what I've heard from this year's Comdex, the show was not about
the convergence of TV and computing as some pundits had expected.
Rather, it was about "divergence," the birth of a new generation
of PC-free "gadgets." Rather than trying to do everything, these
small devices (sometimes also referred to as "information appliances")
focus on doing one thing extremely well.
enough, I was already working on this month's column when I heard
this news. My subject (although I would not have said it this way
earlier) is "camera gadgets."
concept rides on the idea that we're moving beyond the age-old "platform
wars." In my opinion, the future is that the Network will be the
ONLY platform and there will be a HUGE variety of devices that plug
into it for both content creation as well as for distribution and
case you haven't noticed, we're living in a world where six-figure
post-production suites morph into desktops, and where computers
are transitioning into "appliances." In this new electronic environment,
we're also seeing video cameras that are not only digital, but which
are now taking on new varieties of configurations.
as terms like "multimedia" and "digital video" have so many valid
meanings that they can no longer mean anything specific, the same
is becoming true of computers and cameras. Most of us already recognize
that there are more and more variations on what a "computer" means
(i.e. PC's, Palm Pilots, notebooks, network appliances, set top
boxes, digital VCR's like Tivo and Replay, etc.). Now, specialized
video cameras are becoming more network-capable as well as non-linear.
fact, recently, I became intrigued with a selection of these new
devices because I believe that they point to new trends in the divergence
of the videographer's profession and of the video Web. This column
will cover examples of three new camera types: a self-contained
webcam that incorporates a "thin (video) server," a videoconferencing
system that is digitally "married" to a pre-configured streaming
video server, and a "prosumer" camera that records to disk including
an built-in, abbreviated form of non-linear editing.
Communications of Chelmsford, MA has produced a computer/camera/server
combination that weighs only half-a-pound. The drinking flask size
and shaped device includes a video camera (with no sound capabilities)
and an "embedded system" (i.e. a specialized CPU with components
on a customized computer board.)
"tethered" video webcams that require a computer in order to be
connected to the Web or to an Intranet, the Axis
2100 Network Camera has what Axis calls a "thin server" built-in
and delivers high quality and video performance. To configure the
camera on a network, you enter an IP address via a web interface
that calls up web pages that are resident in the systems RAM. In
this way, your network can identify the device, and then you can
use a similar web interface to set preferences. Then, "voila!" Bandwidth
permitting, you can serve up to 15 frames of 640 x 480 motion JPEG
video to web browsers anywhere. And all this from a web camera whose
list price is under $500.
also simplifies the delivery of its streaming video frames because
the Axis Network Camera pushes motion JPEG frames without the need
for a browser plug-in. Instead, the system uses Netscape's support
for server push or a Microsoft Explorer ActiveX command (depending
on the user's browser). Instructions, which appear on the Axis web
site, appear to be relatively straight-forward. This functionality
means that this camera's video streams can be incorporated into
any web page and should appear correctly in any relatively current
was so intrigued by what I saw in the demo that they gave me in
my office that I'm planning to wire a demo Axis Network Camera into
our facility. Using our DSL line, you should be able to see this
camera in action from our office via the Internet by the time you
read this. Please check
in with me over the web and see if our office has gone "live
in cyberspace." If you see us, please say "hi" via the e-mail link
on that page.
commercial and corporate applications include a webcast radio program
that is adding video via the Axis Network Camera, America's True
racing sailboat and a construction company that is monitoring construction
sites for both security and investor relations.
kind of compact camera gadget also raises the question, why tie-up
a camera, computer and other resources when you can improve your
online video quality with a dedicated professional gadget?
Another way to do almost instant webcasting (this time with
audio) is the new Polycom
Streamstation. As their marketing material says, " You can turn
a conference room into a webcasting studio.'" Like the Network
Camera, this approach certainly does not replace the more creative
aspects of our profession; however, it does define a new production
style for ad hoc and relatively spontaneous video communications,
especially for the corporate world.
builds on the audio of the company's almost ubiquitous conference
room speaker phones and its increasingly popular video conferencing
systems. Like everything else, professional video conferencing systems
are increasing in quality, coming down in price and learning how
to connect to the Internet, all at the same time. In fact, Polycom
has become a new leader in this industry with high performance yet
increasingly cost effective systems.
Polycom has added a new dimension with the StreamStation. Built
to be integrated with their ViewStation video conferencing systems,
the StreamStation includes a built-in streaming video server. Initially,
RealNetworks compatible, Polycom is also planning to make the StreamStation
compatible with the Windows Media Player.
this system vastly simplifies the process of putting video on the
web. In the StreamStation's case, unlike the normal streaming video
production, you do not need to capture your video onto a separate
computer, and then compress it, and then post it to a server. All
of that process happens automatically within the StreamStation.
If you want to reach a larger audience than the dozens of simultaneous
streams that the StreamStation supports, you can also configure
the system to post your event to a higher bandwidth video server.
ViewStation/StreamStation systems start in the $10,000 range.
MORE INTERACTIVE CAMERA
been impressed with many innovations from Sony. Among others, the
VX-1000 was a mini-DV standard setter. The integration the VAIO
sub-notebook's micro-digital camera with custom software is quite
cool. And their new Digital8 format is perhaps the best value even
in low-end digital video acquisition.
latest innovation is something that I don't think many people thought
that they would see so soon: a camcorder that records to disk and
offers built-in editing capabilities. Sony Electronics' VP of digital
imaging marketing, Jay Sato described the new Sony MiniDisc (MD)
Discam (DCM-M1) as "an all-in-one video capturing and editing camcorder
that offers a fast and easy PC-free editing experience."
there's my definition of a "gadget." It's must be "PC-free."
unit turns its viewfinder into a full-featured interface that includes
touch-screen controls for indexing and sequencing video scenes complete
with the necessary thumbnail reference images. Among many other
features, this camera also includes titling and special effects
scene transitions and touch-screen, pen-based handwriting for "instant
titling and paint-type graphics." Each MiniDisc can record up to
20 minutes of video, but only "up to 10 minutes" at full resolution.
DCM-M1 also includes an Ethernet port, but it's network-ability
is limited. While the Discam's video is MPEG2 and can be transferred
to a hard drive via Ethernet, its audio uses Sony's ATRAC or the
MiniDisc codec; and those files are not yet PC or Mac compatible.
I suspect that in the future this camera will be more useful for
digital acquisition; however near-term, it's digital video output
lacks audio which severely limits its usefulness in any professional
context. MD Discam is expected to be available in January at consumer
electronics retailers and through Sony
only is the video Web changing in almost every way imaginable, but
it is also now clear that the world of "input devices" for web-based
video content creation and acquisition is changing and will continue
to change quite rapidly as well. In the process, once again, the
definition of the video Web is expanding and morphing right before
month, an overview of the video Web as we move into the new Millenium;
but for now, more than ever, I must insist that you...; Stay tuned.