Peter’s post on projector orientation myths prodded my memory on an issue I encountered while picking up my shiny new camera. While finalizing the lease paperwork the sales guy went out of his way to bring my attention to a slice of A4 treeware contained within the box. The text printed on it prophesized a dire future for anyone plugging a firewire cable into their camera while the computer is switched on.

Dan’s recent letter on the subject prompted me to post this to get some feedback from the visualist community. Has this happened to anyone? Has a manufacturer denied you warranty service because they say you plugged in your firewire cable backwards? Here’s the full text of the warning which came with my camera:

Sony Corporation of Hong Kong Limited
Broadcast and Professional Pacific Asia Company

Date: September 1, 2006

Precaution: i.LINK Cable Connection

- Before connecting the i.LINK cable to a computer or Sony unit, please check the direction of the jack. The i.LINK connector on the computer may be damaged or cause the unit to malfunction of you forcefully insert the jack. Please align [up arrow] mark of the i.LINK cable with [down arrow] mark on the Sony unit before insert the i.LINK cable.

- Please connect the i.LINK cable to a computer before connect it to the Sony unit. If you connect the i.LINK cable to the Sony unit first, it may cause the unit to malfunction caused by static electricity.

- When you connecting the Sony unit to any equipment with a 6-pin type i.LINK jack, always connect the cable to the 6-pin i.LINK jack first.

- When you connect the Sony unit to any equipment with a 6-pin type i.LINK jack, always power off the equipment and remove the power cord from the AC outlet while inserting the i.LINK cable. Fail to do above action may result in high current flow between the cable and the equipment, which may cause damage.

… Huh? I thought that hotplugging was part of what makes Firewire so great? Do other manufacturers have issues with this, or have Sony just done something daft in their design and not fixed it? The helpful guy I bought my camera from told me that you can buy a special surge-isolating firewire cable to prevent this, at a price of several hundred dollars.

  • http://abstrakt.vade.info/ vade

    Yeah. And decks too. I see this *all the time* at my day job.

    Consider this:

    Carpet. Firewire camera plugged into different non-isolated ground circuit than the computer.

    Static discharge plus you floundering in the half dark connecting a 4 pin cable (even though 4 pin doesnt cary bus power, it still conducts), you slab the cable in accidentally striking other pins in the process causing a short.

    Ive had to deal with this so many times for clients its retarded.

    Even with 4 pin firewire its an issue.

    I suggest this:

    use 2 6 pin to 4 pin converters if going to a 6 pin firewire source. This effectively removes the bus power, so make sure you fw device has a power supply, but you remove any chances of bus power killing the logic board (have seen this happen a bunch with the G5/Mac Pro enclosures).

    Sony is right on this one, it sucks, but electrically speaking, can happen.

  • http://fiddlyio.com justin

    Wow. I can't say that I've ever seen this before. Sounds like some guy once upon a time fried his camera by hot plugging it while standing in a puddle of water rubbing a baloon on his head in an electrical storm. Sony's lawyers beat out comon sense.

  • http://createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Not to ask the obvious question, but is there any particular reason camera manufacturers can't put 6-pin FireWire jacks on their cameras?

    I mean, not that I don't LOVE the 4-pin jacks that have power problems, break, fall out of the camera while you're trying to use them…

    And yes, I believe this could be true. I think the reality is you can hot-swap the 4-pin side but not the other side. And that's a good thing, because it's always falling out.

    Sorry, I'm going to just loop through this rant all day. ;)

    This should mean by extension that running to a PC in 4-pin to 4-pin sources is okay, yes?

  • http://www.brotherhoodoftheoctopus.com james

    M-Audio have warnings all over their firewire device installers about this as well. I heard about several firewire ports getting killed by 410's. I just wonder why this doesn't seem to ever happen when hotplugging hard drives, webcams, etc?

  • http://dalasverdugo.com dalas v

    Wow. Glad to learn about this. I've been naively hotplugging for years, and all this time I could have been close to screwing up my equipment.

  • http://abstrakt.vade.info/ vade

    Well. FWIW, I do it all the time. i dont want to scare folks, but, shit happens :) Just be careful!

  • http://www.plus2.fr Francois

    It's all about the 6-pin port being powered.
    At my cinema school, several DVCAM VTRs had their bus grilled because of hotplugging it with 4 pins.

    Electro-static electricity can build up if you leave the cable plugged at 6 pin end.

    In any case, do hotplugging only if your computer is linked to the ground.

    Try decharging your devices by touching them and the ground, for example.

    Follow sony's advice for safety, however the turned off advice is somewhat paranoiac. Just don't leave cables plugged in.

    Plug your 6 pin end, make it touche the ground, THEN plug in your device.

  • http://abstrakt.vade.info/ vade

    You dont want a 6 pin on the cameras, because then the chances of blowing it will be higher, since you have a powered bus. At least the 4 pin (in theory), somewhat mitigates the chance of a blowout.

    Seriously – this happens. 2 weeks ago I had to troubleshoot an issue of a clients edit stations mysteriously loosing their firewire busses, even their PCIe cards died. Turns out it was a Sony DSR-11 DV deck with a 4 pin connector that went bad. They had 2 fried logic boards on their G5s, one bad PCIe card on a Mac Pro and damaged FW Harddrives due to the drives being on the same bus/topology as the deck.

    I could literally plug in the 4 pin to a 4 pin-> 6 pin adaptor to the back of any machine and all FW devices would die/timeout and get bus resets in the console.

    And thats on a *NON POWERED BUS*

    Seriously, hot swapping is dangerous for devices. Im not saying this happens all the time, but if you are careless with your gear you can cause shorts.

  • epiphanius

    The fw circuit on my Panasonic gs250 got fried when I plugged it in once. Panasonic fixed it without complaint.

    I had not heard of this as a known issue, but I can assure you it happens. I don't believe static build up was the culprit, I have wooden floors. Some other sort of charge from the computer could have done in.

    Have not had a repeat, although I've used it the same way ever since (fw is, by def'n, supposed to be hot swappable).

    I'll try and follow Francois' suggestion in the future.

    e.

  • mike

    this might explain why one of our dv decks, a camera and an external hard drive all stopped working as dv devices (not all at the same time…) we just thought 4 pin connectors must be incredibly badly made or something. Next question: is there any way of fixing them yourself once they're fried?

  • Rebekah

    I wish I had found this discussion earlier. I work in a college film department, and we have had such terrible luck because of precisly this problem. Within 2 months, we had 12 of our mini DV cameras loose the firewire out, and 5 of our pro DV decks loose working firewire. Some one earlier on posted :

    "I just wonder why this doesn’t seem to ever happen when hotplugging hard drives, webcams, etc"

    It has happened to us. Last semester alone we lost 7- 250gig external Hard Drives due to the firewire port blowing.

    We have not only had equipment loose the firewire, but a lot of our macs have also had the firewire port card fried.

    As you can see this presents a major problem trying to provide students with functional equipment to capture video.

    So if I'm understanding this right, essentially both the computer and the external device (camera, HD..etc.) must be turned off before inserting the cable. Is there an order in which they should be turned back on… ie.. camera first then comptuer, computer first then camera? Please let me know if i'm understanding this right.

    Thanks

  • http://allanwhite.net Allan W.

    I think, with a 4-pin connector, this is complete bunk. Never happened to me in nearly 10 years. WTF is the point of firewire if you can't plug it in when the device is on?

  • http://abstrakt.vade.info/ vade

    Allan, I can assure I've seen 4 pin 1394 devices get fried. :) Its much less common due to non powered bus, but it happens.

  • dylan winter

    my HVR z1E has fried its i-link. Just after passing out of warrenty. It ran fine – hot swapping – no probs. Now three computers refuse to recognise it. Under a bit of pressure here now. Bought the camera before the hot swap warning was included in packaging. Do you think sony are under an obligation to tfix my camera

    Dylan Winter

  • Richard

    Firewire Depot has 6 Pin Voltage Isolators for $16.95. Plug it in on the deck side. Cheap Insurance

  • Stanley

    We have had the same problem, we've been using firewire for a few years but in a matter of around 2 weeks we have fried the firewire of 2 cameras, one jvc and one canon, a sony deck and a sony dvd recorder. We were suggested that it could be the power supply of the pc that could be causing some kind of surge but we monitored it with a volt meter to no avail. We are now just using one computer with another camera. Thus it seems it was the other pc that was causing the problem. How can we make sure that we won't fry more equipment when we connect it to this problem-causing-pc?

  • http://www.alexandreludwig.com.br Alex

    Finally a explanation!… I fried 3 cameras this year… luckly they were handycams… I had to buy a AV device to keep using them. The strange thing is that I used the same DV device for 5 years and pluged in expensive equipment and it always worked fine even with camera on and pc on…
    Thanks for the clarification!
    //

  • Eric

    By definition it might be, but manufactures of cables and cards don't read the details on the power/data pin placements. I've fried all ports, on 3 different 1394b cards, and 1 B port on a $7000 camera.

    Make sure your 1394b equipment comes with screw locks and do not "use it as advertised." always power it down.

  • http://forimage.com Carlos

    Ditto here, I fried 2 Camera firewire ports using a 4 pin cable both times. I was trying to connect a PC as recorder/Monitor/WFM with DV rack (now Adobe On Location). Those 2 cameras (a Sony PC100 and a JVC DV-300) won't connect anymore with any FireWire device. My next option is to use one of these isolators and cross my fingers. Never trust the "Hot swapping" crap, I just got lucky the last 7 years. Thankfully we can still capture with our deck and the NLE PC.

  • dylan winter

    I-link fried my Sony

    I made a short film in an affort to persuade Sony to fix my camera

    its funny

    its short

    and its here
    http://www.romerwood.co.uk

  • http://www.youtube.com/msgfilms Matt

    Has anyone heard of a port isolator and will that protect us from this static electricity and allow us to hot swap our cameras. I guess it takes stops power flow in the bus or something.

  • Nicolas Borrell

    Yeah – I burned out the firewire port on my HDR-FX1 by hotplugging it to my computer – didn't do it backwards in any way, but nonetheless the firewire board in the camera overloaded and burned out. The camera was six months old. Called the company where I bought it and they basicly told me – "Too bad, your own problem". Thanks a lot Sony…

  • Dylan Winter

    Too bad about the camera

    If you want to tell sony what they thing you can leave a message for them on a you tube vid I have put up about my experience.

    Its called

    "How to kill an HDV camera"

    its here
    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=Ps8ADIUOa_o

    I am sure Sony UK must be monitoring it