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Switched On: Bringin' da noise brings in da funk

Ross Rubin
R. Rubin|02.22.06

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Ross Rubin
February 22nd, 2006
Switched On: Bringin' da noise brings in da funk
Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a weekly column about the future of technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:

At next week Photo Marketing Association show, all eyes will be on the viewfinders, LCDs, and output of digital cameras. As growth of these cameras slows in the U.S. within the next few years, though, manufacturers need to continue to increase their appeal. One feature that has improved dramatically in the past few years is digital video capture. Many digital cameras can now capture 30 frames per second of digital video until they fill their storage media, and conserve space with advanced codecs such as MPEG-4 used by Kodak and DivX used by Pentax. Legacy limitations such as not being able to zoom while recording video are also starting to fade to black.

The expedience with which consumers can now capture high-quality digital video clips with their cameras is spurring a wave of digital video sharing services such as Google Video and YouTube, where consumers can share their amateur porn precious memories. Paradoxically, though, in this online video renaissance, the previous champion video capture device -- the camcorder -- has been left holding the accessory bag. While increasingly popular DVD-based units have greatly simplified the path to playback on the television, they've done little to bridge the online gap or shrink the size of the devices. Here slim flash memory-powered digital cameras have a great advantage.
While manufacturers ranging from Sony to Sanyo have experimented with digital camcorders or hybrid camera-camcorders that fit in one's pocket, video from some of these devices -- particularly when shooting indoors under low-light conditions -- is grainy and noisy. While digital cameras can take advantage of a flash to temporary improve the lighting at a moment in time, these compact devices can't generate enough light to eliminate noise from even a relatively well-lit room without ambient light.

Today's "anti-noise" technologies help a bit, but I'm still trying to shoot as much digital video from my camera outside as possible. Despite the relatively mild winter we've had here in New York City, this isn't ideal. The indoor video produced by the $600 Xacti C5 I purchased after Thanksgiving last year was so unwatchable and noisy -- far below that of a $300 entry-level MiniDV camcorders -- that I returned it, disappointed by a product that had an otherwise exceptional design.

Which company will solve this problem for a compact device, and will it do so well enough to compensate for other potential disadvantages in its products? Canon and Sony still have strong camcorder businesses although Sony was an early champion of better quality video in digital cameras. Kodak and Fuji would rather drive prints although the latter has shown some promising noise reduction in still images. Casio has recently placed a strong emphasis on video capture, although the Exilims often don't rate as high as competitors on still image quality. And while JVC has recently focused its Everio hard-drive camcorders toward larger form factors where it can take advantage of better optics, zoom capabilities, and larger capacities, although the products help bridge the online gap. The convenience of media-free digital video is liberating, but for now, it still has its dark side.

Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis at NPD Techworld, a division of market research and analysis provider The NPD Group. Views expressed in Switched On, however, are his own. Feedback is welcome at fliptheswitch@gmail.com.

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