Kodak MC3 heralds visual communications lifestyle!|
Future Image Inc.
(Wednesday, February 21, 2001 - 16:05 EST)
Video, music, and wireless transmission make this a stand-out.
One of the key themes at the PMA tradeshow this week was the convergence of still and motion digital cameras: still units that capture mini-movies, digital camcorders that take megapixel stills. No device exemplifies that convergence better than Kodak's new MC3 . However, in a move which surprised many but demonstrates to our eyes a new level of PR savvy the product was announced at the exclusive Demo conference rather than the simultaneously-running PMA.
Aimed primarily at teens, this tiny, stylish device records web-resolution video with audio, catches VGA stills, and plays back MP3 music files. All this in a package that will fit in the pocket of the tightest jeans while costing only $279. [Speaking of packages, Kodak will ship the MC3 in a reversible box - - so retailers can stock it in either the music or camera sections.]
In a few short years, all digital imaging capture devices will affordably record both print-quality stills and movie-ready motion. For now however, all such devices still require a sacrifice of either video rate and window size, still resolution, or cost. [Sony almost has an exception to this rule: it's latest - - and expensive - - digital camcorder also takes megapixel stills; see below.] Therefore, like any vendor offering a combination product at a consumer price point today, Kodak must ensure it does not disappoint customers who expect a device that takes print-worthy stills *and* TV-ready video. Positioning the MC3 as a device for Internet-connected teens is the smart move in that respect.
We've been using an early unit for weeks - - and it's a major kick. Maybe it has just brought out the gadget-lover in us, but we don't see this fun device's appeal wearing off any time soon. In one "take everywhere" unit there's a lens, display, microphone, speaker, TV-video output jack, audio output jack for playing music on a home or car stereo or through headphones, and USB for uploading and downloading files from a PC; there's even a tripod mount and a slideshow function for playing still pictures on a television.
The MC3 weighs 5.5 oz without batteries and measures 2.6 x 4.1-inches - - about a third smaller than a Palm PDA. It's powered by three AAA batteries. It will ship in March with pricing based on the bundled CF card size: 16MB - $229; 64MB - $299. The MC3 is simple to use. A rear LCD provides for viewfinding and reviewing recorded stills and video, as well as for navigating menus. There is a four-way switch for choosing from still, video, playback, and music functions; menu and select keys; and four directional buttons for navigating the simple menus. The shutter release on top also starts and stops video recording. It captures VGA stills, and QuickTime format video at either 20 frames per second for highest resolution or 10 fps for more storage. [Kodak licensed QuickTime from Apple last year for this purpose.] Twenty minutes of video fit on a 64 MB CompactFlash card. As for MP3, the MC3 plays up to 90 minutes of music from a 64MB card. An optional $24 dock detects the MC3, automatically launches the software, and downloads all of the files. On the downside, while the use of a "reflective" LCD means the MC3 saves on battery power, the display is a bit dim in low light and difficult to discern. Also, Kodak does not include a video cable for connecting the MC3 directly to a TV; we think that's a mistake, as these run only a few bucks. Yes, consumers can get these cables easily, but their exclusion leaves the package incomplete.
But wait, there's more: Kodak showed us a planned add-on for the MC3: a snap-on module and PC-connected receiving unit for uploading photos and videos to the PC, and for downloading music files to the MC3 [instead of the included USB cable or optional dock.] The module is now just a prototype, but the demo we saw worked flawlessly. It's based on high-speed radio frequency (RF) technology Kodak is developing in-house, with a 150-foot range. Kodak says it can download a 32MB card's contents over RF in 14 seconds - - and that a device using the Bluetooth WPAN specification would take six minutes. [For more on this technology, see "Wireless Imaging 2001 - Overcoming The Challenges," Future Image Inc. 2001.]
The MC3 is the first product built around Kodak's new CMOS imager, the KAC-0310 it built with Motorola. It also uses a programmable digital signal processor from Texas Instruments; the TMS320DSC21 DSP. The programmable DSP also means Kodak can support new audio and video compression formats via software downloads.
While the MC3 makes wise use of other companies' components and is manufactured in Taiwan, Kodak emphasizes it was totally designed and conceived in Rochester - - not Japan, where the company's still camera designs have originated. It's a cultural breakthrough for Kodak in other meaningful ways, too: It's fundamentally a consumer electronics product, as opposed to being rooted in conventional photography paradigms. It puts Big Yellow in the motion imaging race for the first time (getting shut out of the video industry has been a 30 year trauma for management). Last but not least, introducing it at Demo positions it not just as another innovative camera (which would have been the PMA spin) but as a cutting edge digital lifestyle device.
Future Image firmly believes we are on the cusp of that "Visual Communications" lifestyle - - a time where most of us in Western society carry with us at all times a digital recording device, and send the images and video over the Internet to keep in touch with others. The MC3 connects in a big way, because it delivers the first concrete experience of that lifestyle.
- Paul Worthington and Alexis Gerard
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