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Cost-Effective Media Wrangling Redux

After using my new media wrangling kit in the field a few times, I've augmented it with a few accessories and come to a few realizations that made it worth revisiting this entire premise. As in many cases, smaller is not always better, and when it comes to operating a computer, this is definitely the case.

After using my new media wrangling kit in the field a few times, I've augmented it with a few accessories and come to a few realizations that made it worth revisiting this entire premise. As in many cases, smaller is not always better, and when it comes to operating a computer, this is definitely the case.

The Setup

Previously, I had written about testing the WinBook 8" and 10" models and I had settled on the 8" for several reasons: It’s easier to hand-hold, it’s cheaper, and there’s no performance penalty when it comes to copying SD cards. It packs quite nicely in my camera bag; it’s actually smaller than my matte box.

I added an Inatek USB 3.0 hub with an integrated SD card reader (Figure 1, below). It's fast and integrated- simplifying setup. The USB hub would allow me to connect multiple devices. In one case, I could connect an audio recorder via USB and copy those files while the SD card reader was copying the video files.

Figure 1. I’ve added an Inatek USB 3.0 hub to my setup.

The tablet runs off a USB power supply, so I brought a backup--always useful for charging a phone too. A 1' extension cord enables me to plug multiple adapters into already full power strips. And I added a second card reader in case there was an issue with my main reader. It all packed up pretty well, and copying files in the field proved as speedy as it was when I tested it for my previous article on putting together a cost-effective media wrangling kit.

Software

There’s more to media wrangling than just copying folders. In the motion picture industry there are actual union positions for the Media Wrangler or Digital Imaging Technician. Typically, they come with a cart filled with a powerful workstation-class computer, multiple monitors, lots of power, battery backup, and more (Figure 2, below). They not only copy media; they apply Look Up Tables (LUT) to RAW footage so people can get a better idea of what the footage will look like after it’s graded in editing. They can even do rough cuts if needed.


Figure 2. A typical DIT cart

At this low end, however, I was focusing on copying camera cards to the “pocket” hard disk drives the client provides and will take with them when the shoot is done. This file copy can be done in the Windows desktop environment, but when it comes to checking that the file copied is the same as the source, there is a protocol using “checksums” that quickly can establish if A and B are the same.

I’m not going to delve deeply into it, but there are Windows applications such as Terracopy that can perform desktop data copies and also check that A = B by performing mathematical checks or “sums” of the numerical data on both sides. If both sums are the same, the data is verified to be the same.

There are also footage backup software packages like Red Giant's Offload (Figure 3, below), Scratch Play, and more. But there are two problems with trying to leverage dedicated software for media wrangling on these budget machines:

1. The software wants a 64-bit OS. But because these tablets have so little RAM, the OS doesn't need to be 64-bit and is limited to 32-bit. So the media management apps won’t install.

2. The software is made for computers. None of it is finger-friendly or designed for a touchscreen with big friendly icons.


Figure 3. Red Giant Offload

Why use software for offloading media when you can do it in the Windows desktop? Two main reasons: speed and security. The software can be designed to read the media once and write it to both hard drives at the same time. This can greatly speed up the process. Secondly, the software runs checksums and can confirm the data is accurate in both destinations. It also simplifies the process by letting you check back to see what you copied where, when, so you can determine what you didn't yet copy, in case you ever lose track.

But with a 32-bit OS, you are currently stuck in the Windows desktop for copying your media, even with Terracopy. And after a couple jobs with my cute little 8" screen, I’d had enough. I took it back and got the 10" screen because trying to touchscreen the windows interface on an 8" screen was downright annoying. The tablet did its best to interpret my finger taps, but the tip of my finger is three times the size of the close box in a window, let alone the size of a drop-down arrow on a drive. Forget it.

And typing folder names? The on-screen keyboard worked fine, but it didn't always pop up automatically when I wanted it, like when I was creating or renaming folders. So it was a repetitive “call it up, use it, and then tell it to go away” thing all afternoon. Now add in the various taps and touches that don’t register correctly and you can understand my frustration with the little tablet. None of it is the tablet’s fault. I chose the tiny screen.

Having an external bluetooth keyboard and mouse would greatly simplify the process, but that would mean multiple battery-powered devices that I’d have to make sure were all properly charged before heading out on set, plus more clutter and clatter in the keyboard bag. What’s more, the keyboard and mouse push the screen further back, and it’s only an 8" screen. It’s meant to be in your hand.

Related Articles
In this article, I'll take a look at three cost-effective and compact mobile media wrangling tools on the market today: the RAVpower RP-WD01 portable media device, as well as the WinBook TW800 and WinBook TW100, which are Windows 8 tablets featuring a full-size USB 3.0 port on the edge.
In my search for an ideal camera media file offloading workflow using a low-cost tablet, the missing piece of the puzzle has been a finger-friendly, Windows-based media-backup application. Raw4Pro Backup Champion may be exactly the solution I was looking for.