The ViewSonic 3D camcorder in use
With major video camera manufacturers giving serious independent producers modestly-priced professional 3D camcorders, ViewSonic has brought out a 3D pocketcam for the rest of us.
It's called the 3DV5 Pocket 3D HD camcorder, and I had the chance to take one of these out for a test run recently. Although you'll never shoot "Avatar" with it, the 3DV5 is a dandy little tool for learning about 3D. Most importantly, with a list price of less than $200, it makes "fun" the main component of three-dimension video.
However, you have to keep your expectations realistic. The 3DV5 shoots stereoscopic 720p 3D video in H.264 format at 30 fps in full color, and can also be used for standard 2D recording. But that 720p recording is going to be split into two side-by-side images, so the actual 3D output is divided into two 360x1280 frames that are closer to a 3D game than a trip to Pandora, but a 1080p version should be available soon.
The front side holds two five megapixel fixed focus cameras with 4X digital zoom, while the back sports a 2.4-inch "parallax barrier" autostereoscopic LCD panel, with a 3D display that can be viewed without glasses. Below it are four buttons for selecting either video or still image creation, a 2D/3D selector, and a delete button. These all surround a five-function mini joystick that gives you access to your stored files for playback.
I took the camera to a neighborhood American Youth Soccer Organization match to watch some friends' kids play, and that's where the device taught me its first lesson. If your teenagers get sight of this little gizmo, you're not going to get it back for at least a half hour or so, due to their curiosity about the wonders of 3D capture and playback. This soccer episode also revealed a significant failing of the 3DV5 in "field" use. Its rear LCD display gets washed out in sunlight, so the camera could really benefit from an optical viewfinder.
With its USB-rechargeable NP60 lithium ion battery, I was able to store 50 minutes of 3D video onto a user-supplied 2 GB SD/SDHC memory card (you can store up to 400 minutes with a 16 GB card). After I finished shooting, I connected the unit via USB port to a Windows-based computer, and an installation wizard automatically loaded the bundled ArcSoft software.
This allowed me to initially inspect the files in side-by-side format, which can be viewed in 3D through shutter glasses if you have your own NVIDIA 3D card installed. Or it's possible to drag selected files to a red/cyan bar where they are converted into anaglyph. Then you can view them using the supplied 50's-style colored glasses, although that is pretty geeky these days. You can even upload selected files to You Tube or Facebook with a button on the software interface.
I thought that the best test of the 3DV5 three-dimensional output video would be on a true 3DTV monitor, and the manager of our local Best Buy let me connect the camera via an HDMI cable to a top-end 55-inch Samsung 3D display in the store. Although the result was true 3D (and a small crowd in the store quickly gathered to view the camera's output), it did show up the limitations of the 3DV5.
Yes, it was 3D; however, I'm going to be looking forward to the 1080p version and, hopefully, its enjoyable resolution. That's part of the educational aspect of using the 3DV5.
Another learning moment came when I inserted the memory card into View-Sonic's 3DPF8 3D digital multimedia digital photo frame, which is available for about the same price as the camcorder. Just as with the camera's LCD panel, the 3DPF8 is about as good a parallax barrier autostereoscopic display as I've seen, but its eight-inch screen really reveals why glasses-free 3D has yet to catch on.
To give it credit, the 3DPF8 digital photo frame does a fairly good job of converting 2D digital stills into a semblance of 3D, but trying to view moving 3D video images on it gets old very quickly. Repeated inquiries to ViewSonic about its inner 2D-to-3D algorithms only resulted in the explanation that it "is performed by the main chipset of DPF via the algorithm called 'side-by-side simulation.'"
Although ViewSonic's 3DV5 3D pocket camera and its companion 3DPF8 digital photo frame are great tools for teaching kids about the realities of 3D at a not unreasonable cost, professionals will be more impressed by their limitations than their capabilities.
Still, if you are not trying to save the Home Tree on a far distant moon, they can provide a lot of fun while sailing into Z-space.
Jay Ankeney began his career in video production in the early 1970s and has been writing about it for almost 30 years. He is a frequent contributor to TV Technology. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.