When I Die and Go to Heaven, I Hope I Find a Sony DSR-11
When Sony officially discontinued the venerable and cheap DSR-11 DVCAM VTR earlier this year, I shed a small tear. I own a DSR-11. The deck’s mix of infuriating shortcomings, useful innovations and reasonable price makes it both one of my most-hated and most-loved pieces of kit. But since I don’t work with DV or DVCAM much any more, my tear was more nostalgic than concerned.
These days, moast of my work is in HD. For the life of me, I can’t find an HD VTR that combines the three factors that make the DSR-11 a gem.
Intentionally Hobbled, Not Fatally Flawed
At its sub-$2,000 price, the DSR-11 lacks RS-422 control, SDI I/O and a frame-accurate transport. Since I don’t run a facility and don’t deliver on DV or DVCAM, I can live with those shortcomings. More infuriating are the missing features that really should be there.
The deck lacks built-in audio level and time code displays; you must rely on an external video monitor overlay to see time code and your NLE to monitor audio levels. And don’t lose the remote control; it’s the only way to activate the time code display and access the DSR-11 menu. These and other missing features, such as a headphone jack, make the deck awkward to use when not directly connected to a video monitor and computer.
However, since I mainly use the deck to transfer video from DV and DVCAM tape to a hard drive, all I need (as opposed to what I want) are the i.LINK/FireWire, RCA and Y/C ports.
Several low-cost HD decks suffer from similar shortcomings. But I haven’t found one that balances the drawbacks with the second factor that makes the DSR-11 great.
Sony matched the DSR-11′s almost-deal-killing limitations with enough benefits, and even innovation, to easily justify the purchase. For example, in addition to DV tapes, the DSR-11 plays both small and large DVCAM cassettes, letting me cheaply ingest video from full-sized DVCAM cameras, such as the DSR-500 and 570. Nice! The DSR-11 doesn’t play back DVCPRO, but in my little corner of the production world, 25 Mbps DVCPRO isn’t very common.
The DSR-11 plays back and records both PAL and NTSC, a real innovation when the DSR-11 was released. And the DSR-11 is small enough to be portable when needed and is unobtrusive in the studio. The bottom line is that one deck played every DV-based format that I cared about.
I want an HD VTR with similar compatibility. I don’t expect the deck to bridge prosumer and professional formats the way the DSR-11 does with DV and DVCAM. I’ll settle for a VTR that plays every variety of HDV generated by Sony, JVC and Canon cameras. That means 1080i and 720p HDV recorded at any frame rate, including 24p, 24F, 25p and F, 30, 50 and 60 frames per second.
This is one area where Panasonic’s solid-state P2 media is clearly ahead- any device that can read P2 cards can read whatever video is on the cards. With HDV, I may need multiple playback devices. Buying multiple devices makes cabling a hassle and eliminates the third factor in the DSR-11′s appeal.
At the time I bought it, my DSR-11 cost about the same as a two-week rental of a full-sized DVCAM editing deck. Since I rarely deliver on DV or DVCAM, I don’t need a full-featured DVCAM VTR. And the money I saved with a DSR-11 subsidized many Digital Betacam and DVCPRO 50 rentals.
There’s an additional, more therapeutic advantage to buying low-cost gear. True story: A friend’s DSR-11 broke down in the middle of a project. He was pissed. The repair would have equaled half the cost of the VTR, plus the cost of a rental VTR while his was in the shop. In a fit of anger and catharsis, he threw his DSR-11 into the air and watched it smack onto his driveway. He felt better. Then he bought another DSR-11. Try doing that with an HDCAM or DVCPRO HD deck.
If I ran a facility, I would probably despise equipment like the DSR-11. But I don’t. The DSR-11′s features and price fit my simple DV needs.
For HD, I don’t plan to buy an HDCAM or DVCPRO HD VTR. I’ll keep renting. And even though more jobs involve optical XDCAM, hard drive, and solid-state P2 media, I continue to work with HDV. But as for the HDV deck that will win my heart, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.
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