Thursday, February 08, 2007

Pixelvision Redux: A Note on the Technology

Most of the video on this vlog was recorded with the Fisher Price Vidster camcorder, the latter-day digital cousin on the legendary PXL-2000 children's camcorder. This newer version, released in 2005, never acquired the cachet that the original did. Its image is not as immediately stunning, although one eventually discovers the kodachrome-esque things it does with blues and greens. When it came out, the price ratio between it and bargain-basement mini-DV was negligible (greedy retailers upped the suggested retail 40%, perhaps hoping to benefit from the cult following of the original), so it no longer had the charge of a cheap alternative. (However, you can now get Vidster on eBay for $10-20, while the PXL-2000 still goes for $100-500.) The weirdness factor of recording video on audio tape has been replaced by more standard flash recording: cheaper, but no longer outre.
However, I've enjoyed this camera and its charms, from the way it picks up a corner of sunlight (similar to PXL-2000 sunbursts) to its ruggedness. The Vidster gets closer to the idea of "video pencil" than most cameras that I would treat more like "video nice pen that I got for graduation." Since it records at 15 fps it's perfect for a blog--what you see is what you will get, no compression heartbreaks. It retains the black frame of old pixelvision, so that the image reels in its little charm box, an effect enhanced by the way takes are recorded as discrete files opening onto QuickTime moments (recalling Vivian Sobchack's essay on QuickTime, nostalgia, and Joseph Cornell.) It CAN be used with Macs and Final Cut Pro (regardless of what it says on the box) and has good on-board sound, even though I opted for working dual-system on most of the vlog. In the end, though, I don't think I'll use this camera much longer. I documented a good amount of fragments of 2006 with it*, but--as toys go--it is beginning to lose my attention. I am drawn, however, to this new helmet-cam for kids.
I wonder if the same people who created the first kids' camcorder for Fisher-Price--James Wickstead and Associates--had any input with this second camera. Probably they didn't, since Wickstead sketchily hinted to me that a new color version might be released in 1998, and then it never manifested itself. Click here for my unpublished interview with him in 1997 discussing his invention, and his possible future plans, now past.
*I'm having a little tech trouble with creating fields of Vidster video for this link. They all seem to show up better on Safari, but play easier on Firefox. Try reloading a couple times on a fast connection. (Wait, this may indeed turn out to be a compression heartbreak.)

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Blogger Jonathan said...

Interesting. I never heard of stuff like this before. Strange to imagine kids running around with video cameras strapped to their helmets. I guess the idea is that they run into the house, do something really naughty, film their parents reaction and resist a cuff around the ear all at the same time. My copy of Paterson arrived from the US in the post earlier this week - so I'm now reading from the text...

2:06 PM, February 09, 2007  

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