With the increasing pace of technological advances comes the creation of entirely new categories of technology. DTE technology (Direct To Edit) video recording solutions is one such category. It wasn’t very many years ago that such devices were not available (read: affordable) for commoners like you and I. Today these portable tapeless hard drive based recorders are affordable, reliable and feature-packed. I had been following the development of this technology informally for several years and finally broke down and invested in the FS-4 Pro (80 gig model) by Focus Enhancements. It did not disappoint. Here’s a closer look.
At approximately one pound and 1.5 inches thick the Firestore FS-4 Portable DTE Recorder resolves the size issue. The unit comes with a 6-pin to 4-pin FireWire cable, AC adaptor, well-outlined owner’s manual, and a very slim removable Li-Ion rechargeable battery (approx. 90 minutes). I liked having the option of camera mounting (via an optional hot-shoe swivel mount) or belt mounting the unit. A very cell-phone-like belt clip is included with the product and provides a sturdy yet easy-to-access mounting solution. Belt-mounting also eliminates arm fatigue when using the unit with small hand-held camcorders such as my Sony PD-150 (even one pound makes a difference over extended periods of time when shooting without a tripod). Plus, belt mounting allows me to use the camcorders hot shoe for portable lights and/or wireless microphone receivers. The FS-4 Pro is available with either a 40 gig (3 hour) or 80 gig (6 hour) hard drive whereas the FS-4 is only available with a 40 gig hard drive. You can even daisy chain two units together for extended recording time. Rather than attempt to detail all the distinctions between the different DTE units offered by Focus Enhancements you can check out their excellent web site (www.focusinfo.com) to compare the features of their entire line of DTE products.
I found the FS-4 Pro very easy to use once I became familiar with its button functions and menu system. Initially I found the LCD menu system somewhat counter intuitive but, as you’d suspect, familiarity bred efficiency and not contempt. Oddly, none of the 3 primary function buttons are labeled meaningfully (read: clearly). Three dots are simply printed adjacent to each one. I realize the system settings for these keys are user-definable but it still seems odd to me. The other 13 buttons on the face of the unit are clearly labeled and easy to operate.
My only other (minor) complaint for this high-tech product is it decidedly low-tech LCD screen. The text is very readable (including a user-adjustable contrast setting) but the quality and appearance of the on-screen text is reminiscent of the 80Õs arcade video game Space Invaders. (admit it, YOU are old enough to identify with the 80Õs!) Not a deal-breaker (I bought the unit, remember?) just an RFI observation (room for improvement).
Although it’s not possible to cover all the features of the FS-4 Pro some of my favorites include: Pre-named Folders. The ability to record video footage directly into pre-named folders. Can you say “ORGANIZATION!”? Very helpful.
DTE Technology (NO capturing necessary) This is pretty well the “big idea” behind the FS-4 Pro. The ability to edit immediately after completion of videotaping is no small benefit and could easily be tagged the “killer app” of the FS-4 Pro especially when time is VERY limited such as the production of on-site conference highlight videos (which I do) or editing a short wedding ceremony highlights for showing at the reception (which I don’t do, as in, I don’t “do” weddings!). The unit mounts to your computer via a single FireWire cable and appears on your desktop as a regular FireWire hard disk drive. Even if you elect to not edit directly from the FS-4 Pro copying the video files to your computer hard drive (at approx. 4x) is still a lot faster than real-time video capture.
Retro Cache Record. Now there’s an 80s term if I ever head one! (a good thing). This feature prevents you from ever missing a shot since the unit is constantly recording up to 10 seconds (user definable in one second increments) of retro footage prior to the time you hit the record button. Very cool. This could easily result in people accusing you of having the ability to predict the future but we’ll keep it as our little “tech secret”.
Time Lapse Recording. Producing time lapse recordings with the FS-4 Pro makes so much more sense than using tape-based video recording technology. Unlike tape-based camcorders, with the FS-4 pro there is no wear and tear on the videotape (there is none) or videotape transport mechanisms (none of these either).
Nearly-Universal NLE Compatibility. If the FS-4 Pro is not compatible with whatever editing system you are using (not likely) it’s probably time to upgrade your editing system!
One more thing, if you’ve made the leap into HD (I haven’t, yet) the FS-4 Pro HD is also available.
Now that I am using the FS-4 I’m wondering what took me so long to commit to its purchase. Even when using this very capable DTE product I still simultaneously record to tape for added recording confidence. If you are considering such a purchase you owe it to yourself to check out Focus Enhancements FS-4 Pro. That’s my final answer.
Sincerely tapeless (almost).