Videographers need media storage solutions with quick throughput and substantial capacity. External drives make sense for editing. Blu-ray is for the long haul.

When adding storage, consider how you’re going to use it. Do you need fast throughput and high capacity for DV, HDV or HD editing; access from anywhere using any computer; long-term archival storage; additional network capacity; or easy and quick file portability? This Buyer’s Guide presents solutions.

I have an 8GB flash drive hanging on my key chain. It holds student homework, my class presentations and exams. But my eight gigabytes pale in comparison to those of a student who dabbles in audio recording and keeps “a terabyte in the car.” My flash drive cost $16 ($2 per gigabyte). My student’s external hard drive, with its FireWire, USB and eSATA connectors, set him back all of $120 (only 12 cents per gigabyte!).

It’s enough to give me capacity envy. But, with so much storage available for so little money, finding a cure is easy. The only dilemma is selecting the cure that works best for you.

DV and HDV Editing – External Hard Drives

Video editors need storage hardware with quick throughput and substantial capacity. Hard drives are the only solution and external drives make the most sense.

Uncompressed DV and standard HDV play back at about 3MB per second, and need about 11GB of hard drive space per hour of footage. Any hard drive can handle those specs. Sluggish playback issues arise when you do multitrack editing. The bottleneck is usually data transfer rates. To ensure smooth DV/HDV editing, buy hard drives that spin at 7,200 RPM or faster.

External hard drives are the easiest way to increase storage capacity for DV and HDV editing. Few of us want to crack open a PC case to install an internal drive. With external drives, simply plug in the USB 2.0 (universal serial bus) or FireWire (aka IEEE 1394 or i.LINK) external connector, and your computer running Windows or Mac OS X will recognize the newly-added drive within a few seconds. FireWire has a slight throughput performance edge (both transfer data at about 40MB/sec), but USB offers more portability because virtually all computers have USB ports.

eSATA (external serial advanced technology attachment) is a relative newcomer and offers some speed advantages, but few computers have eSATA connectors. The recently-developed FireWire 800 standard is twice as fast as the original FireWire, but users report compatibility problems, and it requires a different plug and port than FireWire 400. USB 3.0 products will start shipping in 2010. USB 3.0 is 10 times faster than USB 2.0.

HD Storage: Fast and Massive Disk Arrays

Depending on the resolution (720 versus 1080) and frame rate (24 versus 30 versus 60), HD throughput rates and storage levels vary from about 40 to 100MB/sec and 100 to 400GB/hour of footage.

When you enter the HD realm, you need to think in terms of terabytes of storage and super-fast data transfer rates. In addition, to edit HD usually requires specialized hardware configured for your non-linear editor. For example, at last word, four companies – AJA, Bluefish444, Matrox and BMD – offered HD hardware solutions for Adobe Premiere Pro CS4.

On the storage side of the equation, to ensure smooth HD editing, you need a striped disk array (RAID 0). RAID 0 writes files across two hard drives to achieve a faster data transfer rate. A SCSI (small computer system interface) connection used to be the de facto high-speed connection standard for RAID systems, but internal SATA is almost on par with SCSI, is more readily available and is less expensive.

Hard drive rotation speeds for HD editing are also a consideration. 10,000-15,000 RPM drives will give you improved performance, but are more expensive and have lower capacities than their 7,200 RPM siblings.

Data Anywhere, Anytime, on any Connected PC: Cloud Storage

Storing data in the cloud (aka the internet) is gaining in popularity. One impetus is Byzantine border crossing rules designed to control data taken into or out of the US. Custom officers sometimes view the contents of travelers’ laptop hard drives, even going so far as to confiscate laptops and examine them for several days. One solution: don’t carry data with you. Upload it to the internet. pioneered this service in 2006 with its Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3). Now dozens of companies, large and small, offer cloud storage solutions. Advantages include no extra hardware needed, data accessible anywhere at any time and easy-to-share data. Disadvantages include slow data throughput (no faster than your internet connection) and potential data loss if the storage company goes out of business.

Amazon continues to up the ante. Because uploading a terabyte at T1 speeds (1.5Mbits/sec) can take about 80 days, now you can ship your hard drives to Amazon. The company uploads the data and returns the drives within a couple of days.

Storage for the Long Haul: Blu-ray Discs

Archiving assets from a completed video project is something videographers deal with all the time. Simply putting the original Mini DV cassette on a shelf is one solution. But most video-editing software products offer an alternative: archive only the assets you used (with head and tail frames) in a single file folder. That can still consume a lot of hard drive space, so how do you archive the archive?

Recordable Blu-ray Discs might soon become the best solution. A recordable Blu-ray Disc holds up to 50GB, plenty of room for a few hours of DV or HDV footage. Shelf life is at least several years, long enough to wait for low-cost petabyte storage. The caveat is availability. Blu-ray Disc (BD) burners are getting to the point of being widely available, though they aren’t yet commodity items (like DVD burners have become). However, as of June 2009, only LG offered a set-top Blu-ray Disc recorder in the U.S.

Media Storage Solutions for Quick and Easy Portability:Flash Drives

Flash drives are the mainstay of computer studies students. A typical thumb-sized drive holds upwards of 64GB (the equivalent of 14 DVDs). Plug them into any USB port, and they appear as a hard drive within seconds and perform at near hard-drive speeds. Unlike most external hard drives, these solid-state electronic devices don’t need an AC power supply. You can format them as FAT32 drives (instead of NTFS or HFS+), making them cross-platform compatible with any computer running Windows or Mac OS X.


Videographers need fast and deep storage. High performance hard drives will likely be the solution for the time being. But solid-state electronics are making inroads into the standard desktop PC data storage market, acceptance of cloud computing is growing and it probably won’t be long before a student tells me he’s got “a petabyte in the car.”

Jeff Sengstack is a video producer, an Adobe Certified Expert in Premiere Pro, and author of three books on Adobe Premiere.

Manufacturer’s list

Click here to download a PDF Manufacturer’s list of Videomaker‘s Storage Buyer’s Guide 2009.


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