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Switched On: With flash camcorder, Pure Digital shoots and scores


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Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about the future of technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:

When Pure Digital released its disposable camcorder last year, I praised its size, simplicity, and services integration. My two main quibbles with the product were price (particularly since you needed to order an expensive DVD to get your video out of it) and especially quality. Putting its QVGA output on a DVD was like waxing a floor that needs to be sanded – it won't do anything to fix the rough spots.

There was a large price and value gap between the disposable camcorder and even low-end offerings from Canon, Sony and the like. Now Pure Digital has aimed squarely at the center of that gap with the Point and Shoot Camcorder aimed at "everyday video." While the PureDigital one will initially be sold exculsively at Target for about $130, Thomson Consumer Electronics will also release a version under an RCA brand needing to appear more forward-focused while not alienating its mainstream customer base.

The Point and Shoot Camcorder looks very similar to its disposable predecessor and retains most of its predecessor's simple interface. There is still no menu button, for example. The most noteworthy hardware difference is a spring-loaded "pop-out" USB port that snaps from flush with the unit's side to a 90-degree angle after you push on a sliding switch. It's a playful gimmick that complements the product's casual appeal, but I wonder about its durability.

Plugging the USB port into a Windows PC prompts you to use the browsing software resident on the device. The interface, created in Adobe (nee Macromedia) Director software, is similar to the one on the DVD-ROMs created from Pure Digital's processing retailers, and makes it easy to share video clips with friends via email, automatically downsizing them to save download time. Unlike with the disposable camcorder, there is no option to have the video hosted and transcoded on the fly for the best platform and bandwidth, but Pure Digital says it is working on adding that functionality.

Advanced users can dispense with all this, of course, and just drag video files from the camcorder's icon since it mounts like a USB flash drive. And Apple fans: the Point and Shoot camcorder can now be the other white little digital media gadget you carry with you everywhere; the camcorder comes with Mac OS X software.

Until now, the flash camcorder space has been bifurcated between high-end options from the likes of Panasonic and Sanyo that can cost $600 or more after a beefy SD card, and what I call "cramcorders" -- gadgets that do a generally poor job at a variety of tasks including taking photos and playing music. The Point and Shoot camcorder is affordable and singularly focused. In fact, according to Pure Digital, its reliance on a relatively low-resolution sensor helps avoid the noise problems in low-light video common among even more expensive offerings; I was impressed with the low amount of noise in indoor video. Furthermore, the Point and Shoot camcorder captures video at VGA, four times the resolution of its disposable doppelganger.

The result is video that lies between acceptable indoors, where more compression artifacts can be noticed, and good outdoors. Whereas Pure Digital overpromised with the quality of its initial disposable offering, it offers credible video quality with this follow-up, good enough for its target of "everyday video." When compared with video captured by a Canon PowerShot SD400, the digital camera's superior optics and lower compression created a sharper image, but again the Pure Digital offering excelled in reducing low-light noise.

Digital cameras will be the toughest competition for the new device. While they offer as good if not better daytime video, though, their bundled software isn't tuned to handling video the way Pure Digital's is, and whereas most PC novices would never be able to create a DVD from a digital camera's video clips, the same service providers that can master DVDs from the disposable camcorders can also do so with this one (although it remains expensive). For those looking for a straightforward way to take decent digital video, it's a winner.

Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis for consumer technology at market research and analysis firm The NPD Group and a contributing editor for LAPTOP. Views expressed in Switched On are his own. Feedback is welcome at

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