What's the Best Blank Media for Video Storage?

What's the Best Blank Media for Video Storage?

If you are a videographer who is looking to stock up on blank media, deciding which kind of media to choose is important. Here, we will take a look at some of the more widely-used types.

You need blank media. Your camcorder needs blank media. Without blank media, you simply cannot shoot. Blank media can also be used to transport your video from your camera to your computer or another compatible electronic device, such as an mp3 player or even your television set. It can be a way to get your video or other data from point A to point B. Here is a primer on what blank media is and where you'd use it.

If you are a videographer who is looking to stock up on blank media for your next shoot, deciding which kind of media to choose is important. Here, we will take a look at some of the more widely-used types of blank media on the market and try to answer the questions you need to ask yourself before you decide what kind of media you should buy and which is the right one for you.

Why You Need Blank Media

In order to record video and/or audio, you almost always need some type of blank media. It is in the media where your recording is stored. After you finish shooting your project, you can use the media to transfer your video someplace else, be it to another device or even to another person. Sometimes, depending on the form of media, you can even carry it around in your pocket, as in the case of Flash memory cards.

The scenario is this: you grab your camcorder and record some spectacular moment in time onto the blank media attached to the camera. Now, you want to share this spectacular moment with your friends. You detach the media from the camera and attach it to or insert it into another electronic device, usually a computer. Then you transfer or digitize the video that is on the media to the computer. Here you can edit, play or do whatever you want with your video. You do need to keep an eye on how much room you have left in your media storage. If you are planning to record another event in the near future, you need to make sure there is enough room for it in the media. If not, you will need to erase what is already on there in order to make room, or plan on purchasing more blank media.

What Kind of Blank Media Do You Need?

That depends on several factors: what are you going to do with your recording? What kind of camera are you using? What kind of format is your data?

As a video producer, you are probably going to shoot something with your camera that you will want to edit later on your computer. The type of blank media you will use will depend largely on the kind of camera you are using. Based on these factors, the following are a few of the most widely-used blank media.

Hard Drives

Some video cameras come with a built-in hard drive, so you don't even need to buy blank media. You simply grab your camera and start shooting. After the shoot, you plug the camera to your computer, then drag and drop your video straight to your PC or Mac hard drive. The whole process takes you less than 10 minutes. The only thing you will need to worry about is whether or not you have enough space in the camera's hard drive for your next video shoot. At $1,000, the Canon HG10 camcorder has a 40GB hard drive that can store between 5.5 hours of video at 15Mbps to as much as 15 hours of video at 5Mbps, depending on the resolution you shoot it in.

Memory Cards

A memory card, a type of removable Flash memory, is media that can be electronically erased and reprogrammed. It is a technology primarily used as storage or to transfer data between computers and other digital gadgets. A small removable storage device, it is a common source of blank media for camcorders.

The SD card and miniSD cards are the most widely used. Because of their affordability, amateur and intermediate videographers use them often. SD memory cards are available in standard and high-capacity (SDHC) formats, along with a variety of speed classes. Standard cards can not exceed 2GB, while SDHC caps outs at 32GB. SD cards are interchangeable; miniSD cards can be put into SD card adaptors and used as SD cards. SDHC cards can store from 4GB to 32GB of data, with data-writing speeds of 2, 4 and 6MB per second. SanDisk has developed a memory card optimized for just for video. At $98, the 16GB SanDisk Ultra SDHC memory card can store up to four hours of high-definition video, depending on the quality settings, with a read speed of 20MB per second.

Additionally, many professional, high-end camcorders use the memory card format to store media. However, these types of memory cards have a much more sophisticated and expensive price tag than the standard memory cards. High-budget productions are now using professional camcorders with P2 or SxS cards. These cards use multiple Flash memory devices that allow access at higher speeds, for much higher video quality. At under $5,000, the Panasonic AG-HPX170 is an ultra-mobile P2 HD handheld camcorder featuring full, 4:2:2 independent frame production quality HD and solid-state recording. After the shoot, the videographer will insert the P2 card into a PCMCIA slot on the computer or use a PCMCIA card reader and simply download the video from the card, where he or she can then begin to edit it. These high-end video cameras provide outstanding video quality.

DVD Discs

Some camcorders use 8cm DVD discs for blank media storage. This is a disc-like storage option that you just insert into your camera, as you would a tape.

The DVD blank media storage is the choice for those people who want simplicity. One convenience is clip access; that is, rather than the fast-forwarding/rewinding of tape, you can access any shot instantly like memory cards. Another convenience is that you can pop the DVD right out of the camera and into any DVD player for playback. This type of convenience made this form of blank media very popular at the beginning, but there are good and bad aspects with this type of media storage. The good is that you can see the output of a DVD recorded in your camera. However, the disadvantage is that these cameras tend to be the biggest and bulkiest on the market.

At HQ, SP and LP recording qualities, it takes 20, 30 and 60 minutes, respectively, to fill a single disc.

The Sony DCR-DVD650 at $300 and the Samsung DX 205 at $280 are just two camcorders on the market today that use DVD blank media. A five-pack of 8cm DVD-R, with 30 minutes (1.4GB) of recordable blank media can cost you as little as $10.

The DVD recording format has a lot of advantages, but it is slowly being phased out of the market by cheap Flash memory. Although DVD is being phased out of the camcorder market, it holds its ground for archival purposes and is still the preferred choice for distribution.

Disc quality is a major concern when archiving your project onto a DVD. A good-quality disk doesn't necessarily mean buying brand name or the most expensive products that you can find. Instead, it is helpful to know what commonly breaks down on discs over time and what can help protect them from the elements. DVD discs usually break down due to the harmful effects of ultraviolet light, heat and humidity. As a result, and because no environment is perfect, it is a good idea to buy discs with highly-protective coating and surfaces made of higher-grade metals such as gold, which can better resist oxidation. In this way you can make archival discs that last for decades rather than years.


Videotape is probably the oldest type of blank media around. There are many variations of videotape from which to choose. A few years ago, S-VHS, VHS-C and Hi8 were the media of choice. Today, MiniDV tapes are more commonly used. On a professional level, some television stations still use the reliable but bulky Beta analog tape format, as well as DVC-Pro tapes for digital cameras. However, most independent videographers will opt for the Mini DV blank media tapes because of their superior quality and ease of use. They are available in lengths of 30 and 60 minutes. Recording in LP mode lets you extend total recording time of a 60-minute tape to 90 minutes.

Mini DV tapes are also affordable, depending on the quality and brand you purchase. Be ready to spend anywhere from $6 to $26 for a two-pack. The reason for the price difference in tapes is due to the thickness of tape, tape length and level or retentiveness. Higher-grade DV tape will tend to be thicker, which leads to fewer wrinkles, and will have a finer metal grain on the tape surface, which leads to less head wear in your camera over time.

The Bottom Line

There was a time when we didn't really have much choice when it came to blank media. It was either tape or nothing. Today, we have many choices. The bottom line is, whatever kind of blank media you choose, be it tapes, discs, memory cards or hard drives, it has to be the one that is going to give you the most from your video production. Choose the blank media that best suits your needs and caters to your workflow. Keep in mind the one thing we do know: cheap media doesn't necessarily mean cheap quality.

Click here to download a PDF of Videomaker's Blank Media Buyer's Guide.

Teresa Echazabal is a writer, web producer and video editor.


Tue, 06/01/2010 - 12:00am