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View Full Version : ATOMOS Samurai as Tricaster Recorder



Lee-AVP
09-25-2012, 08:50 AM
When picking an external recorder for the Tricaster, we considered three candidates: The BlackMagic Design Hyperdeck Shuttle, the BMD Hyperdeck Studio, and the Atomos Samurai. We did also look at the KiPro line, but felt that the price put it out of competition with these other options.

We set the requirement for eight hours of recording time in order to look at the drive cost differential; the BMD devices require solid state drives, while the Atomos devices will use a magnetic drive. While the Hyperdeck devices start off at a lower price, by the time you add a few drives, the cost comparison evens out quite a bit. We felt the screen and battery configurations of the Samurai were a nice feature compared to the Shuttle, and the form factor was better for run-and-gun camera work than the Studio.

Thus: We settled on the Atomos Samurai with a small stack of Seagate Momentus drives.

First, a note about the drives: SSDs will be more reliable on the go, and potentially will last longer. However, we have tried to minimize the amount of file copying that goes on in our workflow; more cheap drives let us dock a disk and work without having to wait hours to copy a few hundred GB of HD files. However:

On this page (http://atomos.activehosted.com/kb/article/what-drives-do-we-recommend), the Seagate Momentus is listed as a compatible drive. However, on this page (http://www.atomos.com/samurai/techspecs.xml) the Momentus line is on the list of "Not Recommended Drives." So maybe you could synthesize the two data sets to conclude that they are "compatible, but not recommended." In our judgement, the information is unclear.

We ordered our Samurai from Matt at Digitek, who is always very helpful and quick to respond. The product arrived as expected, and Matt had also ordered to miniBNC to standard BNC cables, adapters you're going to need with the Samurai. It turns out, there were a second set included in the Atomos box, though they are not listed on the contents.

Our first Samurai powered up, but would never record for more than a few seconds. We installed the latest firmware, rolled back to the factory-shipped firmware with no luck. Swapping out drives with a different brand did not help; using drives from another local company with Atomos recorders also did not work. Something was wrong with this device, and it went back via RMA. Digitek and Atomos were very responsive, and we had the replacement Samurai in just a few days.

Testing at our shop on the second device showed that it was working properly.

I really like the design, build, and though process that went in to this product. The preview screen is very useful; we still have our Firestore recorders for our SD cameras, and - while spooling timecode is a decent indication that things are working - there's nothing like a preview monitor to show you that your video signal is good and recording properly.

The touchscreen interface is very intuitive. Input format, recording format, audio level, recording time remaining, and battery level are all available on the home screen. You can also view most of this information overlayed on top of the monitor screen, or declutter for a clear view of your recording. Additional options such as focus assist and zebra are available, but we haven't used these much, preferring the familiarity of our in-camera tools.

The leapfrog battery arrangement - two simultaneous use interchangeable batteries - means that, as long as you keep fresh batteries coming, you can record without having to pause to swap them out. This is excellent for our longer format events. Of course, when it's sitting on the desk next to the tricaster, plugging it in to the wall would eliminate this step. Atomos will send you a d-tap power connector if you register your device; they also mention an AC mains adapter in their literature. We'll get one sooner or later.

The Samurai records in ProRes HQ, 422, or LT. DNxHD is an optional upgrade. We pull these files in to Premiere and, while they have to conform, we can edit without rendering out to another format. We think the 422 compression looks just fine, though we would probably use HQ for anything we were planning to chroma key in post production.

Overall, we are extremely pleased with the design concept, build quality, and feature set. The device is clearly designed by people who know the features needed by people producing video in the real world. Something as simple as having a headphone jack makes all the difference; we have DVD recorders and hard drive recorders that have absolutely no audio monitoring facility. Good audio handling is so often the downfall of good video gear; who wants to carry a seperate eng package just to record one channel? The samurai allows you to pick which channel to monitor, and has meters for all SDI plus analog channels.

PS, you can bring in analog audio side-by-side with your SDI recording. So if you're using a switcher or other device that doesn't embed your audio, or you need to pull audio from, say, the audio guys down the table, you can do that.

So while I want to love the Samurai, there are some downfalls.

First, the device has locked up on us during production. A cameraman happened to walk past our tech area and notice that the numbers had stopped spooling. The screen was totally unresponsive, and required a reboot. This happened twice over the course of about six hours of recording. The Samurai will automatically start recording if it looses and then reacquires the video signal, which is a great feature. We don't know what caused it to lock up, and we can't seem to find a cause that will even let us open a support ticket on the problem.

The Samurai has a "recover" feature for just such a problem; when you next booth the device, it will detect that your mov file is not properly formatted, and will crunch through it to the end and add whatever bits are needed to finalize the file. You are given a "recover now" and a "recover later" option. The rub? In the current firmwares (Both the factor 3.01 and the currently downloadable 3.21), the "recover later" function does NOT work. If you click "recover later," the recover screen will never come back, and your file is unusable.

We opened a support ticket on this, with no response for three days. Support finally asked which firmware we were running - a question we had already answered in the support form. Seven additional days later with no response to multiple ticket updates, no response to emails, and no responses to phone messages, we finally got their attention with a post on their Facebook timeline. The response? We have confirmed this bug and have no suggestion for you or timeline for fixing it. They suggested we use a software file recovery tool, but had no suggestion as to which tool to use.

So, that's where we are now: We have a piece of hardware that we badly want to like. The features are awesome, the functionality is top notch, and the form factor and usability are excellent. However, in our use so far, it has been unreliable for us in long-format events. The week-long response to tech support, though, is by far the most unforgivable failing of the device.

Like many innovative companies, Atomos seems to be going through some growing pains. Their phone system often disconnects with a fast busy; their tech support takes a week to reply, and they have known bugs that go unaddressed in existing products while they continue to develop and release new products.

The bones are clearly there with their products. My recommendation? Keep an eye on them, but I wouldn't put mission critical recording in their hands just yet.

rally1
09-25-2012, 02:02 PM
Another TC user I know has had his fail on a shoot too. Thanks for the detailed review, I have been considering it.

I use the KiPro, with the latest FW upgrade it's is very reliable, and is a great Up/Down/Cross tool too. You do have to have it on a UPS, while the Samurai has a battery that can be on with AC too (right?).

adebats
09-26-2012, 09:56 AM
It has failed with us several times also - so much that we are only using it for an SDI signal test when rigging. We want to use it for the purpose and its good to know others are having this issue also

tmac61
09-26-2012, 10:57 AM
Question for any of you, most of our productions are an hour or less any failures during that time frame? Seriously looking at this as we are going HD in the next couple of weeks. Thanks for any ans

Lee-AVP
09-26-2012, 02:01 PM
tmac61, it has been inconsistent for us. We just did another bench test and ran a 3 hour recording with no problems. Well. Except for that the Samurai locked up within three minutes of trying to play back the file, though the file plays fine on the computer.

But we have had it stop within an hour, yes.

pdxJoe
09-27-2012, 07:15 AM
Thanks for the review. We have the ATOMOS Samurai and have not had issues thus far. We do long format conference programming as well. We have purchased a sony battery charger that will allow AC operation for the Samurai. Just hook the AC adapter up to the Samurai battery plate.

Our preferred deck is the Panasonic HMR10. It uses SD cards and records in AVCCAM. Amazingly sturdy, audio monitor jack, video monitor screen, and has never failed <knock on wood>. I realize that AVCCAM is a non starter for many. We will record entire conferences (10 rooms + for 3 or more days). This creates a workflow challenge where file size counts! Using Premiere makes AVCCAM editing easy. FCP not so much. There is a plugin for FCP to recognize the AVCCAM, but we haven't worked with it.

We keep the ATOMOS in production for clients that demand ProRes in the keynote.

tmac61
09-27-2012, 08:06 AM
Thanks for the answer Lee, will keep watching this thread and see if there are any more updates. On paper this looks like the cats meow your review is very helpful. Tim

rally1
09-27-2012, 04:30 PM
Some alternatives listed here, the Sound Designs one in particular looks interesting, they make good stuff: http://www.trickboxtv.com/tapeless-and-file-based-portable-video-recorders/

tmac61
09-28-2012, 08:46 AM
Thanks Rally, I believe we are going with the BMD Hyperlink Shuttle. This forum has been a great help for us.

Lee-AVP
11-28-2012, 01:34 PM
I wanted to follow up on this thread. Atomos has released the 4.1 firmware which has fixed every single bug we reported to them. We've done two successful 8 hour recording tests, with no stopages or playback issues on the recorded file. We also were able to recover our one broken file from a few months ago as soon as we powered up with the new firmware.

So, we are happy campers right now, but will still keep a close eye on this piece of kit for the time being.