Product Review: Aiptek MPVR Digital Camcorder
THE DREAM OF THE TAPELESS CAMCORDER
For two years, I have been in pursuit of the perfect low-end, inexpensive, flash memory, video camera. This search has proved more illusive than I ever imagined. For some mysterious reason, this product, whose singular purpose is to shoot and record compressed video for the web, does not exist in any pure form. This leaves me scratching my head for a number of reasons. First, the proliferation of flash memory video cameras in hundreds of cell phones, PDA’s, and digital cameras, beckons the development of tiny, inexpensive devices that can record video for myriad purposes. Second, the recent explosion of video on the net, epitomized by YouTube and Google Video as well as the entry of News Corp’s Myspace into the realm of streaming video. Third and less obvious is the success of Tivo and other Digital Video Recorders. These insights become obvious to me last week when I found the first digital video camera that met my stated objectives.
It was for no practical reason whatsoever that I wandered into Best Buy last Thursday. When I walked out, I had in my possession one Aiptek MPVR, which I procured, along with a 1GB SD card for less than $250. I never spend more than $150 on an impulse buy, and I most certainly shouldn’t have; however, I felt a certain buzz when I saw the indiscriminately shelved package that this might be the product I am seeking.
The Aiptek MPVR is marketed as a six-in-one (6mp digital camera, video recorder, mp3 player, voice recorder, video player, web camera). I am not going to talk about all of these functions since I am chiefly concerned with the video recording attributes, but I mention this to illustrate a point. There are many inexpensive, hybrid devices on the market, and as one would expect, they are mostly terrible. These products are poorly designed and completely inadequate for all practical purposes. The controls are put in the wrong place, the menus are non-intuitive, the cameras have lousy image quality, and the video quality ranges from terrible to most awful. I must conclude that the purpose of these neato products is for people to think they are getting a good deal without realizing they have to shell out an additional $50-$100 for a flash card.
THERE IS A LIGHT
The Aiptex MPVR is by no means a panacea, but it is the best example of value and performance in a low-end, tape-less camcorder I have seen thus far. After several years of selling novelty cameras through various schlock-dealers, Aiptek has evolved into a worthy and sophisticated brand. Their camcorder is cute, well put together, and seemingly resilient. It runs on a li-ion cell phone battery, a smart choice that combines the power and durability of Lithium with the affordability of a mass-produced battery. The menu is intuitive and relatively comprehensive, demonstrating Aiptek’s competence in UI design. A switch on the top of the camera toggles the lens to macro, which doesn’t produce the sharpest images, but allows some control over depth of field. In addition to white balance, the MPVR has exposure and shutter control. The LCD display is not terrific, but it can be positioned in any direction.
My favorite feature is the video-in cable, which allows you to plug your camera into a VCR or DVD player and record straight to flash disc. I sometimes leave my camera plugged into the TV for those times when I see something I want to record and put on the Internet (Poor Man’s TIVO). It is also an adequate tool for digitizing old tapes. While the 640×480 video may not be suitable for archival purposes, those old VHS tapes aren’t getting any younger. I’m so excited about this camera that I plan to buy another. I may buy a third, if for no other reason than to stave off the threat of the threat of the dreaded black box.
Rather than install the software I got with the camera, I opted instead to mount the camera as a drive on my USB port and drag the asf files off of the flash card onto my harddrive. I have taken great pains to find a way of converting those tricky ASF files into QuickTime MOV files, and I’ve found a method that works pretty well. I will post it in the next blog, but here’s just a taste: Quicktime Pro, VLC Player, and FFMPEG. Until then…