When I learned how to videotape depositions some two or three years ago, VHS tapes had been long extinct, yet my mentor, a veteran of the trade, still insisted on them. Since my boss at the time looked to him as the expert in the field, his word was gold and that was that. When I started Naples Reporting however, it was time to put all that I’d learned to practice by recreating the way video depositions are recorded.
A typical setup for a videographer looks as follows:
Their system includes a camera that records onto 60 minute mini-dv tapes and backs up to a DVD recorder. Often times the final product ends up being the DVD out of the DVD recorder, because it doesn’t take any more work to produce. The problem is that when you output from any camera over analog, standard definition cables (red, white, and yellow RCA plugs), you’re automatically losing about 75% of your picture quality. You do the math: You’re recording at 1080i or 1080p at 60 frames (assuming your camera is less than 5 years old) and your DVD recorder only picks up at 480i at 30 frames.
I never understood why legal videographers would spend $3500 on a nice, 3CCD camera and then output their final product over RCA cables. What a waste.
Here’s how we do it at Naples Reporting:
First of all, the camera quality, microphones, mixers, etc. are all the same. The difference is, we record in HD onto 32 gb SD cards, and use the DVD recorder as a backup only. Once we are done with the deposition, IME, CME, or site inspection, we transfer the large files from the SD card(s) to our workstation. We use a nonlinear video editing program to put all of the files back together into one timeline, and burn the entire witness (up to about 6 or 7 hours worth of testimony) onto one disc.
Here’s our secret: Because we are rendering the files from the raw HD source files, and not simply recording direct to DVD as our final product, we are able to adequately compress the video. This allows us to fit those extra four or five hours onto the DVD, without a noticeable quality degradation. In fact, our DVDs are the best looking in town when it comes to legal videography and video depositions.
As a convenience feature, we also author the DVDs to include chapter markers at set intervals to allow for faster searching through the video. Once the video is transcoded and the master DVD has been produced, we are then free to compress the original source files for archiving. This means that we don’t have to store massive HD files.
Not only does this method make a better looking DVD, it also means our clients only have to keep track of one DVD per witness. Another perk of recording to SD cards as our primary media is that we can fit over three hours of HD footage on one 32 gb SD card. That means more freedom for the attorneys to take breaks at their leisure, not at the request of the videographer.
Yes, this method does take more office time. It also takes a hell of a workstation to transcode all of the video files. The system we use to transcode the videos is one that I built myself. Here are some of the specs:
- Liquid Cooled AMD FX-8120 Overclocked to 4.4 gHz
- 16 gb G.Skill Ripjaw X Series Ram
- 256 gb Samsung SSD
- 1 TB Western Digital 7200 rpm storage drive
- Asus Radeon HD 6770 DirectCU Silent Graphics Card
If you are savvy with computers, you can build this box yourself for less than $1500 and it will compete well with many standalone video editors and certainly a decently equipped Mac Pro. It takes roughly the same amount of time to render the video as it does to record it on our system, but if you’re trying to do this on a laptop or older computer, it could take considerably longer.
If you are a videographer and you care about the quality of your video, take the extra time and do it right. Otherwise, we’ll be replaced by iPhones in no time.