Blank Media Buyer's Guide: More Than Just Media

If variety is the spice of life, the media management industry offers the ingredients for the perfect video dish. Media management is going to be key in the video producers’ world with non-tape recording cameras. With dozens of manufacturers offering everything from DVDs to flash drives, knowing which media is best for your operation is key to making video magic.

For the novice video producer, blank media can be the easiest or most difficult decision you have to make in the production process. There’s just no getting around this one. Depending on your needs, your raw stock selections can range from blank videotape to Blu-ray discs. As technology continues to evolve, producers may ask themselves “why blank media?” Just trust us, the need will always be there. Maybe you’re not shooting on videotape or disc anymore, but you’re going to have to archive your content at some point. We’ll look to answer a few burning questions: what is blank media, why blank media is good for you, and what the future holds for the blank media industry.

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Blank Media Matrix

We all have blank media built into our bodies. The brain serves as an internal organ hard drive with an infinite amount of storage. But we haven’t quite figured out how to download human memories into a digital form. Camcorders and cameras serve as the technological brains behind every video or film that has been, or will be, created. Until scientists and engineers can find a way to sync up our brains to our machines, we’ll have to settle on using blank media to serve as the storage bins for our digitally captured memories, stories and experiences.

Depending on the camcorder you use to capture your footage, your raw stock needs can range from blank videotape – predominately in Mini DV format, as VHS has been aggressively phased out on the consumer front, while Betamax is being replaced by digital media for the pros – to memory cards, like SDHC and side-by-side (SxS) formats or direct capture devices.

Once the footage is captured, the tools you use for your digital media management can range from, again, blank videotape to Blu-ray discs to external hard drives. Each format offers users a wide range in terms of shelf life, so which products you choose as your media management tools comes down to a matter of personal preference. Let’s take a look at a few types of blank media available to video producers.

Raw Stock Rock Stars

Since the beginning of video production, tape has been the backbone of the industry. This magnetic strip of visual magic has captured some of the most memorable historical moments of the past 60 years. From VHS to Mini DV, tapes have shrunk in size, while delivering incredible improvements in picture quality.

Companies like Sony, Panasonic and TDK are industry leaders in the Mini DV field. All content shot in the Mini DV format is captured as digital video, but not all tapes deliver the same quality. A majority of Mini DV tapes feature multiple recording speeds – SP for 63 minutes, LP for 90 minutes on most brands. Some tapes are labeled as premium, or feature an HDV distinction on them, and generally provide greater resolution, and come with a premium price. For instance, Panasonic’s AY-HDVM63MQ tapes ($15) are professional grade and feature high quality tape that captures a more secure signal, without the risk of numerous dropouts or unnecessary noise in your recordings. You’re paying more up front, but not running the risk of compromised content should you choose to reuse your tapes in the field.

Raw Stock Rock Stars

Since the beginning of video production, tape has been the backbone of the industry. This magnetic strip of visual magic has captured some of the most memorable historical moments of the past 60 years. From VHS to Mini DV, tapes have shrunk in size, while delivering incredible improvements in picture quality.

Companies like Sony, Panasonic and TDK are industry leaders in the Mini DV field. All content shot in the Mini DV format is captured as digital video, but not all tapes deliver the same quality. A majority of Mini DV tapes feature multiple recording speeds – SP for 63 minutes, LP for 90 minutes on most brands. Some tapes are labeled as premium, or feature an HDV distinction on them, and generally provide greater resolution, and come with a premium price. For instance, Panasonic’s AY-HDVM63MQ tapes ($15) are professional grade and feature high quality tape that captures a more secure signal, without the risk of numerous dropouts or unnecessary noise in your recordings. You’re paying more up front, but not running the risk of compromised content should you choose to reuse your tapes in the field.


Burning Success With DVDs

As streamlined production improved beyond tape-based capturing technology, video producers found themselves asking for raw stock options that gave them near-instant access to their files. Introduced in the mid-90s, DVD authoring gave media creators the opportunity to capture life in stunning visual quality, while offering far greater storage capabilities than blank videotape.

Walk the aisles of any big box consumer electronics store and you’re sure to find stacks of DVDs and Blu-ray discs. Even drugstores tend to carry a selection of blank discs. Deciphering which brand is right for you depends on your needs. If you’re looking for blank media DVDs that fit your camcorders, be sure you find the right size – 4.75-inch is the industry standard. Need blank media discs to solidify your digital media management process? You may want to explore double- or triple-layer discs.

MAM-A has developed the ‘gold standard’ of DVD authoring – literally. The company’s line of MAM-A 24-karat Gold Archive DVD-R discs (10-pack for $27) are universally compatible with DVD burners and players around the globe, while offering ample storage space – 4.7GB – per disc. The gold discs offer increased resistance to corrosion and chemical breakdown, while promising a long shelf life. That means your content will likely outlive you.

Verbatim has a line of Blu-ray discs that leave its competition green with envy. What is Blu-ray and how is it better than standard DVD products? For one, increased storage. The company offers its BD-R LTH line (20-pack/$45) of Blu-ray discs that have can store up to 25GB, dramatically increasing your digital media management capabilities. The crisp image and audio quality offered by Blu-ray means your content will continue to shine for decades. And as your project demands increase in the HD and 3D realm, Blu-ray will be right there to support every format coming down the line.

Thanks for the Memories

There’s no denying that camcorders are getting smaller as our demand for picture quality is getting bigger. What was once a shoulder mounted behemoth of a camera, is now not much bigger than a business card. Camcorder manufacturers have embraced flash technology and found a way to incorporate it in the most interesting of ways.

The benefits of SDHC, or secure digital high quality, memory cards run the gamut of instant access to files, to interchangeability between capture ports in camcorders and longer continuous recording times. Tape was limited to one hour, not so with memory cards. SD memory cards come in a variety of storage sizes, ranging from 2GB to 128GB. Recordings are broken into individual files, making the editing tremendously efficient, as producers can select which files they want to keep, while deleting those they don’t at the push of a few buttons.

Kevin Shader from the SD Association likens the future of flash memory to the transition from analog to digital tape, as SDHC is giving way to SDXC technology.

“The products using SD technology are numerous and gives video producers more flexibility in using the same card in multiple devices,” Shader said. “And as SDXC technology, introduced in 2009, expands, the memory capacities will continue to grow – 40GB, 60GB, 128GB are all on the market today. SDXC is designed to offer massive storage capabilities, all the way up to 2TB.”

SanDisk is leading the charge on the SD front. The SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC/SDHX UHS-I memory cards (64GB, $300) are the top of the line professional choice for performance and punch in the field. The blazing 95MB/s speed means videographers can capture the moment. Large video files will be written at near ultra-high speeds, much greater than a typical high speed of 25MB/s. Continuous burst mode records files as RAW+JPEG, which means minimal format conversion for use in most editing software programs.

For the novice video producers, Adata’s line of SDHC products offer precision capturing without the high price. The company’s 32GB SDHC Class 10 cards ($55) feature read and write speeds starting at 13MB/s, which will deliver near-instant response times both in the field, and in the edit bay.
Shader was mindful to point out that you can only use the advanced cards in devices properly marked to support SDXC cards.

Back to the Future

Looking forward, as less and less tape-based camcorders are released and more and more card cams hit the market, you’re going to need a lot of room to record your footage. At this year’s Consumer’s Electronics Show in Las Vegas, we were introduced Lexar’s Professional 1000x CompactFlash card. This card is the first to hold a minimum sustained read speed of 150MB/s and it comes with Lexar’s Video Performance Guarantee support and image recovery software. In addition to that, they showed off a new USB 3.0 Dual-Slot Reader and Triton 3.0 JumpDrive.

The Whole Package

Verbatim, a well-known company in recording media and data storage technology since 1969, has products for storage from USB drives and solid state drives to recording media products like discs and memory cards. Their SSD devices have fast transfer rates so you can get that footage off your card or camera’s hard drive and into your computer for either editing or freeing up your card for further use. Besides the recording media, you can wrap your video masterpiece with a lovely label using LightScribe silk-screen discs without needing to own a special disc printer.


Embrace the Blank

Many of us in the video world tend to think we’re indestructible, but the sad reality is that we, just like our blank media discs and tapes, will eventually break down. Unless you prefer to create disposable content that won’t ever be seen by viewers in the future, archiving is the “A” in the A-to-Z definition of media management.

Tim Clatterbuck, an optical product manager with Verbatim, points out that while the new trend is to save our content to flash drives, the future of guaranteed archival lies in the disc. “There will always be a needed physical method of storing your data. Although the optical market is a mature market, it is positioned well for storage and archiving.”

Regardless of what your digital media management needs are, you simply can’t go wrong when backing up your content. The future is going to be in media management, and backing up with be top on everyone’s list. Unlike in old age where our minds might gray, depending on the blank media we use, our videos might not.

Sidebar: He Who Delivers First, Wins the Race

Professional broadcast outlets, sports franchises and high-end production companies have embraced advanced flash memory resources. The technology is affordable and durable, and gives video producers instant access to their content. In a world where the news cycle is 24 hours, the outlet that delivers the video first – tends to win in the ratings battle.

Mark Anderson is a multiple Emmy award winning video producer based in Minneapolis. As a former news photojournalist who shot predominately with tape for several broadcast affiliates, his personal video business has transitioned to a tapeless workflow.

“I shoot on gear that’s 80 percent lighter and 80 percent less expensive compared to my old gear,” Anderson said. “The kicker is that the picture quality looks even better at a fraction of the cost.”

Anderson says in his business today, which creates multimedia projects to support public relation campaigns, he’s able to drastically reduce the time and cost of producing his projects, which saves his clients money in the long run.

“When you ingest files right into your computer, the upload time goes by much faster as compared to rewinding your tapes, grabbing cords, etc. When I travel, my gear package is a 22-inch bag that I carry onto the plane. It used to be four or five large cases that weighed hundreds of pounds. The lighter gear has been a blessing – to my back and my clients’ pocket books!”

When video needs to be delivered in a flash, the future of this highly competitive industry will continue to deliver content in – you guessed it – flash format.

Anderson added, “It’s a techie world out there, so we may as well embrace it. If we creatives don’t embrace technology, the geeks will rule the world.”

Click here to download a PDF of Videomaker‘s Blank Media Buyer’s Guide

Dave Thunder manages the video production division of a marketing and public relations agency in Minnesota.

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