Friday, March 25, 2005

Gizmo report

I promised I would report on the Aiptek DV5300 I ordered. So far I would have to say it performs well, considering how inexpensive it was (note, I seem to have gotten a good deal, as the typical street price is around $120 now).

I've posted some video here (mostly of our physics building and the Institute of Theoretical Science - if your player has trouble connecting to the stream, just right-click and download the whole file). It is shot in ASF, 352 x 288 pixels and 30 frames per second. You can see some pixellation when I move the camera too fast. VGA (= TV) quality is possible at 640 x 480, but only 11 FPS, so is jerkier. The next generation of cameras at this price point will do 30 FPS at VGA resolution. Note that ASF is a Microsoft MPEG4 variant, so you may have trouble viewing it on OS X or a unix machine. I think you'll see manufacturers supporting more open MPEG4 formats like divX before long.

Ergonomically the camera is very easy to operate, with separate buttons for still photos and video capture. Still photos are not bad, but the optics are not as good as in my Sony Cybershot. I think digital video cameras using MPEG4 are the future - 1 GB of SD flash will store hours of fairly high quality footage, and units with 20-40GB hard drives aren't far away. Image files upload to a PC using a USB cable.

Core technologies in these devices: the CMOS (or CCD, in higher end models) chips for image capture, image processing CPU, some simple software controlling camera functions, and flash memory. Aiptek, a small Taiwanese company, designed the camera, but it was assembled in China. The market for these devices is obviously very competitive and fast-moving. The next generation of cameras will be out within a year. Higher end devices are typically made by Japanese companies (Sony, Sanyo, Panasonic), but probably also assembled in China. I don't see a big technology gap here - given slightly bigger R&D budgets and better distribution the little guys could easily out-innovate the bigger players.

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