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Shooting Digital Video PDA Style

03/23/2001

Shooting video on the go is easier today than ever. Digital camcorders are compact and easily connect to personal computers for editing and adding those finishing touches. And, more versatile than ever, many digital cameras, such as the Olympus and Canon models, provide the ability to capture short QuickTime movies with amazing quality.

These are great tools when you know you're going to be covering an event. But what do you use to capture those spontaneous slices of life when your camcorder is at home and your digital camera is back at the office?

The one tool I always have with me is my Visor Platinum PDA. It has become my personal secretary, daily newspaper, and game arcade -- all in one compact 3" x 4.5" unit. If only I could use it for impromptu digital imaging too ...

With hopeful eyes, I looked at the first EyeModule digital camera, which fits nicely in the Visor's expansion slot. Great look, but unfortunately lousy performance. But the EyeModule folks kept improving their innovative idea and released the much-improved EyeModule 2.

As I read the specs for the new unit, my hopes began to rise. Among many other nifty improvements, it could now capture 640 x 480 color still images of respectable quality and capture QuickTime video too. That's right, I can now shoot video with my PDA.


A digital snapshot
The EyeModule 2 captures digital snapshots on the run. It records in color, even when attached to a grayscale Visor! Photos by Derrick Story.

Self assignment: make a movie with my PDA

I wanted to see if I could make a complete QuickTime movie with nothing but a Visor, the EyeModule 2, and the Targus digital voice recorder module -- in other words, a complete digital video package that fits in my pocket.

I decided to shoot the pouring of a lemon-lime soda into a chimney glass filled with ice. I keep the tools to a minimum: a borrowed Visor Prism, EyeModule 2, Targus digital recorder, Ultrapod tabletop tripod, and a single tungsten lamp. I avoid elaborate lighting and sound equipment because that would defeat the purpose of creating a video on the go with only tools that could fit in my pockets.

Visor Prism, EyeModule 2, and Ultrapod tripod.
The Ultrapod tripod is light and easily fits in the pocket once folded. I attach the Visor Prism with EyeModule 2 to the tripod using two rubber bands and a homemade tripod adapter. The Targus voice recorder has a shuttle, so you can record even when it's not attached to the Visor.

I position the props, the Visor, and the tungsten lamp on a regular desk. I then launch the EyeModule 2 application so I can see the scene on my Visor screen, allowing me to adjust the lighting to my liking. An important note to keep in mind is that your subject has to be at least 18" away in order to be in focus. I make an educated guess, and then everything is in place and ready to go.

Shooting the video with the Visor

The actual shooting is the easiest part of the project. Since the Visor/EyeModule 2 combination doesn't record audio, I use the Targus Springboard module for the digital audio. We'll combine the video and audio tracks later in QuickTime Pro.

The great thing about the Targus recorder is that it has a "shuttle" with batteries, so you can record audio even when the module isn't inserted in the Visor. I also like the Targus unit because it has mini-audio plugs for sound-in and sound-out. This gives you the option of using an external microphone if you want. That's a very nice feature in a subcompact recorder.

Before I record with it as a free-standing unit, though, I always insert it in the Visor to check my preferences. Make sure the quality setting is "Best" so you get the clearest sound possible. The Targus has 4MB of Flash memory onboard, so you have plenty of storage space for these projects.

Now we're ready for action. I like to use the self-timer function in EyeModule 2 to initiate the recording. Then my "camera" remains steady at the start of filming. But just as important, you get a nice "beep!" once recording starts.

What's so hot about that? That beep is invaluable because it helps me synchronize the audio when I combine the two tracks later in QuickTime Pro. I have a distinct marker on my audio track at the precise moment of filming. Here's how the sequence works:

  • Enable the self timer, but don't hit the start button.
  • Turn on the digital audio recorder so sound is being captured.
  • Hit the start button on the video self timer. It will count down and beep when filming begins.
  • Record the scene.
  • Stop the video.
  • Stop the audio.

You now have one digital video track and one audio. Let's upload them into the PowerBook and combine them in QuickTime Pro to finish our movie.

Uploading the media to the computer

The EyeModule 2 Conduit makes uploading the video to the PowerBook a snap. Simply HotSync as normal, and your movie is placed in the EyeModule folder on your hard drive.

HotSyncing in action.
Uploading the movie from the Visor is a snap with the EyeModule 2 Conduit. This procedure helps you appreciate the wisdom of having USB HotSyncing -- which all Visors use. Uploading a 6 MB movie via a serial connection would be entirely too slow.

Now for the audio. As of the time of publication, the Targus recorder doesn't have a Conduit for Macs. Shameful, but there's an easy work-around. I bought a stereo mini plug to stereo mini plug connector. I plug one end into the speaker jack on the Targus, and the other end into the mic jack on the PowerBook. Then I launch SoundJam and record my soundtrack as a MP3 file. Easy. Great sounding, too!

I open both the audio and the video files in QuickTime Pro and put them side by side on my desktop. Now all I have to do is combine them.

Editing in QuickTime Pro

At this point, I have a 20-second video track that's a whopping 11.5 MBs and a MP3 soundtrack that's about 230k. (You may be wondering how such a big file fits on the Visor. It doesn't. The video file on the Visor only occupied 5.5 MB of Flash memory. When I uploaded it to the Powerbook, it bloomed to over 11 MB.) We'll compress the finished product later, but for now, I'm going to work with the raw material.

I trim my audio track so it begins right on the "beep." In case you haven't "trimmed" before, you simple select the beginning and ending points of the track, hold down the Option key and select Edit. You'll see the Trim option. Once you choose it, it will cut away all information outside your selected endpoints.

Now you copy the trimmed audio track, and "add" it to the video. Make sure the insertion point of your video is at the very start of the track. Then hold down the Option key, select Edit, and choose Add. QuickTime will add the audio track to the video.

Now, when you hit the play button, you have both sound and pictures. If your synchronization is a little askew, then hit Undo and reposition the audio until you get it exactly right.

At this point, I have a nearly 12-MB file for a 20-second movie. The quality is great, but unless it's going no further than my hard drive, I need to compress this file so I can stream it on the Web or send it to a friend.

Compressing the final movie

QuickTime Pro has everything you need built-in to prepare your movie for Web presentation. Begin by selecting Export under the file menu. You're greeted with a standard dialogue box. Hit the Options button.

You can now set the various levels of compression for both audio and video. I recommend these settings:

Photo of EyeModule 2.
The EyeModule 2 turns the Visor into both a digital still and video capture device. See for yourself. Check out this 271 KB QuickTime movie, Bubbles, created with the EyeModule 2, Visor Prism, and Targus audio recorder module.

Video

  • Compressor: Sorrenson Video
  • Millions of Colors
  • Quality: High
  • Frames per second: 8 (which is the rate it was recorded by the Visor)

Audio

  • Compressor: QDesign Music or Qualcomm PureVoice
  • Rate: 22.050 kHz
  • Size: 16 bit
  • Use: Mono

Prepare for Internet Streaming

  • Fast Start -- Compressed Header

Now all you do is click "OK" to enable these movie settings, and hit the Save button. QuickTime will compress the movie as specified. My previous 11.8-MB masterpiece is reduced to 1.3 MB. And if I use the third party application, Media Cleaner, I can get the movie down to an amazing 271 kb. That's small enough to e-mail!

When I put the original and compressed movies side by side, I can tell a difference in quality. The original is crisper, no doubt. But the compressed is very acceptable by any standard, and certainly more portable.

Final thoughts

I have to say, I'm impressed. The EyeModule 2 adds only an inch to the length of my Visor, but brings a whole new world of possibilities to its functionality. I now have a digital camera and a video capture device with me at all times.

Visor with EyeModule 2.
The EyeModule 2 only adds only an inch to the length of the Visor, but enables a whole new world of possibilities.

Also in QuickTime Authoring:

Feds Discover the PowerPoint-QuickTime Connection

Digital Still Cameras for QuickTime Movies, Part Two

Digital Still Cameras for QuickTime Movies, Part One

Amazing Media Player Brings PDA Video to Life

QT Authoring on Native Mac OS X

With the EyeModule 2, I've shot handheld video under a variety of lighting conditions with good success. When outdoors, I like using the Visor Platinum because the screen is easy to see in bright light. Indoors, the Visor Prism is terrific because of its beautiful color rendering. But beware indoors -- the EyeModule is not a low-light camera.

I should also note that the Prism does have one solid advantage over the Platinum -- its rechargeable lithium battery holds up better to the rigors of video capture than the skimpy alkalines in the Platinum. But to be honest, both units work great.

See for yourself. Watch my sample QuickTime movie, Bubbles, and keep in mind that all of the content was captured using nothing more than a Visor and two Springboard modules. The only accessory I think I'll add to the mix is the new SmartMedia module, called MemPlug, so I can move videos to the memory card while on the go.

This set-up isn't for serious video work. It's pure fun. Suddenly, being stuck at the airport terminal takes on whole new creative possibilities.

See you next time.

Derrick Story is the author of The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers, The Digital Photography Companion, and Digital Photography Hacks, and coauthor of iPhoto: The Missing Manual, with David Pogue. You can follow him on Twitter or visit www.thedigitalstory.com.

Read more QuickTime Authoring columns.


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