Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:
My mama raised me to treat everyone equally, but I have to admit that I have this thing about zombies. Now I know you shouldn't judge someone by the color of their rotting flesh or whom they eat. However, those pale-green cannibalistic undead just make my skin crawl -- not literally like theirs does, mind you, but crawl nonetheless. To set up a quick and inexpensive monitoring solution to alert me of their presence this Halloween, I needed to use my brain before they did.
The first product I checked out was the $179 "Secret Security Camcorder Hidden in a Clock" from The Sharper Image, the awkward name of which may have been even scarier than the zombies themselves. Such spycams are, of course, effective only as long as they remain unrecognized, and appearing in a national store chain and catalog may defeat some of the clock's clandestine advantage. The "clockcorder" uses 64 MB of flash memory to record up to 12 minutes of motion-activated QVGA video encoded using DivX; its capacity can also be expanded using SD cards. The product can also run entirely on batteries for more placement flexibility.
Without any LCD or way to preview the video, the camcorder clock relies on an adjustable base and a clever mirrored button similar to the tiny round mirrors used for taking pictures of yourself on cameras and camera phones. In fact, the device is so simple to use that the manual devotes more space to the clock functions than the camcorder ones. To play back video, you can either pop the SD card out of the clock and into your PC or connect the clock to your PC via an included USB cable. (Unfortunately, the cover for the USB port fits poorly.) Video files can be played by Windows Media Player on the PC or QuickTime on either the PC or Mac after adding the DivX component.