CES Wrap-up: Where Comfortable Shoes Meets Video High-Tech
Exiting the Las Vegas airport to grab a shuttle for the LV Convention Center, I often feel exactly like Jed Clampett of the Beverly Hillbillies did when his shotgun uncovered that "bubbling crude."
I've been attending the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) for enough years - and by that I mean even before the days of the Chicago Summer version - to know that the real highlights are never found on the massive floors of the convention halls. It's not often the "big boys" who make my day (apologies to Clint Eastwood), but the small entrepreneurs and companies found in the hotels, smaller meeting rooms and side alleys.
Knowing better than to go to the hotel room, my first stop is the Press room in the South Hall. Passing the "Blogger Lounge," I file it away in my head as a good place to catch my breath later - noticing that Videomaker's own Tom Skowronski is chatting up with Jon Landau, the producer of Avatar (See Sidebar). To assume that they're talking about 3D seems a safe conclusion, but I'm stoked on seeing some 3D tech working myself. A quick glance around the Press room, a cup of coffee and a bagel wrapped in a napkin, and I'm off. Let's beat the concrete and see what we can find.
Panasonic 3D Full HD Camera Recorder
Which is to say Panasonic HAS to be the first stop - a full HD 3D camcorder using two lenses that you can actually carry around (albeit on a tripod if you don't want the shakes). The 3D Full HD Camcorder is part of Panasonic's 3D Full HD production system, adding to the twin-lens P2 Pro camcorder a 3D-compatible High-definition plasma. While still in development, the P2's non-mechanical solid-state construction allows for a compact shape making 3D shooting less restrictive (as has been the case). What gets shot might not be the next Avatar, but it will most likely be out sooner.
Casio Exilim EX-FH100 Digital Camera
Digital cameras have gotten so feature laden that they've forgotten what they were designed for in the first place: taking pictures as well as shooting video. That's where the high-speed "shutter" of this Casio takes over. Shooting a few frames per second can slow things a bit, but capturing up to one-thousand (1000fps!) frames per second means slow-motion video that's crazy delicious. Talk about seeing things "frozen" in time.
Sony FX Handycams
Sony's Handycams have never been accused of being puny when it comes to the technology powering the video, but don't you think it's time they joined the ranks of all of those SD memory card users? The new FX series builds in support for SD cards, which means you can leave the pain of trying to find a large enough memory stick to the forgotten past. Of course there are advanced features and quality optics working, but now memory needs can be easily fulfilled.
Fuji W1 Digital Camera
With 3D being all the craze now, hats off to Fuji for jumping into the arena head first. The W1 shoots 3D still images as you'd expect from a "3D" camera, but video can also be captured in the "third-dimension". As you'd expect, you need a good sized memory card since 3D video is pretty large and the camera shuts down after about 20 minutes are shot. Of course the fact that the video is in a new format means everybody has to scramble to support it - otherwise what's the use? Viewing the 3D doesn't change the need for a 3D-equipped TV and glasses, unless you go with Fuji's half-a-grand Digital Picture/Movie player that uses glass tech to let you watch a 3D effect without sticking anything on your face.
Never think that lighting a location is boring - rarely will you get the chance to just hit everything with a burst of daylight and call it quits. So filling in a scene, where, for example, you have a lobby where daylight mixes with tungsten lamps, can be dicey. Or rather, "blended" because Lowel's new lamp head uses twin arrays of color-accurate LEDs to let you twist a knob for mixing daylight and tungsten color temperatures together for the most natural look. The Blender includes diffusers, fits on a camera top or compact light stand and will run off of video camera batteries if you don't want to trail a power cord from an AC source.
Magix Video Pro X2
Building off a already highly-developed video technology and a flexible user interface, the popular video editing and post production software pumps itself up even further with version 2.0. What's new? Handling Window 7 like a champ, for one. Improved multiprocessor and audio effects support too.
Shure X2u XLR-to-USB Signal Adapter
Good sound rarely comes from the camcorder's built-in mic, which begs the question: who makes an adaptor so I can use that high-falutin' mic with my laptop on location? Shure does, for one, and the X2u XLR-to-USB Signal Adaptor does its digital best controlling the input signal strength. It lets you know what's going on with its built-in headphone monitoring and easy controls for balancing mic and playback audio. Better than CD quality and plug-and-play USB capabilities on Mac and PCs means you're not stuck with junky sound.
Kodak PlaySport Zx3 Pocket Camcorder
Thinking of Kodak as a winner when it comes to casual "handycams" stretches the bounds of imagination - well it did, but not now. A reasonably priced camcorder that shoots HD video (1080i or 720p) is a good start, as is adding electronic image stabilization to avoid the jitters that few seem to avoid when shooting with one hand. Face-tracking tech makes sense too (especially as you can shoot 5 megapixel stills in widescreen), but the best part is that it's waterproof! Yep, drop it in the sink or dive into the pool and as long as you don't hit the 10 foot (3 meter) mark, you and the PlaySport will be fine.
Creative Vado HD Pocket Cam
That eyes will turn when you pull out the Vado is a given - it's just that attractive. But having tech inside that's just as pretty makes the cam a winner: start with a wide-angle lens and manual exposure controls for that. Add external stereo mic support for leaving the built-in out of the "picture" or take high-res stills to accompany the two hours of 1080i or 720p HD video you can shoot. Add a HDMI video output to go direct to a HDTV if you don't want to use the built-in USB for transferring video to a Mac or PC (don't forget the removable rechargeable battery which means you can carry spares around). Finally, put the Vado into motion detection mode and let it start itself the next time your arms ache from holding a cam up while waiting for Shamu to jump out of the water.
Cisco FLIP Mino HD
Calling a new iteration of an existing camcorder "next-generation" can be risky if you don't deliver some significant differences that are readily understood. Fortunately, Cisco hasn't faulted here, because the Mino MD doubles the memory, enlarges the screen and adds direct uploading to Facebook. That should make many folks happy. Capturing HD is still the name of the game, but adding a brushed metal finish jazzes up the look for the style conscious (don't forget you can personalize the cover with thousands of available designs if you're not into making your own), as well as making the touch-sensitive buttons.
DXG 3DView Pocket Cam
DXG is diving into 3D video with a pistol-grip pocket cam that, if nothing else, makes for a sensible hold while shooting. Dual lens combine with dual video recording streams perform the 3D "magic" while an extra display shifting off to the side can be used for glasses-less 3D content viewing. That it's coming out later this year could be true, but that what we saw isn't ready for prime time yet is also true.
VIZIO XVT Pro Series HDTVs
All this talk about HD camcorders has made me thirsty...for a wireless HD solution that can let me avoid having to pop cables between my videos and the HDTV. So while a 72-inch LED-driven XVT Pro HDTV from Vizio can join the parade, I want its high-def wireless HDMI leading as the Grand Marshal. Because being able to stream Full HD wirelessly using 60GHz technology should make for a robust signal - even if you do have to go and drop a few more dollars on the Vizio Wireless HDMI adapter for your video source.
Sharp AQUOS Quad-Pixel HDTV
Call me old fashioned, but doesn't anybody care about making an HDTV that LOOKS good? Give a shout out for the engineers at Sharp, because they think the opposite of color blind is color overwhelmed. As in beefing up their HDTVs from millions of colors to trillions. The quad-pixel tech adds another color element to the mix and so shading goes up more than just a notch. Will you notice this on one of their sets out in the Spring? Maybe not. Maybe all you'll notice is how lifelike the image looks. If that's the case, then you've noticed correctly.
Wacom intuous 4 Professional Pen Tablet
The biggest beef about drawing on a computer is that there's none of that feedback you have on paper (whether your drawing ability is any good or not is another issue altogether). But if you're going to add imaging to videos through software you are pretty much restricted to a drawing pad. Of course it should be a good drawing pad, which is where Wacom comes in with the Intuous4. It's redesigned to be more responsive both from the physical as well as execution point of view. Different sizes means a more sensible approach depending upon your hands and the kind of imaging you draw. The new precision mode and the added levels of pressure sensitivity for dynamically adjusting exposure, brush size, line weight, and opacity are all worth knowing about - and using.
Barber Tech Steddiepod
If a camel is an animal created by committee, then mixing a camera stabilizer, monopod, tripod and doggie cam with a camera boom should lead to interesting results. Which in this case is the Steddiepod that makes camera stabilizing, while on the go, as easy as today's camcorders are light. Pretty much any kind of shot that was stuck to a stand held down by weights is liberated. Helping this along is a spring loaded fluid head with built-in level ball Dutch tilts and legs that twist and fold up for transport.
Don't be a snob like me - sure I take videos with my iPhone 3GS, but I never expect them to be as stable as the ones shot on my camcorder. 'Course I'm not so old that I can't learn a new trick, especially when it involves a comfortable grip that doesn't get in the way of using the iPhone as a, er, phone while bringing the stability of a steadicam to Apple's video-shooting gem. And while Smoothee is designed for the iPhone, the quick release mount can turn into a tabletop stand or put on a tripod for use more conventionally. So even if I start getting the shakes (living in Southern California can do that to you), my iPhone won't be sharing it.
Imation PRo WX Wireless USB External Hard Drive
There was a time when you got excited when a hard drive could be connected to a computer or laptop and just worked. Now it's all about speed - actually no. If it's the Pro WX external drive then it's all about wireless. Plenty of storage (1 Terabyte) is good, as is a fast data transfer speed and dependable parts to keep the drive spinning for a long time. But by adding Wireless USB technology for data transfer, you can leave the drive safely up to 30 feet away and keep it spinning on its merry way as up to 15 megabytes get transferred each second. There's even security built in so that hackers don't grab your data (is it time to put on those foil helmets already?).
Iomega iConnect Wireless Data Station
A Network Attached Storage device (NAS) sounds cool and high-tech. Who doesn't like the idea of being able to access a drive filled with videos throughout your network like the pros do? But who has the time, inclination or the bucks to set one more of these up? That's where iConnect comes in - no it's not from Apple, it's Iomega's great idea with a low price tag too (again, not Apple). Think of it as a "wireless data station" that joins your network quick and fast. Then all you do is plug a USB drive (or more than one) into one of its four USB ports and start using it. Works with Macs and PCs for sure, even the PS3 using that DLNA standard. Built in security protection too. Well done, Iomega.
GoPro HD Helmet HERO
Tired of jury-rigging a camcorder to your bike or ruining yet another bicycle helmet trying to shove a bullet cam through? Be a hero in what you're going to shoot, not how you shoot it by using the HD Helmet Pro. Constructed to do the job you want with precision and a nice 1080p HD video, we're talking pro quality resolution and frames per second with auto exposure handling the chores and a mono mic tossed in. Keep going for almost 3 hours on a single charge and record up to 9 hours if you have a 32GB SD card inserted. And for the still photo folks, you can start the camera recording and have the shutter take over automatically as the 5 megapixel photos go off in a predetermined sequence from 2 to up to 60 seconds. Plus all the cords and strap-mounts you need for attaching it to helmets of your choice. Just remember to let the removable polycarbonate housing do its thing to protect the camera from hazards and water. And, yeah, you CAN clamp it to the bike's handlebars if you want...
Buffalo USB 3.0 ExpressCard
There's an old song about Buffalo gals coming out tonight, but I'd rather dance with a USB ExpressCard that can work with one of those super fast USB 3.0 hard drives. So I'll say hello to the Buffalo guys who make it instead. Popping in the card lets your laptop take advantage of the drive's faster-than-Firewire speed, making it ideal for on-location video recording in real time. Of course fast access to storage space begs plenty of other uses, but the ExpressCard's two slots and up to 5 Gbps is beckoning for some serious use. Of course now I'll have to get one of the USB DriveStation HD-HXU3 3.0 drives from Buffalo as well...
Seagate USB 3.0 External hard Drive Kit for Laptops
...or maybe I'll go with Seagate's solution too. This is a full USB 3.0 solution for laptops using an external drive, and consists of the BlackArmor PS110 USB 3.0 and a USB 3.0 add-in controller card that fits into a PC card slot. Now you're fast, and I mean fast as in up to 100MBps which is about 3X USB 2.0 drives, access to a 500 Gigabyte 2.5 inch drive spinning at 7,200rpm (drawing its power from another USB port).
On to the Next Show...
As much as we'd love to write about every product we saw at CES, besides this writer, Videomaker had seven people in attendance, we can't fill the entire magazine with all our slobberings over new gear coming out. As much as we'd like to, really, truly. So read more about many other new products we saw and companies we got to visit on the Videomaker blog. Until, then, well, we'll be checking out the next tradeshows coming up, as this IS tradeshow season: PMA in February, (Photo Marketing Association) and NAB, (National Association of Broadcasters) in April.
Watch the interview with Jon Landau about Panasonic's 3D technology.
Read our blog about the camera.
Marshal M. Rosenthal is a technology and consumer electronics freelance writer.