IDEAS IN SMALL PACKAGES
The Terapin Mine and Videonics Firestore
Review by Dirck Halstead
rush of technology toward new solutions in maximizing the advantages
of Digital in computing and visual fields is changing the way images
are captured at a pace that even the most optimistic developers could
In the past month, we have tested two new peripherals that have enormous
implications for photojournalists both in still and video.Neither one
of these new tools were initially thought of in terms of photojournalism,
but rather as storage devices that could be used by consumers. But once
photojournalists started to tinker with them, the possibilities of what
they could do became apparent.
THE TERAPIN MINE
have increasingly moved to the use of digital cameras at newspapers,
magazines and wire services. It is common today for photographers on
fast-breaking assignments to drop a compact flash card, which has taken
the place of film, into a laptop computer and connect to a network by
modem or wireless, and within minutes transmit their photos to their
The big problem that photographers have faced with this means of transmission
is that in effect, they are lugging a portable typewriter in the form
of a laptop computer around with them. Today's camera bags for photojournalists
are oversized packs that not only hold cameras and lenses, but laptops
and peripherals. The photographers look like Marines on a combat operation
when carrying the heavy bags. How, they wondered, would they ever get
back to the kinds of loads they used to carry when all they had to worry
about were the cameras?
Last year a start-up company called Terapin realized that there might
be a market for consumers who wanted to be able to save picture files
from their digital cameras, or video and MPEG audio, and be able to
share the files without having to rely on a computer, and without having
to use huge memory allocations.
What they came up with was a $599 handheld, Internet-enabled personal
data storage device with 10 gigs of memory that could hold thousands
of photographs and audio tracks, together with other digital information.
It would be a fully functional digital audio player/recorder, a digital
photo album, and a vast data bank and backup tool that would make management
of all this material extremely simple.
As we said, the idea was to produce a device for the consumer market,
but once a few wire services got a look at the device, they realized
they had seen the future.
One of the wire service photographers realized that he was looking at
a handheld device that would free photographers from the need to carry
a bulky laptop. Furthermore, it would return photographers to the job
of taking pictures, without having to worry about editing in the field,
typing captions, and waiting for pictures to be transmitted.
The Terapin Mine is a sleek handheld device about 7 inches high, 3 inches
wide, and an inch deep. It features a Linux operating system that accommodates
both NTSC and PAL video, and MP3 and WAV audio with stereo playback.
It has outlets in its base for a USB master and USB slave, a 10 Mbps
Ethernet and a 16-Bit PCMIA Type II slot. It runs on either 4 AA alkaline
batteries or an internal rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery.
On the front, on top, is a screen that displays 16 characters by 4 times
high-contrast LCD screen. There are 3 front-panel buttons and 3 side
buttons for all device controls. Composite video can be played out or
still pictures displayed as JPEGs, BMPs, GIFs, or TIFFs to a video monitor
or projector using the supplied video cord.
It is possible to upload and download MP3 material via either a USB
or MCIA memory card adaptor. At present it is compatible only with Windows
98, 2000, and ME systems; however, for the purposes of photographers
who want to use the device primarily to move photographs into a local
area network (LAN) or upload to online or FTP sites, that is irrelevant.
Terapin plans to have a Mac interface ready late this month.
The key point is that in this one little device you have an incredible
amount of storage for photographs. It allows a
photojournalist to undertake a major assignment with only two or three
flash cards, since all files can be conveniently moved into safe storage
on the Mine, allowing the flash cards to be cleared in order to be able
to continue the coverage.
To make the Mine even more useful as a storage device, a free online
account comes with it that allows you to move your stored photographs
on the Terapin server, where they can reside indefinitely until you
are ready to recall them. Reuters' Bob Covington, who has been testing
the unit for the past few months, says, "The Mine gives you a safety
net. You can have a full record of your images without having to ever
touch a computer. The goal is to be able to allow photographers to shoot
pictures with a minimum of disruption, and take away the burdens of
You can expect to see this little package in a lot of camera bags in
the months ahead.
Visit the Terapin
Tech website for more information.
THE VIDEONICS FIRESTORE
the video photographer, or platypus who has moved into non-linear editing,
new small cameras and software such as Apple's Final Cut Pro have made
the job of shooting and editing tape much easier than ever before. New
tape formats such as DVCAM have made it possible to shoot two hours
on one tape, although most people still use the one-hour mini DV cassettes.
Beta users have long had to live with a maximum of 30 minutes of tape
time. This can make for a lot of anxiety while shooting a presidential
press conference or a concert. Just suppose it would be possible to
record three hours while on location, without tape, and to be able to
then capture the acquisition material to an NLE system without having
to go through the lengthy real-time capture.
Focus Enhancements and Videonics, well known in broadcast and consumer
circles for their video mixers and edit controllers, have come up with
just such a solution with their brand-new Firestore capture and linear
In use, it is necessary to add an external hard drive into the chain.
We used a pocket-sized IBM 40 gig drive that can hold over 3 hours of
video. Before using the unit, we had to have the hard drive formatted
as a FAT32 volume, which will allow the files to be read on both MAC
and PC computers. The Firestore instantly turns the digital video signal
into computer-readable files that can be stored on the hard drive. Using
the Firestore in the acquisition process, it is possible to fast-forward,
or reverse viewing of clips without having to rewind or fast-forward
the tape. This makes it a very valuable production tool, since you can
quickly view what has been shot, yet pick up shooting without queuing
For a shooter or producer on the run, it's possible to download material
from the Firestore while in transit to the edit bay, and then simply
plug the portable hard drive into the NLE system when you get there
and start to assemble clips to the timeline without having to review
or capture material first. This could be an incredible time saver in
a real-life field situation.
Because the Firestore is so versatile, there are many things it can
do.For example, it can record a single frame of video, or grab multiple
still frames and make them part of one file or save them individually
in their own file. This means that it can serve as a DV still store
for production or as an animation recorder.
As with the Terapin Mine, the Firestore can offer a comfortable safety
backup to the video maker on crucial shoots, since video can be recorded
simultaneously to tape and the hard drive.
In the first reviews of the product, one point was brought up. Why,
since its most obvious use was in the field along with the camera, was
it designed to look like a small tape deck? The answer basically is
that it was originally conceived as part of the edit bay package. And
the design followed the thinking of recorder engineers.
Since then, Focus Enhancements has created a field kit that puts the
Firestore in a nylon case featuring an internal NP battery slot, an
external dc connector and power switch, storage for a hard drive/cable.
This makes sense, because the thing that will be used in the edit suite
is not the Firestore itself, but the hard drive containing the information.
They have also come up with a 25 watt/hour NP style battery, capable
of about two hours of continuous recording time, powering Fiestore and
one HDD. The case and battery, which will be available in March costs
$325 for the case and $95 for the battery. A single channel fast NP
charger costs $325.
Because the unit is so versatile, it will have a major impact on the
way video is shot and edited. For $999 (minus the external hard drive)
it is, indeed, a big idea in a little box.
the Firestorm website for more information.