Review of Video Technology Predictions in 1995

I was reflecting recently upon a column, “Views of the Future”, I wrote 14 years ago for the May 1995 issue.

I’d like to share my long-term projections on where video production technology is headed. Video cameras will become easier to operate and lighter. The videotapes will become smaller. DAT (digital audio tape) and the proposed DVT (digital video tape) are half as big as 8mm tapes. There are even smaller tapes on the market for a device called a “scoopman;”the tapes for this device are as small as a postage stamp. It’s likely that hard disks (similar to those used in laptops) will work their way into camcorders within a few years.

This prediction seems to have come true but I neglected to mention solid state media (flash memory cards).

Another concept that I strongly believe in is the separation of the camera from the recording device. This may seem like a step back to the days of portable VCRs, but the idea takes on new dimensions now that the technology is so small that the user doesn’t have to suspend the device in front of his or her face in order to operate it. Placing the recording device on the hip like a Walkman would free the user to concentrate more skills and effort into handling the camera.

This prediction also seems to have come true mostly for action sports. These cameras are hard to hold steady and produce “jerky” shots.

Great video requires a great lens, which usually weighs a few pounds (take a look at Canon’s L2). But decent video doesn’t require a very large lens-combined with the CCD, such a lens weighs less than a pound. Smaller camcorders have led to shakier images. Image stabilization has helped a great deal with this and will only get better.

Image stabilization was very primitive in 1995. It has gotten much better but I have not seen it used on separate video cameras.

But one of the best ways to stabilize a video image is to use your shoulder. Full-size VHS and even some compact camcorders are long enough to touch your shoulder. This stabilizes the camcorder because your body is more stable than your arms. But why not simply mount the camcorder onto your shoulder (or perhaps even your head) for even greater stabilization? Two reasons: access to the viewfinder and the controls.

I was off base here. Camcorders that are long enough to touch your shoulder are more stable because of the triangulation achieved when the shoulder and the hand both play a role in supporting the camera. This triangulation makes the camera move with the entire torso rather than just the shoulder or just the hand. But the concept about not being able to see the viewfinder has changed now that we have movable LCD viewfinders rather than locked eyepieces.

Manufacturers could integrate viewfinders into head gear. This could be a setup as elaborate as virtual reality or as simple as a product like Virtual Vision’s sport glasses. They could also build small LCD monitors into devices worn like eye glasses. In fact, several of these products just hit the market in the past few months. If manufacturers could integrate both the camera lens and CCD into a unit like this, then they’d have a two-piece unit, with the video recorder in a belt pack and the rest of the unit in a pair of fancy glasses.

As far as access to the focus and zoom goes, you could manipulate these controls from the belt pack, or perhaps from a wired or wireless handheld remote. This remote could be as simple as the one used to control your TV or as elaborate as an air mouse-a device (such as a glove or wand) used to control a cursor that shows up on the monitor/viewfinder, providing an interface similar to Windows or Mac scroll bars.

In the end, the user of this device would look like someone using a large Walkman with glasses in addition to the headphones.

In February of 2009, students at the MIT Media Lab demonstrated a wearable computing system that turns any surface into an interactive display screen. The prototype was built from an ordinary webcam and a battery-powered 3M projector, with an attached mirror all connected to an internet-enabled mobile phone. The setup, which costs less than $350, allows the user to project information from the phone onto any surface – walls, the body of another person or even your hand.

I closed that column in 1995 with the line, “You read it here first, folks.”And so you have.

Matthew York is Videomaker’s Publisher/Editor.

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