Disposable Video Camera Convenient, Accessible

At first blush, the idea seemed a little wacky to me.

But when drug store giant CVS announced its US$29.95 one-time-use digital video camera (DVC), I couldn’t resist the temptation to check it out.

Look Ma, No Tape

The video cameras are made by a San Francisco outfit called Pure Digital Technologies, which last summer partnered with CVS to introduce one-time-use digital still cameras into the chain.

Unlike most DVCs, which use some form of tape for storage, the CVS unit stores its video in built-in flash memory.

The five-ounce camcorder is marvelously compact–about the size of compact point-and-shoot still snapbox — and can be conveniently toted around in a purse or jacket pocket.

LCD Wash Out

Although the DVC looks like a still camera, you use it in a vertical rather than horizontal orientation.

On the back of the unit, there’s a 1.4-inch color liquid crystal display (LCD) that’s comparable to those found on low-end point-and-shoot digital cameras.

As with many cameras using LCDs, the screen washes out in bright sunlight. That’s why some cameras also include an optical viewfinder for framing shots. There’s no viewfinder in the CVS unit, however.

Elegant Ease of Use

To shoot video, simply line up your shot in the LCD and press the large, orange record button. When your shot is complete, press the button again to stop recording.

If you want to review the scene you’ve just shot, you can press the unit’s preview button. Don’t like the shot? Press delete.

However, you can only delete your most recent footage. Once you shoot another scene, you’re stuck will whatever you shot previously.

The vidcam is elegantly easy to use. Even my four-year-old had no problems shooting with it — although his framing could use some work.

DVD in Two Hours

When you’ve filled up the camera, you can take it to a local CVS and, for $12.99, two hours later have a DVD of your video in your hands.

The DVD will play in a standard player or a computer.

When played on a computer, the DVD has some added features. You can create video greeting cards or e-mail scenes to friends.

All MPEG Not Equal

You don’t actually e-mail the video to an acquaintance. When you use the program’s e-mail feature, it stores your video online where it can be accessed from a link in the e-mail message to your correspondent.

The online video can be viewed in a Web browser as a video stream or downloaded and played in Windows media player or Apple QuickTime.

About 20 minutes of MPEG-2 video can be stored in the camera. No doubt, you’ve heard that MPEG-2 is the format used on Hollywood DVDs. While that’s true, not all MPEG-2 is created equal.

Not Up to VHS

For instance, the JVC Everio camcorder, which sells in the $800 to $1000 range, stores one hour of MPEG-2 video on a small hard drive that holds four billion bytes of data. The CVS camera is storing 20 minutes of MPEG-2 video in 128 million bytes of memory.

You don’t have to be a math whiz to deduce that the CVS camera is compressing its video far more than its expensive counterpart. And the more you compress MPEG-2, the bigger the drop-off in quality.

To say that the video produced by the CVS camera is VHS quality would be stretching things a bit, as well as impugning the reputation of VHS.

Quality Versus Convenience

Indoor scenes were oftentimes muddy. Outdoor scenes were sharper, but color fidelity was erratic. No matter what the locale, there was always visible pixilation, better known as the “jaggies.”

Surprisingly, the camera’s sound was as good as that found in many economy camcorders.

While the CVS one-time-use camcorder has many deficiencies, you can’t deny its convenience or its potential to inspire: Think wedding reception or class reunion with a camcorder on every table. Quality is nice, but when possibility calls, expediency can be better.

John Mello is a freelance business and technology writer who can be reached at [email protected].

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