Sony hits “The XD Factor” with Bono!

“There is more to life than simply increasing its speed.”  Gandhi

With that in mind and the pending release of Sony’s PDW-U2 XDCAM drive we took time out recently to evaluate a pre-production unit.

In order to track Sony’s progress you have to look back and take stock of what they’ve delivered down the years…

2004 – Sony PDW-D1 “1st generation” XDCAM drive:

  • Launched with the introduction of XDCAM SD
  • Single-layer (23Gb) Professional Disc support
  • Single Optical Head system
  • DVCAM and MPEG-IMX Codec support
  • i.Link AVC (Audio Video Control) and FAM (File Access Mode) support

2007 – Sony PDW-U1 “2nd generation” XDCAM drive:

  • Launched with the introduction of XDCAM HD422
  • Single (23Gb) and Dual-layer (50Gb) Professional Disc support
  • Single Optical Head system
  • DVCAM, MPEG-IMX, MPEG-HD and MPEG-HD422 Codec support
  • Generic Data Storage mode
  • USB-2 VFAM (Virtual File Access Mode) and SAM (Simple Access Mode) support

2011 – Sony PDW-U2 “3rd generation” XDCAM drive:

  • Launched with the introduction of XDCAM Station
  • Single (23Gb), Dual (50Gb), Triple (100Gb) and Quad-layer (128Gb) Professional Disc support
  • Dual Channel Head system
  • DVCAM, MPEG-IMX, MPEG-HD and MPEG-HD422 Codec support
  • Generic Data Storage mode
  • USB-3 VFAM (Virtual File Access Mode) and SAM (Simple Access Mode) support

Whilst the introduction of multiple SD/HD file formats and larger capacity Professional Disc’s throughout the years will have ticked many boxes for owner operators – the real deal breaker for many Broadcasters, Production and Post-Production companies has always been the workflow and the speed associated with it.

In order to establish if the PDW-U2 provides a similar workflow boost as the PDW-U1 did over the PDW-D1 we decided to use a tried and tested PC environment (HP Z800 running Windows 7 Professional) with the current shipping version of the Sony XDCAM Browser (V1.2) software.  The source media was a Sony Single-layer (23Gb) Professional Disc which was full to capacity using the DVCAM file format (approx. 88 minutes) – this is the same media and codec from the 1st generation of XDCAM introduced back in 2004!

Ok – what did we discover?

Test No.1 – Sony PDW-U1 XDCAM Drive connected via USB-2 interface

  • Complete Sony Professional Disc Copy (23Gb) to PC hard-drive
  • Transfer Time = 25 minutes 40 seconds

Test No. 2 – Sony PDW-U2 XDCAM Drive connected via USB-2 interface

  • Complete Sony Professional Disc Copy (23Gb) to PC hard-drive
  • Transfer Time = 18 minutes 13 seconds

Test No. 3 – Sony PDW-U2 XDCAM Drive connected via USB-3 interface

  • Complete Sony Professional Disc Copy (23Gb) to PC hard-drive
  • Transfer Time = 11 minutes 57 seconds

I think you will agree there’s clear evidence of workflow speed improvements from a PDW-U2 in USB-2 and USB-3 connectivity modes over a PDW-U1 XDCAM Drive!

Let’s that put that in to perspective – a Sony SXS-1 32Gb card inserted in to an Expresscard34 slot and copied to the internal drive takes approx. 15 minutes.

Whilst most adopters of the XDCAM format will be interested in the PDW-U2 transfer speeds for ingest (i.e. taking files off the Professional Disc) – quite a few will be interested in the transfer speeds for archiving (i.e. putting files on to the Professional Disc).  In order to get a fair and realistic result we used the same DVCAM MXF file (88 minutes) as the source file and dragged it from the PC’s hard-drive in to the “Clip” folder on the Professional Disc to be archived – not only does this create all the relevant metadata it also creates a new Proxy file.  Therefore, if you have been mastering to XDCAM Professional Disc’s or archiving Convergent Design Nanoflash files to XDCAM Professional Disc’s then you’ll be interested in the following results:

Test No. 4 – Sony PDW-U1 XDCAM Drive connected via USB-2 interface

  • Archive DVCAM MXF file (approx. 88 minutes)
  • Transfer Time = 33 minutes 33 seconds

Test No. 5 – Sony PDW-U2 XDCAM Drive connected via USB-2 interface

  • Archive DVCAM MXF file (approx. 88 minutes)
  • Transfer Time = 34 minutes 50 seconds

Test No. 6 – Sony PDW-U2 XDCAM Drive connected via USB-3 interface

  • Archive DVCAM MXF file (approx. 88 minutes)
  • Transfer Time = 25 minutes 45 seconds

Not quite the same level of workflow speed improvement as the ingest transfer speed – but clearly a big improvement over the PDW-U1 providing you connect the PDW-U2 via the USB-3 interface.

At just over £3,000 ex. VAT the Sony PDW-U2 XDCAM Drive provides significant workflow speed improvements over the current PDW-U1 XDCAM Drive for file based ingest in to Avid, Apple or Adobe non-linear editors – and if you are stuck for solutions around file-based archive then you should find the new Write Once Read Many (WORM) 128Gb Quad-Layer Professional Disc media and PDW-U2 the ultimate combination.

Clearly the message from Sony for the XDCAM products in 2011 is bigger, faster, better!