Sound Devices appeared on the market around the turn of the millennium, initially with some great sounding mic-preamps, then with their fantastic range of field mixers and, in 2004, non-linear field recorders like the 744T and the 788T. It’s fair to say that they quickly made an impact on a market that had several entrenched players, from SQN to Nagra.
It came as a surprise to many when Sound Devices started to produce video recorders, though they have, at least, started selling them under the brand name of Video Devices.
The ‘Video Devices’ PIX 270i is a rack mount (2U x 1/2) single channel, HD video recorder built for ‘mission critical’ applications. That basically means that it can record simultaneously to up to four SSD drives for multiple redundancy. It has two 4-pin XLR power inputs (10-27v), also providing redundancy, and small, built-in UPS, providing a 10 second power reserve so that the unit can stop recording and shut down cleanly should both external power supplies fail. On top of that, Sound… oops, sorry… Video Devices come with the FileSafe™ software utility to recover files which haven’t been ‘closed’ properly – so you can even pull a disc out of a recording machine and you’ll be able to recover the data. Whether you’ll recover from the bludgeoning you’ll get from your co-workers is another matter.
The PIX270i has 3G SDI (levels A and B) and HDMI (v1.4a) inputs, 3G SDA (level A) and HDMI (v1.3) outputs and supports 480i59.94 up to 1080p30. Perhaps unsurprisingly from an audio company, the 270i can also record up to 64 tracks of audio. There are eight balanced, line-level, analog audio I/Os – 2 on XLR and all eight on a DB-25, eight channels from AES and eight from HDMI (you can’t select these simultaneously – it’s either AES or HDMI), 16 channels from SDI and 64 each from Dante (Ethernet) and MADI.
The PIX270i also features video scaling, deinterlace and frame rate conversion. These are hardware based and won’t take the place of a high-end standards converter – the framerate conversion, for instance, is a simple duplication or dropping of frames.
Video and audio are recorded together into a Quicktime (.mov) file using either ProRes (from 4444 down) or DNxHD. It is also possible to record audio-only as a Broadcast Wave (.wav) file. The PIX270i is able to write Broadcast Wave metadata (scene, take, notes, timecode, track names and so on) as well as QuickTime’s reel and timecode metadata. It also supports SMPTE-315M camera positioning metadata, which will record into ProRes files, but not DNxHD.
Hard disc storage is inserted into four slots in the PIX270i behind the LCD – the front panel hinges forward and down. There are two kinds of caddy, one for CF cards and another for 2.5” drives (CF cards aren’t supported for video recording though – audio only). The PIX270i uses the exFAT filesystem and the caddies have USB 3, FireWire 800 and eSATAp connectors, so you can pull a drive out of the recorder and hook it straight up to any computer – Mac or PC. It’s a neat, if slightly expensive solution. Alternatively, the PIX270i supports SAMBA (SMB) so you can mount the drives over Ethernet when they are installed in the unit. You can use spinny discs for recording (probably only in stationary applications) or SSDs as a more expensive, but also more mechanically robust solution.
The user interface is typically Sound… dammit… Video Devices – very feature rich but logically arranged and surprisingly simple. Hit the Menu button on the front panel and, unsurprisingly, the setup menu appears on the 5”, 800x480, colour LCD. Turning the front panel control knob navigates through the menus and pressing it selects items. There is a dedicated button to call up the audio screen for track arming, naming, source selection, gain and so on. The Files button displays a list of all recorded takes for playback and there are large, illuminated transport controls on the right hand side of the front panel. In general use, the LCD displays the incoming video, along with comprehensive on-screen displays. Items included in the OSD are controlled in the settings menu. The LCD can also overlay false colour and zebras for exposure control, and peaking for focus assist. They are useful features, but given the nature of the unit it’s unlikely to be terribly near the camera. The unit will accept a standard USB keyboard for control and the entry of metadata.
Recording can be automatically triggered by the appropriate SDI flag (RED/Panasonic/Canon/Sony/Arri), RS-422 or timecode, and multiple units can be slaved together over Ethernet – although the term ‘slave’ is inappropriate as every unit is a master. Changing settings or hitting the transport controls on any connected unit will ripple to all the other units – currently you can sync up to 10 this way. Recording and playback is frame synced. One nice feature is that you can remove a unit from the group quickly by pressing the Menu button and the control knob simultaneously. Pressing them again returns the unit to the group.
The Ethernet connection also hosts PIXNET – a built in web-server that allows set up and control of the PIX270i – or a group of devices – using a standard web browser on a connected computer.
The PIX270i can perform as a master timecode and genlock source. It has a built in Ambient™ ACL-203 Lockit timecode generator that maintains its clock to better than 0.2ppm – which equates to less that ½ a frame drift in 24 hours.
Sound Device’s meteoric rise in the location recording market owed a lot to producing robust products – both in terms of their physical build and software reliability – with a broad feature set, yet retaining ease of use in the field. They sound pretty good too.
The PIX270i seems to follow that design and build philosophy. In a studio, venue, or particularly in an OB facility, where recording must be reliable and the unit itself must be sturdy, the 270i excels. It’s hard to think of any feature missing from this all-singing-all-dancing recorder. It’s available at a shade under £5000 plus VAT, and the 2.5” disc caddies (PIX-CADDY 2) are around £140 plus VAT.