June 7, 2011
When I had a look-see at the first Looxcie last October, I couldn’t overlook many of the disadvantages of the innovative Bluetooth camcorder headset. It was large – ostentatiously so – and had poor video quality. Well, it looks like the company has made significant progress in less than a year. While still no HD rival to a Kodak Playfull or GoPro, the Looxcie 2 looks small enough to pass for a reasonable headset and the video quality has been upped to VGA (yes, I just wrote “upped to VGA.”).
Perhaps more importantly, and taking a cue from GoPro,, the Looxcie 2 now offers a variety of mounts so that you can tune your level of conspicuousness. It remains a unique product, and at $200, comes in significantly below the HD wearable cams for capturing cheap thrill even as video capture options are coming to capture even cheaper thrills.
Tags: Bluetooth, camcorders, headsets, Hot Wheels Video Racer, Looxccie 2, spy gadgets, video capture, wearables
April 25, 2011
I’ve had limited opportunity to try some of the mirrorless hybrids on the market (although have high hopes for something a bit more robust from Sony in the NEX line), so I tried something new on a recent vacation, carrying around a relatively compact (and thus relatively entry-level) DSLR. After reading pretty positive reviews on the Pentax K-x (which has been on the market for a while), the company was kind enough to loan me one for my experiment with the default 18-55mm kit lens and and a telephoto 55-300mm zoom. The K-x has image stabilization built into its body.
Pentax offers the K-x in a puzzling variety of colors and I was game to to try about any Skittles shade they would offer. The result was a white body with black trim, leading to one Force-ful comment that it was “the Stormtrooper’s camera” (although, were that true, the camera would invariably get shot before it could shoot). I loaded it and the long zoom lens into an old but compact blue LowePro bag that’s nearly as cheesy, and put that inside a carry-on backpack.
The point-and-shoot I usually carry is a pretty respectable Canon S90, but there’s just no comparison. The K-x was fast and effortless in nearly all settings, often snapping great shots one-handed while barely slowing from my pace, produced some close-ups with some nice bokeh effects, and did a great job at ISO 1600 on some night street scenes. Having previously shot with entry-level and midrange Nikon DSLRs, I like the way Pentax has implemented access to most controls in more of a point-and-shoot style, although its multi-tabbed settings can be a bit daunting. The HDR feature is pretty cool, too.
The K-x did hit its limits inside a dark restaurant without the flash, and there were a few times when the autofocus couldn’t lock. In all but two or three cases (out of a total of well over 400 photos shot over the course of the trip), I resolved this by stepping back or picking a different autofocus point. The camera also struggled to autofocus in LiveView. Impressively, though (compared to other low-end DSLRs I’ve used), it never autofocused on the wrong thing (although maybe I’m just becoming a better photographer).
Alas, while I tried to bring the K-x everywhere, there were a few instances such as breakfast in the hotel where the bag just seemed too much to drag around and I didn’t want to have even its relatively light weight around my neck, so I my point-and-shoot still saw a little action. For any future family vacations, though, I’m definitely making room on my carry-on to bring a camera with a nice big sensor. The results are worth it.
Tags: K-x, Pentax, small DSLRs, travel
April 22, 2010
Dave Zatz questions whether Cisco will destroy the Flip brand. To that I would offer, if opening up international distribution and investing millions in advertising during the holidays and after (resulting in excellent sales results) show Cisco killing the Flip brand, than it is certainly doing so with kindness. Like Dave, I thought the FlipShare TV product was certainly off the beaten path for Pure Digital’s history of minimalism and simplicity. Some of this was execution, but some of it was the scope of the task given today’s technology options (which I believe will improve dramatically in the next two years). The SlideHD may be a similar philosophical departure.
On the other hand, while the Flip’s market share remains strong, competition continues to grow – both with better competitors within the category and from adjacent categories such as digital cameras and cameraphones. I’ve long said that – just as it was a challenge for Apple to differentiate the iPod based on such factors as device size and file transfer speed – it will be a challenge for the Flip to compete with other flash camcorders as the declining price-capacity ratios of flash memory enable other camcorder makers to match the Flip’s size and price point. Perhaps the surprise is that, with the Slide, Cisco has embraced a feature that could be considered gimmicky, but both it and the FlipShare TV are directionally consistent with the longstanding Flip mission of lowering the barriers to sharing video.
Tags: Cisco, digital cameras, flash camcorders, Flip, FlipShare TV, sharing, zatznotfunny
October 2, 2009
Regular readers here and elsewhere and elsewhere know that I had high expectations of the Avaak Vue following in the tradition of products such as the Flip, Eee, Sonos, Peek and PogoPlug in simplifying and expanding the market for what has been a challenged category. It must be noted off the bat that the Vue is not intended to replace a full-scale monitoring system installed by a monitoring company such as ADT or even a DIY system strung together with IP cameras (such as the recently debuted Viaas system shown off at DEMO Fall ‘09). Rather, like so many other of these products, it is focused on secondary functionality, in this case, “checking in” on a property, people or pets for a few minutes at a time.
Previous whole-home video systems have been expensive, unwieldy and complex, partly because of the need to supply power to the batteries, but not the Avaak. Simply plug the base into your router, press the Sync button, and attach the AAAA battery-powered, golf ball-sized camera to one of the amazing tiny magnetic mounts. Then go to the Web site and enter a unique ID for your base station and you’re ready to view and record video from a browser.
It all works brilliantly. I would of course be nice of the Vue could perform the kind of self-identification magic that the PogoPlug can, but Avaak appears on its way to creating the first multi-room video streaming system that can be used by ordinary consumers. I’ll certainly have more to say about the Vue system soon.
Tags: home monitoring, telepresence
July 27, 2009
Switched reports that KDDI is showing microSD cards that have embedded Wi-Fi, a natural evolution of a long-running trend in network-enabled memory cards. SanDisk had Wi-Fi-enabled Compact Flash cards back in the Pocket PC era and, of course, Eye-Fi has marketed a variety of Secure Digital cards with embedded Wi-Fi. Since digital cameras have a particular purpose and don’t use a standard operating system, Eye-Fi has focused the cards’ functionality on uploading photos to PCs and various photo and video services. While its prices have always been uncompetitive with the rapid dips in flash memory price-performance Eye-Fi now faces more difficult challenges as both units and average prices shrink for digital still cameras. Eye-Fi’s “Pro” 4 GB card with Wi-Fi costs $150, $30 more than an entry-level Canon A480 at MSRP.
So, Wi-Fi-enabled microSD certainly would have appeal to Eye-Fi, which could use it to expose the company to a much larger market of cell phones. Software would be more of a challenge as Eye-Fi would likely want to create client applications on multiple operating systems. Software, though, could enable new applications beyond uploading to one of my long-running bugaboos, in-the-field sharing of photos (and other media).
But while the Switched piece points out that some smartphones don’t support Wi-Fi, that’s becoming the exception these days with even Verizon Wireless warming to the LAN technology somewhat. Eye-Fi might be left to recreate its current wireless photo transfer service on feature phones that can connect wirelessly, but relatively expensively and slowly.
Tags: Eye-Fi, feature phones, KDDI, memory cards, microSD
May 26, 2009
I had a chance to catch up yesterday with Avaak, the Demo-launched company that wil be bringing the Avaak Vue system to market later this year. One part of the company’s messaging that I hadn’t heard was the focus on its “peel and stick” cameras to encourage ad hoc webcasting.
The company acknowledged as i suspected that the first-generation Vue will be focused more on telepresence than security applications per se. That’s a bit of a strike against it as security seems to be the best justification for buying a bunch of networked webcams. Avaak also talked about social networking aspects of the system, which I think will be even more of a niche. But if it can be done securely, perhaps there’s opportunity to bring in remote relatives to a ceremony in a home and I can certainly see commercial applications. However, as PogoPlug is showing in relation to the NAS market, secondary applications (in its case, file sharing) can emerge as a viable alternative to a primary application (backup).
As to the Vue’s incredible battery life, I finally got an estimate on what the company considers to be the “typical use” that will enable a year’s worth of usage – ten minutes a day, which I think is more than fair. Some quick math, then, reveals that Vue should be able to broadcast straight for about 2.5 days from a full charge.
I also hadn’t seen any announcements from Avaak about pricing or archiving, but the news here was good overall as well. Avaak plans to include the first year of video storage (up to 2 GB) included in the purchase price. For subsequent years, the price would be an incredibly reasonable $19 per year for that amount of online storage. Avaak is also taking a smart approach to heavy users, saying it would welcome an opportunity to structure a tier of pricing to appeal to them. Overall, I remain very keen on this product and its potential to break open the market for networked cameras.
Tags: Avaak, IP cameras, security, telepresence, Vue
April 30, 2009
Go out with a bang, as they say. Pure Digital’s last camcorder as an independent company before its imminent acquisition by Cisco is the revamped Ultra, available in SD and HD versions for $149 and $199. The new Ultra includes several significant advances over the previous generation, including a rechargeable lithium battery in the box (although it can still run on alkalines) and two long-awaited improvements – a bigger (2”) screen and longer recording capacity of two hours. The HD version also has an HDMI output port, although no HDMI cable is included.
The Ultra definitely feels brick-like compared to the diminutive Flip mino, but I think the additional flexibility is worth it. (The waterproof case for the old Ultra doesn’t work with it due to changed button placements; Pure Digital is planning a revised one.) The Flip’s limited recording capacity had really caused problems for me in the past, so I’m pleased to see it expand even though there’s no memory card slot, which is nice insurance in the event that the camcorder itself ceases to function (as my MinoHD did). I’ve used a Kodak Zi6, but the tendency for its arm to swing out is an annoying design flaw. I am looking forward to the svelte new RCA Small Wonder that Audiovox showed at CES, which trades in a pop-out USB arm for a microSD slot.
Pure Digital is now aiming the Ultra at its traditional audience of moms while positioning the mino toward the YouTube uploaders and that’s well-reflected in the design of the products. However, I remain skeptical that, with the possible exception of “extreme” helmet cams and , there will be much pickup for these inexpensive camcorders among younger consumers, who are comfortable using their digital cameras and phones to upload video. And in the case of cell phones, uploading wirelessly to YouTube will clearly be something more common in the future. So much of YouTube content is around the spontaneous capture, which means the spoils go to the camcorder you always have with you.
I’ll have more to say about competition to the Flip elsewhere, but Erica Ogg quotes me in a great post that includes an interview with Pure Digital CEO Jonathan Kaplan in which he makes the bold proclamation, "The way Apple has revolutionized music, we will revolutionize video." Let’s start with FlipShare importing and transcoding the dizzying number of file formats out there.
Tags: flash camcorders, Flip Ultra, Pure Digital
March 20, 2009
At Technologizer, Harry McCracken, again showing that he is the king of context when it comes to tech blogging, cleverly compares Cisco’s acquisition of Pure Digital and the almost fatal acquisition of Palm Computing by US Robotics shortly before USR’s own purchase by 3Com. I’d argue that in some ways there was more obvious synergy between a networking company and Palm, which would eventually morph into a smartphone company, and Cisco/Pure Digital. Clearly Cisco is striving to establish its brand in the consumer market, and the relatively inexpensive Flip gives it a means of low-priced video acquisition on which to stamp its bridge logo and feed its new NAS (that seems to have a bigger LCD than the Flip!).
This is an interesting time for the category as we are clearly starting to see more blurring between these low-cost flash-based units that have traditionally sold for less than $200 and higher-end flash camcorders that have traditionally sold for more than $500, but that is to be expected as the future of the camcorder is undoubtedly flash memory. For example, while the Flip and the Kodak Zi6 lack an optical zoom, the new Sony Webbie has a 5x optical zoom. As these large-scale manufacturers companies take better advantage of the lower price and smaller size that flash memory increasingly makes easier to enable, Pure Digital may have timed its exit perfectly
Pure Digital originally sought to use disposable camcorders to drive a DVD processing business for drug stores and mass merchants. It may be a good example of what a company can gain when its products become targets for hackers, who had found a way to get video from its original products. This may have helped the company understand the potential for an inexpensive camcorder aimed at moms first and YouTubers (who understand more options for capturing video) second. There are certainly some Apple-like aspects to its products’ designs – minimalism, simplicity, and integrated software, and smallness. (However, I think an Apple camcorder would either have a much larger screen or no screen at all (mino shuffle).
What would Cisco do with the Flip products? Adding Wi-Fi would be a logical next step to get around the buzz-killing upload process. Flip technology could also be leveraged in home monitoring cameras, a market to which Avaak has brought rejuvenated interest. And of course, Cisco owns what was once Scientific Atlanta, so your future cable set-top box might be a platform for videoconferencing as well. Reflecting the increasing blurriness of the category, I’d also expect Cisco to push upstream with higher recording capacity (one of my biggest gripes about the Flip) and optical zoom although I would not expect it to vie with the flagship models from Sony, Canon and Panasonic. The challenge would be to manage all this iPod touch-like platform magic with iPod shuffle-like simplicity, otherwise the mino would be lost. (The mino would be lost.)
There’s also a diamond in the rough in FlipShare, Pure Digital’s revamped video organization software that has potential to be the iPhoto of video, but right now lacks critical features like being able to import videos from sources other than a Flip camcorder (such as the hard drive)..
Tags: Cisco, flash camcorders, Flip, Kodak, Linksys, Pure Digital, Scientific Alanta, Sony
March 8, 2009
The mood was quiet but not desperate last week at PMA. Some of the standout cameras included the Sony HX1 with its crowd-pleasing “sweep panorama” mode, the chunky Kodak Z915 compact 10x superzoom, and the Panasonic Lumix GH1 micro-four-thirds system now with video. Samsung seems to be gearing up to go head-to-head against the Lumix G series with its “hybrid” NX series that will pack an APS-C sensor into something that’s more of a point-and-shoot form factor, but there were only very early prototypes on display.
An article on Crave last week noted that Olympus cannot see its consumer DSLRs going past 12 megapixels. Perhaps the industry is finally starting to see the increasing diminishing returns of higher resolution not only for better image quality per se but as a benefit to promote versus other functionality. I thought the camera that demonstrated this best was Fujifilm’s F200 EXR which uses the Super CCD EXR sensor. In short, the camera can be used to take 12 MP photos when there is ample light or 6 MP when there is less light; the other 6 MP can be used for enhancing dynamic range. This could be a small step toward cameras that can produce true HDR photos in the camera. Fujifilm isn’t the only brand to cut down on megapixels for some other aim, such as the Casio Exilim Pro FH20 high-speed cameras that use smaller photos to produce higher frames-per-second, but I like the trend
Tags: digital cameras, megapixel war
I first wrote about photo key chains back in June 2005 and, since then, Tao and other companies have moved to bigger and in some cases OLED screens that have helped with their poor image quality but mostly they have just come down in price. So, what’s a nice brand like HP doing in a cheesy product like this? Trying to differentiate, of course. Or I suppose after coming down to (but doing a very nice job with) the 3.5” screen size there wasn’t much smaller to go.
First, the keychain has a fold-out USB connector so no more worry about losing the cable. In addition to showing your tiny slice of that which you hold digitally dear, it can display the time and date and read microSD and M2 memory cards, which is its best feature. The most questionable feature is that it can be used to charge certain models of cell phones, but only when it is hooked up to a PC. Still the UI on this thing is one of the best I’ve seen to damn it with faint praise. It should be available later this year at about $25.
Tags: HP, photo keychain