What Does the NS Light on DVCAM Decks Mean?

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the January, 2005, issue of
Larry’s Monthly Final Cut Studio Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]

About two weeks ago, I got a call from another client who recently installed a Final Cut Pro editing system. They were shooting on MiniDV gear, editing in Final Cut and outputting to a Sony DSR-25 DV/DVCAM deck.

These tapes would then be cablecast from a DSR-20 deck, located in another room.

When they took tapes recorded from the DSR-25 deck and played them on the DSR-20, a small “NS” light illuminated on the front panel of the deck. While the tape playback looked OK, they were worried and gave me a call.

I encountered this several years ago, on another editing system. But I managed to solve it purely by accident – and I couldn’t remember the solution.

First, I reassured them that “NS” did not mean “no sync.” Their tape would play back fine. Then, I hit the phones to find out the complete answer.

It came from Sony’s Broadcast Tech Support Center on the East Coast. (And, by the way, I was VERY impressed with their phone support rep.)

“NS” means “non-standard,” and it refers to the audio signal.

When Final Cut captures audio via FireWire, it stores and edits it in the format it was recorded on the video tape. MiniDV uses an “unlocked” audio format which, when you are working in an non-linear editing environment like Final Cut, is perfectly OK.

DVCAM, on the other hand, uses a “locked” audio format. The difference is that when you are editing from one tape deck to another in a linear environment, locked audio can be insert edited (assuming this function is supported by the deck), while unlocked audio can only be assemble edited — or so it was explained to me.

So, when FCP captures audio from a DV tape, it captures it in an unlocked state. Again, for editing inside Final Cut, this is NOT a problem. The issue arises on output.

Almost all Sony decks provide a switch so you can choose whether to record in MiniDV or DVCAM mode. If you capture from MiniDV, you should output with the deck set to MiniDV format. If you capture from DVCAM, you should output with the deck set to DVCAM. The image and audio quality will be the same in either case.

The NS light appears, however, when you capture from MiniDV, but output to DVCAM. DVCAM is expecting a locked audio signal. However, Final Cut captured an unlocked signal. So, the NS light appears to tell you that your audio is non-standard.

While this is not a problem for playback, it might cause a problem if you decide to recapture from that tape.

For this reason, Sony recommends outputting in the same mode you first recorded your masters.

When I relayed this information to my client, they switched their decks from DVCAM to MiniDV and the NS light went out.

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