Gadget: Internet Viewcam VN-EZ1U
October 22, 1999
by David Pescovitz
(IDG) -- One of the most annoying things about e-mail is the flood of unsolicited attachments. It's difficult to tactfully request that distant relatives refrain from sending unstuffed JPEGs of their new babies, pets or homes. Instead, you have to just grin and take a bathroom break as the files download, painfully slowly if you're on a dialup connection. Well, things are about to get worse.
Sharp's Internet ViewCam VN-EZ1U is a palm-size digital camcorder (1.7 inches thick, about the size of a floppy disk) that records up to 7.5 minutes of MPEG-4 compressed video and audio on its 4MB SmartMedia memory card. (An optional 32MB card is on the way.) The FlashPath floppy disk adapter enables the memory cards to be read by your PC and e-mailed, uploaded or stored on your hard drive in the Advanced Streaming Format, playable on the Windows 95/98 Media Player or Microsoft's Macintosh or Unix players. The bundled PixLab Media Browser, ASF Extractor, Mail Attacher and HTML Creator are useful for placing the video where you want it – like in the e-mail boxes of your entire extended family.
Notably, the Internet ViewCam is the first digital camcorder to use the MPEG-4 compression format, which creates files one-third the size of MPEG-1. But this innovation is as much a drawback as it is an attraction. As long as you don't move the camera while recording, you'll grab reasonable-quality footage in an amazingly compact file size. But try to pan or go for handheld motion shots and the MPEG-4 result is a choppy, strobed-out video best left for avant-garde filmmakers.
Like most digital still cameras, the Internet ViewCam uses a 1.8-inch color LCD as its viewfinder, while the 270-degree rotating lens (with 4X digital zoom) and self-timer make it easy to film yourself. Of course, the device features digital still features, as well. But with a maximum resolution of 640-by-480 pixels, it doesn't come close to providing the image quality of the new megapixel digital cameras.
A keen idea, but hardly practical enough to justify its price.
Get in the (video) game with GameCam
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