The problem of FireWire

FireWire is a near-obsolete connection and data-transfer standard. Unfortunately, it is also the best way to capture digital video data from MiniDV camcorders, and many perfectly adequate audio interfaces also rely on it. Normally we would hope for adapters to an up-to-date connection standard like USB, but in FireWire’s case we’re out of luck.

For desktop machines running Windows, the solution is relatively simple: a PCI or PCIe card with FireWire ports such as the one StarTech sells. These are readily available used and new, and not difficult to install.

For relatively current Macs, desktop or laptop, the easiest solution is Apple’s FireWire to Thunderbolt adapter (plus a cheap adapter or cable that allows plugging into the 4-wire port in most camcorders and the 9-wire port in the Apple dongle). We have successfully used this setup with a previous-generation MacBook Pro; what we do not presently know is whether it can be adapted to the current-generation USB-C-only laptop line.

For Windows laptops, such as we are planning to use for video capture in PRAVDA, we have no solution for most current-generation machines. Roughly one or two generations back, however, two potential solutions exist:

  • Laptops with an actual FireWire port. These were generally “business-class” laptops; they are not easy to find, but they do exist.
  • Laptops with an “ExpressCard” slot, plus a FireWire ExpressCard (again, StarTech sells these). Such laptops are fairly easy to find refurbished; their specs will not be the latest-greatest, but fortunately they don’t need to be for PRAVDA’s purposes.

Audio-gear manufacturer Presonus has a useful list of Windows laptop models that meet one or the other of the above requirements. For any A/V capture laptop intended for a portable rig like PRAVDA, we also recommend checking that it has an optical drive capable of writing as well as reading CDs and DVDs; nearly all on Presonus’s list should qualify. If such a drive is not built into the laptop, the rig would need to include an external optical drive—possible, but a waste of precious packing space.

Good luck!