Solid State Is Great: Sound Devices Pix 240 Offers Multiple Options for Outboard Recording
Our writers and editors were first wowed by Sound Devices' Pix 240 (and its HDMI-only sibling Pix 220) at the 2011 NAB Show, seeing a prototype unit—albeit with a smaller screen than the shipping product but with general specifications locked.
The first thing one notices about this recorder is its solid construction and professional feel. It weighs in at 2.9 lb. minus optional Sony L batteries. For some, weight might be a concern, but on tripod, dolly, slider or other stabilization device, this should not be much of an issue. The first indication of the quality of the construction comes from the large illuminated transport buttons.
Connections on the bottom of the unit include, from left to right, a Hirose power connection, 4-pin XLR line out, dual XLR mic/line/AES in, and an array of BNC connectors. These include timecode I/O, sync out and HD-SDI in/out. The right side offers an Ambient timecode connection, LANC jack, HDMI in/out, USB keyboard connector and a USB connector marked simply "factory." This list of interfaces and control options provides a hint as to the Pix 240 feature set.
The unit records four flavors of Apple ProRes—ProRes Proxy, LT, 422 and 422 HQ (all 10-bit codecs)—and DNxHD at data rates of 36, 145 and 220 Mb/s (the latter with a choice of 8- or 10-bit depth). Different codecs and data rates may be mixed on the same storage medium.
Pix 240 records natively to a single CF card. Sound Devices currently qualifies only the SanDisk Extreme Pro 90 MB/s card. In fact, no other card can even be formatted in the device. The basic recorder also offers a powered eSATAp port and USB 3.0.
With the continuing drop in SSD prices, however, I think it's a far better idea to purchase the optional SSD caddy and add a 128 or 256 GB SSD. Sound Devices currently qualifies the Samsung 470, SanDisk Ultra and OWC Mercury Extreme 3G SSDs. It is wise to check the qualified listing online as the company is continually reviewing other devices.
The SSD caddy secures the SSD with two small screws, so quick change of the SSD really isn't possible. Users who need multiple SSDs should be prepared to purchase a caddy for each drive. This is actually a sound practice.
The caddy is removable and has FireWire 800, eSATAp and USB 3.0 connectors for transfer of data to computer.
The unit can be set to record to SSD or CF as the primary device with an option to continue recording to the next device should the first become full.
Pix 240 utilizes the UDF file format, easily read by both PCs and Macs.
A menu button on the front upper right brings options for file storage, video, audio, timecode/sync, display, system and quick setup. The sturdy dial on the right jogs through the options that are then selected by pushing the dial.
The front buttons, illuminated transport controls and the jog wheel are sturdy. The entire unit, in fact, exudes a sturdy, professional mien. No worry about flimsy buttons, and switches either breaking or not responding when activated.
Most notable is the unit's ability to up/down/cross-convert size and frame rate.
While there are menu options to name reels and clips, there is also a USB port that will let you connect a keyboard to enter this data more efficiently.
Sound Devices is noted for its audio products, and that technology is included in Pix 240. XLR connectors accept mic input or AES/EBU. In analog mode, there are noiseless pre-amps and audio filter options. Currently, the unit will record either embedded audio in the SDI or HDMI stream or analog external audio.
Another area in which Pix 240 stands above its competition is its timecode/sync options, enabled through the timecode/sync menus. Internal timecode generator can be set to off, free run, 24h run, record run or Ext TC (LTC or SDI). It can output via a BNC timecode connector genlock or world clock as well as selectable frame size and rate. Timecode can be output or input for sync with other devices. Add this to the Pix 240's Ambient Lockit T/C generator with sync out, and even with tuning capabilities to sync multiple 240s, and you have a complete solution for sync, even if the Pix is not being used for recording.
The Pix defaults to splitting a file after 60 minutes of continuous recording, with options of 1, 5, 10, 15 or 30 minutes. I would like to see an additional option to turn this feature off. It could interfere with long multi-clip sequences, where breaking the clip would be problematic.
I love the feature that splits a clip manually when the user presses record during recording. This option can be toggled off in the menu structure, but it is handy.
Like several other external recording devices in this new generation, the Pix 240 features a display screen. Resolution is 800 x 480—certainly not enough for critical focusing but more than adequate for composition. Off-axis viewing is not great. The 5" screen can display the menus very adequately (and menu and clip navigation is a breeze owing to the front buttons and side dial). Like all devices in this price range, there is no screen calibration or scopes.
Sound Devices has released several firmware updates since the product launch and is continually looking to squash bugs and add functionality.
The Pix 240 is bulky at 2.9 lb., and even heavier when mounted with two Sony L batteries. An optional D-Tap cable allows power from external batteries. It is a power hog, drawing about 28 watts. Turn off screen display to conserve power.
The Pix 240 produces MOV files that are readily edited in any NLE that reads ProRes or DNxHD MOV files. Avid MC6 opens the MOV files in Fast Open.
Let me add that the Pix 240 impressed me so much that I bought one!
Sound Devices Pix 240
PROS: All ProRes and DNxHD codecs. Strong audio features. Real-time hardware up/down/cross-conversion. Straightforward menu structure. Solid construction. Accessible and solid controls. Sharp screen. SSD or CF recording options.
CONS: Weight and bulk. Limited qualified CF and SSD choices. Screen cannot be adjusted or calibrated. Either embedded or external audio; can't record both. Some minor bugs, but DNxHD macro blocking will hopefully be fixed before you even read this.
BOTTOM LINE: The Pix 240 is the standard by which all outboard recording devices in the sub-$3,000 market should be judged.
MSRP: Pix 240 $3,049, SSD Caddy $115