Blackmagic Design HyperDeck Studio

in Road Tests

Blackmagic Design HyperDeck Studio, front viewTapeless storage has been making some rapid advances in recent years as the need for speed and quality increases.  More and more, we’re asked to be able to record gigs not only for archive or artist review, but to have that session available for edit as rapidly as possible. While workflows on set or at the gig will vary greatly, the ability to capture the highest quality imagery with the least amount of hassle is paramount.  With the advent of super-fast SSDs and flash memory, this is getting easier and easier.

Blackmagic Design HyperDeck Studio, rear viewLong gone are the days when we had to calculate record times and pack endless boxes full of tapes to bring to the gig.   Storage in video-land is a fickle thing, though.  We can never seem to have enough, or it’s not going to be in the right format, or it’s too clunky to manage, or the camera’s proprietary storage format won’t work with the rest of the workflow, or...

Tape-based storage was pronounced dead a long time ago, and even hearing the word “speed” after the DP says “roll” on a shoot is becoming rare.

Enter tapeless broadcast decks.  The Blackmagic Design HyperDeck Studio is part of a family of tapeless disk recorders, with its brethren being the Shuttle and the more-capable Studio Pro.

While the smaller, camera-mountable Shuttle is aiming to boost the  storage capabilities of the DSLR/Field/Set crowd, the rack-mountable Studio and Studio Pro will make anyone stuck in a booth or behind a rack on a touring gig thankful.

The HyperDeck Studio is a 1 RU deck replacement that records directly to 2.5-inch SSDs. It features familiar VTR-style controls on the front panel and professional-quality connectors on the back. You can record SD/HD 10-bit 4:2:2 uncompressed video for instant storage or playback using QuickTime.  It’ll also record compressed ProRes and Avid DNxHD for the folks who want longer record times with the convenience these codecs provide.

 Around the Piece

The Studio came neatly packaged with software and a basic manual along with BMD’s signature universal power adapter and plugs for various voltages.  It seemed impossibly small at only 1 RU high and less than 4 inches deep.

The front panel has NKK-style VTR control buttons that have a soft touch and light up with their respective function. There’s a full-color high resolution screen which shows what’s currently being recorded as well timecode, format, audio VU meters and frame-rate.

There’s also a jog wheel that acts exactly like the jog wheel on your aging analog deck — you can whip through a clip and see the corresponding timecode advance.

For the blinky light/gadget lovers out there, the SSD slots have LED rings around them that glow red or green depending on which drive is in a record state, and those LEDs track and spin around the slot when using the jog wheel to scrub.  Neat. Kind of useless, but a nice little touch.  There are also a few buttons which don’t do anything as of yet, but are there for “future use.”

The drive slots accept 2.5-inch SSDs, and BMD is pretty specific about the specs for the drives, so be sure to read up on your media.

One drag about the deck is that the drives must be formatted beforehand, and this procedure is not done on the deck.  You must use a drive dock and an external machine, so you’ll pony up another $80-120 for another adapter if you don’t already use one.  I kept reaching for the non-existent IEEE1394 port on the back.  About the SSDs — they’re not cheap (yet).  So for a decent 240Gb SSD, cough up another $220.

The back of the unit has BNC inputs for HD/SD-SDI with loop, two separate SDI outs, Ref.IN, HDMI IN/OUT, USB, RS-422, and Ethernet.  Ethernet is currently not active but will be after future software upgrades.

RS-422 allows for connection from a capture device to the deck, and profiles in Avid, FCP7, Premiere, and FCPX allow for remote control from these popular NLEs.  HDMI is HDCP-compliant, so don’t trying to digitize your Blu-ray collection.

The USB port allows for software updates via BMD’s HyperDeck Utility, and you can also set the recording format from here.  For now, we get four flavors — Uncompressed 10-bit QT, ProRes 422(HQ), Avid DNxHD 220 Mb/sec. QuickTime and Avid DNxHD 220 Mb/sec. MXF.

In ProRes at 720p, I was getting about 1.8 Gb/min, so a two-hour show could fit safely onto a 240GB disk.  Multiply that by 10 if you want 1080 Uncompressed, and you can see where the expense will start to add up.

Thankfully, the deck has two slots for disks, and they record continuously from one to the other. Disks are also hot-swappable, so there’s a bit of a reprieve there.  You could conceivably record indefinitely if you had enough SSDs.

Timecode is recorded to disk via embedded SMPTE RP 188, and you’ll have to switch this feature on in the software.  Playback works the same way — which brings me to clip playback.  You can only play back clips in the same format as the first clip on the disk. All other formats are hidden when in the deck and visible when you go to dump the contents. Ostensibly, this is to prevent recording over other formats accidentally, but I found this feature annoying.  You can set the deck to “trigger” record if your camera supports it, which is become standard these days.  You can hook the RS-422 port to your capture device and use FCP7, Avid, Premiere, or FCPX to control the deck with a simple profile.

There’s a lot to like about the HyperDeck Studio.  Its greatest strength, I think, lies in the fact that there are no moving parts, and with its small form factor, it will work really well in a touring rack, or at a church, where it’s going to need to stand up to constant use. It has a few limitations with codecs, playback and some buttons that don’t work yet, so it feels unfinished in a way.  You could look at this at say, “Well, at least they are thinking of the future,” but I think hardware needs to instill confidence for it to be accepted, and I just wanted it to be finished.

Blackmagic Design HyperDeck Studio

What it Offers: Tapeless recording in a 1RU form

Pros: No moving parts, compact size, other advantages over traditional recording on tape

Cons: Seems unfinished at present; clip playback is restricted, no IEEE1394 port on the back

How Much: $995 (MSRP)