manufacturer, or even by which revision of a particular adaptor). The manual mentions that Focus is planning to offer a list of tested USB Wi-Fi adapters on its website to make your shopping that much easier.

Once the Wi-Fi adaptor is chosen, the easiest way to connect the FS-5 to the iPod Touch, iPhone, Mac or PC that you’re going to use as a logging device is to create an ad-hoc network on the FS-5 and get the logging device to find the FS-5, even though the FS-5 can connect to an infrastructure network (a network with a central access point). The problem with using an infrastructure network is that each time the FS-5 connects to the network, there’s the potential that it may be assigned a different IP address, which means that you will have to find that address to be able to connect again. Besides, using an ad-hoc network between the FS-5 and your logging device makes the whole system more portable in the field… and that’s the point, isn’t it?

The FS-5’s internal web server plays nicest with Internet Explorer and Safari, hence the recommendation for using an iPod Touch, iPhone, Mac or PC. Theoretically, browsers on other portable devices might work, but for the purposes of this review, we constrained our testing to the iPod Touch.

Logging is easy. We simply shot a clip and, as soon as we hit stop, the clip magically appeared on the iPod within the length of a webpage refresh. Using the default FCP Example template, we named the clip, assigned scene and take numbers and noted whether the clip was good (true or false). There is also a “Lognote” field, four Master Comment fields and two General Comment fields. Everything is customizable, too, but if you do make changes to field names, all of the existing metadata will go poof… so plan carefully for the fields that you will need.

Back at Base

When you get the FS-5 full of video and it’s time to edit, you can export the accumulated metadata as XML, which can be imported by Final Cut Pro, Premiere Pro and several other editing programs. This will keep the need for further logging to a bare minimum. The promise is to make the editing process faster, and the FS-5 unquestionably delivers. We can’t wait to see what Focus’ engineers have in store for the FireStore lineup.

TECH SPECS

Capture formats: HDV – .m2t 720p 24/25/30/50/60, .m2t 1080i 50/60, MXF HDV (720p 30), MXF HDV (1080i 50/60), QuickTime 1080i 50/60, QuickTime 720p 30 DV – AVI Type 1, AVI Type 2, AVI Type 2 24p, Canopus AVI, Matrox AVI, MXF, Pinnacle AVI, QuickTime, QuickTime 24p, RawDV

Strengths

  • Innovative logging capabilities
  • Retro Cache feature

Weaknesses

  • Expensive
  • Interface takes some getting used to

SUMMARY

We have seen the future in direct capture devices, and it’s the Focus FS-5.

Charles Fulton is Videomaker‘s Associate Editor.

Focus Enhancements

1370 Dell Ave.

Campbell, CA 95008

www.focusinfo.com

$2,195

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