AJA KiPro: More Than Just a Field Recorder

A look at the many possible uses of the AJA KiPro.
Steve Hullfish
By Steve Hullfish 11.26.09


The AJA KiPro (pronounced "kee-PRO") is a very nicely designed unit that I believe will become more and more useful over time. As it is currently released, several of the features that I really am interested in are still not implemented, but the potential is definitely there.

My overall impression is that it's a great little box that is very well engineered, but I have some reservations and an extensive wish list for making the device a "must have." Before I get in to that, let me tell you a little about the device.

Essentially it has a large number of video and audio inputs and outputs of various flavors and it then can record them in their native sizes and frame rates or convert them on the fly as they are recorded to an on-board FireWire drive or ExpressCard34 slots. The front panel is very simple and clean with traditional tape-deck controls for recording, playback and menu functions. The device can be run off the supplied AC power convertor or from battery using the standard 4-pin battery plug at one end of the unit, which is also how the AC convertor plugs in. It records 10bit ProRes or ProResHQ.

The main use that most people are probably considering is for use in the field to record direct-to-disk with cameras that are not designed to do that internally. The benefits of the KiPro for this kind of work are that it is very easy to use and is rugged and well-built - especially if you buy the solid state FireWire drive instead of the standard drive, or use the two ExpressCard34 slots for recording. The KiPro is better than similar products from competitors because of the sheer number of "goz-intos" and "goz-outtas" - in other words -inputs and outputs.

image The rear panel of the unit includes inputs for SDI IO, HD-SDI IO, Balanced XLR audio IO, unbalanced RCA audio IO, Composite video out, Component video IO, and HDMI IO. There are also FireWire 400 and 800 connections, but the 400 connection is only for incoming timecode and control, and the 800 is only for a future software release that will allow the on-board drive to be accessed directly from the KiPro without having to dismount it. There are also LANC and lens tap connections. The lens tap will allow a special cable to intercept the record signal from the camera itself to trigger the recording function of the KiPro. There are also LTC TC IO. There's also an Ethernet/LAN connection and WiFi.

This is not a replacement for a Firestore or similar FireWire-based recorder. The KiPro does not record "computer" digital signals, like Firewire. It is strictly for recording, playing back and transcoding video and audio signals.

One of the applications I was anxious to try was to use the HDMI inputs to record screencaptures from my Mac or PC. I do a lot of screencast and tutorial stuff and I would love to have a way to record it without using internal software and computer cycles, since most of the software I'm trying to screencapture draws a lot of the computer's power. Unfortunately, the unit can't do this. AJA reps said that the reason is that computers put out RGB through the HDMI, and the KiPro isn't designed to handle that. However, the literature says that the Component input can record YUV or RGB, though I didn't try this.

For giggles, I actually tried plugging it in to my cable convertor, which has an HDMI output. Nothing like a $4,000 TiVo box… Anyway, the unit actually did record the signals from the cable box, but upon playback, I received a message that the video had copyright protection on it and couldn't be played.

image I tried several cameras and monitors as input and output devices. Unfortunately, my aging DVX100a had no way of getting video into the KiPro without some kind of converter. An HVX200 could send a component video signal to the KiPro. I was able to record live camera footage from the HVX200 as well as pre-recorded footage residing on the camera's P2 cards. I compared the original P2 material to the KiPro recordings and they were incredibly faithful reproductions.

One of the big advantages of the KiPro is that it can record footage from many prosumer or even consumer cameras that rely on long-GOP recording or other heavily compressed recording formats. The compression of the recorded signal really hammers the actual quality that is coming off the camera sensor. The KiPro actually makes these images far superior to the camera recording because the HDMI or HD-SDI out of the camera is delivering the image before it is compressed. Even pretty cheap consumer cameras with HDMI outputs can be made to look really nice by recording them through the KiPro. Of course, someone with a camera that they spent $300 on is not going to want to pony up for a $4,000 recording device.

The KiPro can also be exploited by some of the higher-end HD cameras that record to HDCAM HD or DVCProHD. For camera operators looking to extend the lives of these cameras by making them "tapeless" the KiPro seems to be the way to go. However, one big drawback of the KiPro became evident as I tested it with other people's cameras. One shooter was very excited about the potential of the unit with their CineAlta, but then discovered it only records ProRes. The post production half of their shop is all Avid, limiting the value of the unit considerably. They could still use it to shoot and record in the field, but instead of having pre-digitized footage that was ready to edit, they'd have to hook the KiPro up to the Avid as if it was a deck and digitize the footage in realtime. I understand the limits of licensing issues and the ability for companies like AJA and Avid to interface technically, but AJA would open up a larger market for this box if it could record DNxHD as well as ProRes. Another great potential use of the KiPro that is being hampered by a possible collaborative manufacturer would be to record the HDMI signal out of the Canon DSLR cameras. Currently, Canon blocks the ability of the HDMI signal to be recorded. It can only be used for monitoring. There are a number of "knocks" against the Canon DSLRs as production cameras (and hey, that's not what they were really designed for…) but one of them is that they record to highly compressed MPEG4 QuickTime files. If the HDMI out of the camera could be recorded by the KiPro, you could shoot long takes and have them recorded with much better compression.

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