Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee
kevin_standlee

Wrestling With Camera Drivers

We spent several hours today working to get the Dell laptop we plan to use for uploading this year's WSFS Business Meeting videos after they come off of Lisa's Panasonic AG-HPX300P camera. I have unkind things to say about the driver software and documentation, and in fact, we didn't get everything we wanted.

The camera records to PCMCIA cards (hereafter P2 cards). After installing the driver-installation software, I tried to get it to install the P2 card reader driver. No luck. After some experimentation, I determined that it cannot install the driver unless there is a P2 card in the card reader slot. At least that worked, and now if I put one of the P2 cards in the slot, I can read it like any drive. That will let me drag recordings Lisa made onto my computer, then give the card back to her at the next card swap.

We're working on not having to do as many breaks as we did in Spokane. The limiting factor is how much we can record onto a single P2 card. The five cards that came with the camera are only 16 GB and are thus only good for about 20-30 minutes. Lisa has so far spent enough money for a 64 GB card that she says should be good for up to 2 hours. OTOH, we actually liked being able to get earlier segments of the meeting online, so we still want to break the meeting into segments. We may need to buy at least one more 32 GB card and go for one hour segments, as I hope the meeting will be less antsy about the 1-minute card-swap break needed. (Turn off camera, eject card, insert new card, turn on camera, format card to make sure that it's empty; Lisa can do this in less than a minute.) I expect we'll have a break about once an hour anyway.

Note that what we'll be uploading will be the lower-resolution files generated by the "proxy card." Because of the way this professional-grade camera records in MXF format natively, you have to spend time merging the MXF video and audio, and that takes as long to build as the original recording. The lower-resolution files are MP4 and can be used immediately. You can have fast and legible (and the sound is just fine), or wait another day for high-res video; take your pick, and we pick fast. If we have time, we'll generate the higher-resolution video later.

Getting the P2 card driver installed turned out to be the easy part. The camera and my computer both have FireWire (1394) ports. It seems like we should be able to use that to either transfer files quickly, or even better, stream the recording straight from the camera to my computer.

We followed the instructions as best we could, but nothing seemed to work, and Google was not really our friend this time, no matter how many different ways we rephrased the questions. The driver installer insisted that there was nothing on the other end of the line, even though my computer made the "connected something" noise. After hours of fussing with this, I did find some references to a problem with the most recent 1394 FireWire drivers not working with the older equipment, and rolled it back to the "Legacy" driver. Still no luck. Just as we were about to give up, Lisa had an idea and pressed the RECORD button on the camera. (The camera had been turned on, but wasn't recording anything.) To my amazement, that worked. The driver installer finally decided that there was something on the other end of the wire and installed itself. This is a very stupid driver installation program.

Unfortunately, even after getting the driver installed, none of the software from Panasonic can see video on the camera. It's possible that some expert at using Panasonic P2 series cameras knows how to make this actually happen (in which case please contact me), but after about five hours of fuss, we gave up. Swapping P2 cards back and forth works, and is relatively easy to do. I'd love to be able to record what was coming off the camera directly onto my computer, but we can make this work. One bad part is that because we'll probably only have two usable P2 cards that we'll have to keep re-using, it's critical that I make multiple backups of the video files, not just on my computer, but on an outboard hard drive. After all, there's no way to go back and re-shoot anything.
Tags: business meeting, camera, lisa, wsfs
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