Discussion: Using XDCAM as Archive Media

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the August, 2006, issue of
Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]

Bill Call, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, writes:

I have a large collection of Betacam tapes to archive and I have decided to go with XDCAM. The XDCAM format was introduced by Sony to replace the hole in the market left by Betacam being dropped from their line. The fact that many News agencies ( CBS ) are adopting this new format leads me to believe that it will be around for awhile. XDCAM has a shelf life of at least 50 years, a “real time” transfer rate, and is very economical. The low res files that are automatically generated in combination with Sony’s PDZ-1 Proxy Browsing Software makes archiving very easy and organized.


I have switched to XDCAM as my acquisition format so that everything I shoot from now on will be have a shelf life of 50 years from the date shot. Sony and Final Cut Pro are combining efforts and are offering free workshops nationwide.


I am writing you after reading your article on archiving in July’s Monthly Newsletter. What are your impressions of this format as a archival solution? Will you be doing any articles on XDCAM and Final Cut Pro in the future?

Larry replies: First, I think it is WAAY too early to know if XDCAM will be around for the long-haul, which is what you need to be certain of before committing to an archive format. Sony has a habit of throwing lots of different video formats out there to see which ones “stick.”

Second, Sony only released the plug-in which is needed to import XDCAM into Final Cut in mid-July. Worse, this plug-in only supports the two lower quality levels of XDCAM.

Third, XDCAM uses a method of compression similar to HDV, which is a very challenging tape format to edit. Also, XDCAM uses three different compression schemes, and the two lowest don’t offer significantly better quality than HDV.

My main concern is that you are adopting a media which is brand-new, barely supported, and essentially untested for archiving all your old footage. This is a bit more of a gamble than I would be willing to take. XDCAM may end up being perfect. But at the moment, we don’t know whether that is true or not.


Andy Mees wrote in after this newsletter was released to say:

With respect to your reply to the Using XDCAM as Archive Media question.  Whilst I fully agree with the main thrust of your reply, there was one specific point which I believe was factually incorrect.  Hope you don’t mind me pointing it out. You wrote: “this plug-in only supports the two lower quality levels of XDCAM.”


Actually the XDCAM Transfer tool/plugin itself supports all XDCAM SD and HD formats (DV, IMX and Sony’s MPEG HD at 18, 25 and 35 mbps).  It is FCP however, which currently does not support import or export to/from Sony’s MPEG HD at 18 and 35 mbps.  As and when Apple introduce support for these codecs in FCP/QT then the plugin should be ready.

Jody Eldred also provided the following update. Jody is an Emmy-winning director/cameraman who also owns an F900 HDCAM. Sony and Apple both asked him to test the XDCAM HD and Final Cut Studio’s editing capabilities for it, and he’s been presenting those observations on the multi-city Apple/Sony Tour which just concluded in Chicago last week.

Apple is supporting the XDCAM HD transfer software quite well and thoroughly. Regarding the 35 mbp/s, all I can say is that Sony is very pleased with how aggressive Apple has been supporting all aspects of the XDCAM HD. (Extract from that what you may…)


XDCAM has been around for two years already, and has proven its robustness. I do believe it is the new Betacam, and the major news networks are all seriously considering it. The CBS O&Os have already bought it. Even Discovery HD has approved utilization of the 35 mbp/sfootage.


A 2/3″ version of the camera is likely set for next year. I own the camera and am shooting on it constantly. XDCAM HD will be huge and not discarded anytime soon.


I’m not saying this as a salesman or a Sony shill, only as an informed colleague.

Larry replies: Jody and Andy, thanks for writing. I always want to provide accurate information and appreciate your feedback.

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