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Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Creating a Thunderbolt Compact Flash Card Reader
I currently work on a reality show called Catfish: The TV Show on MTV. It is my second season on the show and, needless to say, we all learned a lot the first go-around. It is a truly unique production with a very specific set of challenges...mostly in the camera department. The nature of the show demands the use of a variety of cameras, and with that, a variety of recording mediums. On any given day, we can have up to a dozen different "cameras" using different media types like XDCAM, Compact Flash, SDHC, MicroSD, and even directly to hard drives. One of the biggest challenges of the first season was managing all of these mediums and taking the time to ensure proper organization and data backup. The main thing that was holding our crew back was transfer times from these cards to our location backup master drives and shuttle drives that are sent back to post-production daily. I also wanted to shave a few minutes off of my daily dump as well. As we all know, technology is always advancing it it couldn't have come at a better time for our show. The advent of Thunderbolt technology gives us remarkable transfer speeds to and from external card readers and hard drives. LaCie makes some excellent Thunderbolt-enabled hard drives that we use on location. The internal SDHC/SDXC card reader found on current MacBook Pro laptops provides sufficient transfer speeds, as does a USB 3.0 reader. Unfortunately, we reached a choke point with Compact Flash. There are plenty of USB 3.0 and FW800 readers out there, but we wanted to take advantage of the capabilities of Thunderbolt. After some research we found there was really only true solution on the market for Thunderbolt CF readers and that is the Echo ExpressCard/34 Thunderbolt Adapter by Sonnet, but it has been discontinued. Even still, it technically isn't even a Thunderbolt card reader per se. It is a Thunderbolt to SATA deck and they produce several widgets to adapt to the SATA port, one of which is a Compact Flash port. Lame. I'm sure there is a reason why the supply has yet to catch up with demand for a Thunderbolt CF reader, but I don't know it and I'm too impatient to find out...so we created our own. And you can, too, for UNDER $150!