Warming up to FireWire

on Monday, February 4, 2008

FireWire is one of the hot new technologies that makes digital video so fun and easy to work with. FireWire — also sometimes called IEEE-1394 or i.LINK — was originally developed by Apple Computer and is actually an interface format for computer peripherals. Various peripherals including scanners, CD burners, external hard drives, and of course digital video cameras use FireWire technology. Key features of FireWire include:
  • Speed: FireWire is really fast, way faster than USB or serial ports. FireWire is capable of transfer rates up to 400Mbps (megabits per second). Digital video contains a lot of data that must be transferred quickly, making FireWire an ideal format.
  • Mac and PC compatibility: (What a concept.) Although FireWire was developed by Apple, it is widely implemented in the PC world as well. This has helped make FireWire an industry standard.
  • Plug-and-play connectivity: When you connect your digital camcorder to a FireWire port on your computer (whether Mac or PC), the camera is automatically detected. You won’t have to spend hours installing software drivers or messing with obscure computer settings just to get everything working.
  • Device control: Okay, this one isn’t actually a feature of FireWire, it’s just one of the things that makes using FireWire really neat. If your digital camcorder is connected to your computer’s FireWire port, most video editing programs can control the camcorder’s playback features. This means you don’t have to juggle your fingers and try to press Play on the camcorder and Record in the software at exactly the same time. Just click Capture in a program like iMovie or Pinnacle Studio, and the software automatically starts and stops your camcorder as needed.
  • Hot-swap capability: You can connect or disconnect FireWire components whenever you want. You don’t need to shut down the computer, unplug power cables, or confer with your local public utility district before connecting or disconnecting a FireWire component.
All new Macintosh computers come with FireWire ports. Some — but not all — Windows PCs have FireWire ports as well. If your PC does not have a FireWire port, you can usually add one using an expansion card. Windows 98 and higher include software support for FireWire hardware. If you’re buying a new PC and you plan to do a lot of video editing, consider a FireWire port a must-have feature.

All digital camcorders offer FireWire ports as well, although the port isn’t always called FireWire. Sometimes FireWire ports are instead called “i.LINK” or simply “DV” by camcorder manufacturers who don’t want to use Apple’s trademarked FireWire name. But rest assured, all digital camcorders have a FireWire-compatible port. FireWire truly makes video editing easy, and if you are buying a new camcorder, I strongly recommend that you buy a camcorder that includes a FireWire port.