Two days at E3 with a Vicon Revue life-blogging camera (video)

Tim Stevens
T. Stevens|06.25.10

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Two days at E3 with a Vicon Revue life-blogging camera (video)
Each year the video gaming Mecca that is the Electronics Entertainment Expo seems to get a little more... stale. I've been attending since 1997, back when PC games dominated the show floor, scantily-clad mascots were everywhere, and press releases were handed out in three-ring binders. Despite the increasing sameness of it all it's still a huge privilege to go, an invitation I receive every summer and wish I could share with all my gamer friends -- which is, at this point, just about all of them. This year, thanks to Vicon, who kindly let me borrow one of its wearable Revue cameras, I can finally take you all along for the ride.
The Revue is basically a re-brand of Microsoft's SenseCam, designed way back in 2004 as a tool to capture people's very existences -- one picture at a time. Vicon is bringing it to the masses as the Revue, at a very stiff premium despite its six-year-old specs. This VGA camera takes photos every 30 seconds or so, storing them to 1GB of storage. The cost? A whopping £500. That's about 750 of my hard-earned dollars.

Why so 'spensive? The device is aimed at research, particularly surrounding memory, where subjects wearing the cameras have been shown to exhibit greater retention after looking over their day's photos. The camera connects and charges via USB and software is included (an Adobe AIR app) to extract the photos and then tag and search them later, but the experience is hardly premium. For one thing the app doesn't detect the camera unless you remove it and plug it back in again, and once the photos are sucked onto your system there's no easy way to export them back out again. (Pro-tip: on Windows they're buried under the "Vicon Revue Data" folder in My Documents.)

As far as the hardware goes, that VGA sensor is both a blessing and a curse. Image quality is decidedly low, but tiny files (just 25KB) means an entire day will clock in at around 40MB. Joystiq editor (and math savant) Chris Grant determined that if a person captured their entire life in this way it'd take up a little over 1TB of storage -- smaller than your average NAS these days. The wide-angle lens can also produce some interesting shots and, while the purist within me was left wanting better quality images, this thing less about capturing your day with stunning detail and more about simply capturing what happened, and that it does.

That said, not all aspects of the hardware can be spun so positively. The unit houses a number of sensors that are supposed to work together and determine the "right time" to take a picture, but we found it rarely deviating from the 30 second mark. Even when stuffed in a bag during a private meeting it still kept clicking away without a single photon to tickle its CCD, as you can see at the 3:38 mark in the video. Also, its use is somewhat less than intuitive, offering three buttons and three blinking LEDs, none of which are labeled. I had a hard time remembering what they all mean -- I can only imagine the issues someone suffering from problematic memory would have. Oh, and in case you're wondering, one of those buttons enables privacy mode, the idea being you tap it before entering the bathroom to prevent it capturing you doing your duty.

Yes, I forgot to hit that button more than once. No, the resulting pictures are not in the video (I hope).

Suffice to say it was an interesting experience wearing this around for two days, an experience captured in the video above starting with Nintendo's pre-show conference, traversing the show floors multiple times, camping out in the press room for many hours (most of which I excluded in the sake of brevity), and, finally, ending at a bar in the Figueroa Hotel. Due to time constraints I sadly wasn't able to do something less frivolous with this, like seeing if it could actually improve the memory of my father, who suffers from vascular dementia. And, given the current cost of this thing, it's unlikely I'll be doing that on my own in the future. At $750 I'm going to hazard a guess that I'm not the only one thinking this thing doesn't quite fit into their budget, but I'm sure with a little searching some far cheaper alternatives could be found... even though life-blogging today is decidedly less trendy than it was six years ago.
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