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Looxcie introduced a video camera concept at this past January's Consumer Electronics Show. It takes the convenience of video capture and posting to interesting new heights. First, the Bluetooth headset fits around your ear, just like an iconic audio headset, allowing hands-free video capture. Because it works with a mobile handset -- today the software runs on Google's Android and Apple's iOS -- a special button on the headset provides a way to instantly share a clip, sending the last 30 seconds straight to YouTube or Facebook via the phone's mobile connectivity. It's not quite live, but the next best thing; it wouldn't be much of a stretch to see Looxcie tap into live video streaming systems next.
I tested Looxcie for a few weeks in a variety of environments, using the Android versions of its LooxcieCam and Looxcie Moments software (more on this later), and while the video capture quality isn't what consumers will find in other camcorder devices, the convenience and instant publishing partly make up for it. I would still want a Flip for capturing momentous occasions like a graduation, or for recording a video blog, but for sharing junior's touchdown with Facebook-connected relatives across the country, the instant gratification of Looxcie Moments is unbeatable. LooxcieCam is well suited for longer events where a tripod is inconvenient or holding a camera gets tiring, or worse, prevents you from actually witnessing the event.
Before diving into the camera's capabilities and how it works, a few words on the state of the consumer video market. Also, for a demonstration of Looxcie provided during our initial introduction at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, watch the video embedded further in this review.
The State of Video
The age of constant and instant video capture is upon us. Moments after the massive earthquake hit Japan earlier this month, citizen video footage appeared online; crime footage, hyper local sports clips, and a relentless trough of spontaneous moments have bum rushed YouTube, Vimeo and Facebook, not to mention the live likes of UStream and Livestream, indelibly and indubitably inscribing our jagged memories to digital permanence.
Phones and tablets come equipped not just with cameras, but the ability to process video in high definition, at least from the perspective of image resolution and frame capture rates. Cisco, with itsFlip camera, has taken HD video up the quality scale, and affordably so; the ubiquitous device is now the featured appliance at soccer games, graduations and dance recitals nationwide.
Consumers, amateur and even professional video bloggers plagued by the ceaseless displays of handy cam choices should simply give in, grab a Flip with a miniature tripod and possibly a microphone extension (for truer sound quality) and call it a day. Kodak's Zi8 Pocket Video Camera (in Raspberry) is another favorite, and possibly better than the Flip, and cheaper too, especially since it has a microphone input built in--the Flip requires an add-on module with a mini input jack.Video editors, both professional and hobbyists, can yank the video files(mp4 or wmv) into programs like Apple's Final Cut, or perhaps the growingly popular and more accessible Apple iMovie--a program that now even runs on the iPad.
Let's not mistake any of these cameras or software for professional quality. While they have come a long way and are all adequate for capturing quick moments at higher quality, there's a reason video cameras cost thousands, instead of $200, and professional editing software is both complicated and expensive. Even more affordable cameras, like the workhorse standby Panasonic HVX200, or theSony EX-1, run$3,000 and up, not including media or necessary options (a decent tripod, an on-camera light, good microphones); newer models like theCanon 5D provide more capabilitiesand a more affordable media option--whereas the Panasonic required expensive proprietary P2 cards (several hundred dollars for 16 GB), the newer cameras use SD cards that go for roughly $100 for 32GB.
All of these cameras use better internal chips for image processing. The Panasonic HVX200, for example, uses three internal chips, allowing more of what's being shot to be processed truer to reality. For all of these cameras, from the low-end phone video cameras to the higher-end 3-chip variety, the end result gets compressed, transcoded and uploaded, to be viewed over lord-knows-what kind of connection, running interpreted through a browser that might encode the video inFlash, H.264 or V8. In other words, the better the image you start with, the better chance it has of bring viewed the way you shot it.
Looxcie shoots video in two modes: LooxcieCam or Looxcie Moments. The latter is the more interesting of the two, although the quality of the video is much lower. It captures video at 15 frames per second, but it also provides up to five hours of continuous capture and clip storage. On the other hand, LooxcieCamprovides higher definition, capturing video at 480p and 30 frames per second. The file sizes are bigger, so your battery life and the amount of capture time is significantly lower -- about two hours. Battery life was as advertised in my testing. The quality difference is very noticeable.
What Looxcie Moments sacrifices in quality, it makes up for in fun. For example, let's say you're filming a soccer game -- hands free, of course, because it's on your ear, allowing you to run up and down the sideline "encouraging" your child and clapping like the neurotic parent you are -- and suddenly, in spite of you, the child scores a game-winning goal. Your spouse, off at the spa sipping coconut and lavender-infused, white-blossom tea hand-picked by Himalayan monks with heart rates under 40, suddenly gets a Facebook update of the goal. That's because you've hit the instant clip button on the camera, and you've set up your mobile Looxcie software to automatically post these clips to Facebook.
Setting this up is pretty easy, but uses a feature of sites like Facebook and YouTube that many users won't be familiar with: Each service can activate a customized e-mail account -- doing so is fairly easy, but not obvious, and Looxcie's instructions (yes, it would be good to read them) help. Auto-posting requires entering that account into the Looxcie sharing setup. Once I did this, I started bombarding friends with ridiculously meaningless video clips. The camera continues to film while the clip gets processed and uploaded, so you won't lose the moment when your kid starts doing the special scoring jig you taught him.
You can create custom clips as well, defining a 30 second snippet using the video software. Longer clips, and clips created with LooxcieCam require connecting the camera to a computer via USB, and manually sharing the file. Even shorter clips can take a while to transfer from the camera to phone, which is simply because the transfer happens across a Bluetooth connection.
The camera's software-based settings let you configure a few helpful options. For example, the camera auto adjusts to the ambient light by default, but you can manually set it using the light mode indicator on screen.
The camera doubles as an audio Bluetooth headset and the quality was very good in my tests.
I do have some quibbles, however.
First, there was no end to the comments I got when wearing the headset. "Dork" seemed to be the most common. It's amazing how small it is, but people aren't used to seeing a Bluetooth headset that size -- they thought I kept it from the 1980s. It's also pretty inconspicuous as a camera, so when people discover it on you things can get awkward. "Creep" was also somewhat common, especially in Victoria's Secret. (Don't try this at home, folks.)
My biggest problem was simply adjusting to using the device. First, it takes a little work to form fit the device to your ear -- not a lengthy process, and one that is aided by the Looxcie camera's flexibility. But I wasn't sure what I was shooting, or whether I was framing my subject correctly. You see, the viewfinder is your phone. To see what you're filming, you look down at your phone, only to discover . . . that you're now filming the phone in your hand. I developed damn good peripheral vision.
But seriously, there's about 30 seconds of adjustment before you get things all lined up. The biggest problem with this is that the viewfinder only works when you're actually recording something. A preview mode would be a big help. Once you've got it figured out, though, it's really simple: the camera films what you're looking at. Follow the play naturally by turning your head and the camera will capture the action.
Playing back clips is choppy, but that's because it's happening over Bluetooth. Also, you can only view clips in the phone's landscape mode. And while it's great that the camera keeps recording while a video is uploaded to YouTube or Facebook, during those times I could only stop recording by using the headset. There are several buttons on the Looxcie camera, and I was always afraid I would hit the wrong one (which I often did).
Most of these are things you'd likely get used to in time, so they aren't really showstoppers. I found the Looxcie just as enticing to have and use as I had envisioned, even it if made me look like a dork. Hey, if the camera fits, wear it.