Limited but Web-friendly-- Sharp Viewcam
by Alan Zisman
(c) 2000. First
published in Toronto Computes,
Sharp VN-EZ1 Internet Viewcam
Sharp Electronics of Canada
There?s the point about the dancing dog?the issue
isn?t really that
it?s not a very good dancer, that it dances at all is praiseworthy.
That;s what comes to mind when I think of Sharp
Electronics? new Internet
Viewcam, otherwise known as the VN-EZ1 MPEG-4 Digital Recorder.
In an era of megapixel digital cameras, its still
photos are stuck at
a 640x480. That doesn?t sound very impressive, especially given the
$1300 pricetag?which would buy a standard digital camera with much
But it really wasn?t designed to be just another in
the pack of digital
cameras. Instead, as the name suggests, the Internet Viewcam was
to be a handy source of stills, audio, and video for the Web. And if
looking to post various media on the Web, much more important
the screen size is file size?how much bandwidth will it take to get
file down to the end-user.
And here?s where the Viewcam does well?by being one of
the first hardware
devices built around the MPEG-4 video compression standard, it can
video clips that are small enough to be streamed over the Internet, or
added as e-mail attachments?not only is it usable for those with Web
but the rest of us can use it send Grandma videos of our one-year old?s
first steps. Sharp notes that a 2 meg MPEG-4 clip could contain as much
as four minutes of video, compared to about 10 seconds of footage in a
similarly-sized, old-standard MPEG-1 file.
It?s a pretty neat little gadget, as well?small and
light enough to
fit into a shirt pocket, its lens swivels right around, so you can even
take pictures of yourself! Files are saved onto standard SmartMedia
4 meg card is included, with SmartMedia available in sizes up to 32
which allow for up to an hour of saved video (including audio).
Sharp includes a floppy disk adaptor, so it?s quick
and easy to transfer
still pictures, audio, and video clips to a computer, by popping the
card into the adaptor, and then reading it on your computer.
Of course, something has to be given up for all this
handiness. In this
case, it?s picture quality. Not only are the still photos limited to
size (though who would want any larger photos for on-screen,
Internet display?), but the videos are back to the 160-120 pixel
sized frames of days past. And even at that small size, don?t expect 30
frame per second full motion video. Or anything close. Think frame
of 5-15 fps, making for jerky movement at best. (You can shoot in
320x240 quarter-screen sized, but frame rate drops to a very jerky 2-5
And in a perhaps controversial move, Sharp is limiting
to Microsoft?s ASF?Advanced Streaming Format. No Quicktime support, so
no Mac support. (Of course, the floppy disk adaptor wouldn?t work well
on your new generation floppy-less Macs, as well). Clips can be viewed
using recent versions of Microsoft?s Media Player.
PixLab Media Browsing software is included, including
and compression tools. The editing tool is pretty basic?you can cut and
paste, and that?s about it. The on-camera controls, however, are nicely
designed and easy to use?a series of menus in the 1.8? LCD viewfinder
it easy to choose between options for recording and playback.
Like with our dancing dog, the Internet Viewcam?s
performance is strictly
limited?you can easily get better quality still photos, audio, or
More powerful video editing software, and a choice of file formats
be a real plus. But maybe that doesn?t matter?the ability to create
streaming video at all in such a small package is a wonder?and for the
right user, that?s what matters the most.