Simple, right? Well, besides the whole motor spinning plates of magnetic material... oh, and something about formatting.
Formats? What are those?
Simple, totally non-technical explanation: It's a language the drive speaks. So, for instance, if your drive is formatted as an NTFS drive then it speaks NTFS (we'll call that Spanish). But then you attach it to a computer that only reads Apple Extended drives (Russian). The drive doesn't show up (or asks to learn the new language, thereby forgetting everything it new before... namely, your files). The computer can't read the drive because it's the wrong language.
The good thing is that there is a format that can be read by both PCs and Macs. It's the format that your flash jumpdrives use. This format is FAT32.
So why doesn't everyone use FAT32?
One major reason is because it has a size limitation. You can only put files that are up to 4gigs per file on a FAT32 formatted drive.
But 4gigs is a pretty huge file. What kinds of files are bigger than 4gigs?
An hour of MiniDV footage is around 12gigs.
So, if you're capturing a tape onto a FAT32 drive, everything will go swimmingly, you'll get through the hour dump... and you'll get a message that says something like: Opps. Something went wrong.
We just had that problem.
The solution? Capture footage in 20 minute or less increments. Then your files will be less than 4gigs, and you'll be able to move on with your life.
Bottom line: It's important to know what "language" your drive speaks before you try to do any major projects.
Your Media Production Mentor