I once said you won't catch me dead watching
a Hollywood movie on a video iPod.
I'm a trade show junkie. Recently I did
a SIGGRAPH Boston shoot as a one-man band, for Creative
Planet's Digital Production Buzz, which now offers video
content for podcast. I used my new Sony
HVR-A1U, rented a Lectrosonics
wireless mic to take advantage of the camera's pro balanced
XLR inputs, and bought a Manfrotto
monopod (because SIGGRAPH like a lot of trade shows these
days doesn't allow tripods in the aisles). I added a feather-light
Sima LED in case I needed it.
Shooting went well, considering I was
getting bumped by floor traffic, working in wildly varied lighting
conditions, and every afternoon about 3:00 PM began to introduce
what I call my Three O'clock Weave, a new camera style resulting
from low blood sugar and SHO-Show Hall Overload.
It feels a bit schizoid interviewing
while filming from a camera you're holding a yard away on a monopod,
but this way you get the proper interview look, with the subject
oriented to interviewer just off-camera, as if you the viewer
is observing a conversation as a third party, which of course,
you are. I kept this orientation consistent throughout the shoot,
always on the camera's left, because the LCD screen folds out
only on that side. I had no other way to quickly check composition
and focus without moving to the viewfinder. I discovered checking
fine focus while rolling would be impossible-the camera's "expanded
focus" function is disabled while recording. And under certain
conditions, the camera likes auto-focusing on the background
rather than the subject!
The camera's single CMOS chip holds up
impressively for this kind of ENG shoot, and the LED lamp boosted
very dimly-lit subjects only when I needed it. As the shoot went
on, I gradually unlocked more and more auto settings for more
manual control. But riding focus was the most critical problem
I needed to address as I unlocked autofocus.
To engage a subject in an interview while
operating the camera was a handful. I was wearing headphones
for audio but I kept breaking eye contact to look at the LCD.
And of course then so did the subject, which sometimes makes
them look distracted or nervous!
This is why the concept of "crew" became popular. Most
times, it should remain so. But in the fast and frantic world
of run and gun news and event production, a crew of only two
, and often only one, covers the venue.
To refine my work, I needed some kind
of remote eyeballs for the next gig. What to do??
Most of the listed headwear available
is just that, HMD-Head-Mounted Displays, for game players and
VR technofreaks. I just needed my camera view and an image I
could reference for fine focus. And I didn't want to wear a helmet
to do that. A monocular of some kind, or glasses!
I came up with two likely companies, iCuiti, out of Rochester, NY, and MicroOptical out of Boston. Boston would be less gas, and from the website the product looked lighter and less conspicuous, too.
"It is lighter, and less conspicuous,"
said Bruce Lampert, VP, Sales and Business Development of MicroOptical
Corp, as we sat down to conduct a test video interview. Customer
Service rep Roxanne Brengle presented a crisp new MyVu set for
me to open. I plugged them into the Sony through Sony's supplied
analog-out adapter cable fitted with gender-changing RCA plugs,
which fit into MyVu's supplied composite video/ stereo audio
I fired them up from the permanently
attached MyVu power pack, which draws from three AA batteries.
It properly sensed the NTSC signal, I donned them, and in seconds
we conducted an interview which included remote-control zoom
and fine manual focus as needed, while I kept my gaze on my subject
without once turning to the LCD.
The glasses are so slim you can easily
see the world around you, over the top and even through the glasses--
transparent tinted viewspace on either side of the screen. This
design offers what MicroOptical's founder Mark Spitzer calls
"situational awareness." It's among the many features
originally developed for tank drivers, digital MP's, and also
civilian applications such as surgery and high-end video production.
The company started in 1995 to develop for these markets. MyVu
is their first consumer venture, and MicroOptical premiered the
product as an iPod accessory at MacWorld 2006.
"We brought 200 units to the show.
We sold out in the first day," recalls Bruce. "We had
to stretch our remaining 50 units over the rest of the show.
We really didn't expect the response." Which was so good,
the company will make a return to MacWorld San Francisco in January
Inside the lightweight glasses, MyVu's
optical engineering delivers a 27"consumer TV screen (auto-sensing
NTSC or PAL), which hangs in space seemingly about six feet away.
The video frame size is actually 320 X 240, optically optimized
with one screen for each eye, blended as a single screen. What's
the frame like? It's a standard definition 4:3 color TV, with
a slight glow around the edges of the binocular image. There
are no adjustments. It just works. The glasses, like iCuiti's,
feature built-in earbuds for stereo sound. Replacement bud tips
are also supplied. But if you look closely at iCuiti's model
you'll see it's a thicker, heavier design (and pricier, too).
MicroOptical's patented image pump is installed along the edge
of the glasses, not in the middle, allowing a thinner bridge.
A lot of design thought and focus group
testing went into product development, even including custom
snap-in nose bridges. Yes: nose bridges. Select the one which
grips your nose thickness comfortably and you can ride the glasses
low on your nose to glance up and see the world around you--
but please, you'll be arrested if you try driving with these,
don't even think about it. These are ideal for waiting in line
in supermarkets, in airports, on the plane or train, with MyVu
attached to a DVD player, or a video iPod.
However, I had a friend who wears eyeglasses
try them on. That didn't go so well, because there's no optical
adjustability. But if you read the booklet you'll see that problem
will shortly be addressed with a selection of clip-on lenses
which allow you to remove your glasses to watch TV, echoing their
snap-in nose bridge strategy.
Naturally, I had a wishlist for "MyVu
Pro." My dream combination of features includes 640 X 480,
switchable 4:3- 16:9, plus anamorphic aspect ratio unsqueeze
-- folks using widescreen lenses while shooting with SD cameras
will need this. I also dreamed for chroma, luma and audio adjustment
thumbwheel controls. And finally, wireless, from a camera transmitter
to battery pack/receiver to glasses. You bet it'll cost more!
It turns out most all these features
are deployed in some of MicroOptical's higher-end models. They
make a monocular device advertised on their website just for
video applications, which is 640 X 480, but not wireless. They
make a Bluetooth product for surgeons which delivers bitmap data
(think Apple II ASCII characters), so a patient's vital sign
info can be transmitted instantly to the doctor's monocular eyepiece-but
not full motion video.
"15 or 30-frame motion video demands
a lot more bandwidth," comments Bruce. "We are definitely
investigating smooth wireless video internally and with strategic
partners. It's not easy. It's a moving target." But for
now, wearable TV is here. Watch this space.
See the SIGGRAPH clips --which weren't
shot with MyVu-- at www.digitalproductionbuzz.com.
The video podcast clips are available for download to iTunes
or other favorite video player, and the Buzz crew compressed
them beautifully in the H264 codec. I have viewed these clips
on a 30"Apple Cinema Display watching from 6 feet and they
hold up amazingly well. Internet TV is here.
Then watch the MyVu/MicroOptical clip
when that's available, late September, to see how valuable it
can be, and how it can free you from single-side shooting as
well as focus issues.
I thought MyVu was way cool. Which is
why I shelled out for a pair. Recall that I once said you won't
catch me dead watching a Hollywood movie on a video iPod. Well,
I may have died and gone to video heaven.
he isn't watching Conan or an interview subject on his MyVu,
Loren S. Miller edits, writes, and shoots. Reach him anytime
Visit the LAFCPUG
store for discounts on his KeyGuides, or visit www.neotrondesign.com
for the full range of professional placemats.