Sony goes PC-less with network camcorder

Sony Corp. has unveiled its latest contribution to the wireless home -- a pair of camcorders that can be directly connected to the Internet without the need for wires. One of the cameras, the DCR-IP7, also has the distinction of being the company's smallest camcorder yet.

The camcorders use Bluetooth technology to link to compatible network-connected devices, said Sony.

At present this is limited to a single model of cell phone, produced by Sony for Japanese wireless carrier Au, or an optional Bluetooth modem adapter that connects to a conventional telephone line. With a maximum connection speed of 64k bps (bits per second) for both devices, image transfer could be a bit slow but that is expected to change when Bluetooth-enabled 3G (third-generation) wireless handsets or home network appliances become available.

Both camcorders can access the Internet to allow data stored in a Memory Stick memory card to be exchanged online, either through e-mail or Sony's Image Station Web site. Users are also able to browse the Internet via the camcorder, although the built-in 2.5 inch LCD (liquid crystal display) screen may prove a little small for power browsing. To make things easier, Sony has built in a function that allows the entire Web page to be shrunk to fit on the screen. The camcorder can also store up to 30 bookmarks.

The camcorders are not totally wireless, however. The Bluetooth connection can only be used for data transfer and cables are still needed to hook the camcorders up to a television.

"This product is aimed at early adopters," said Shoji Nemoto, president of Sony's internal personal video company. Explaining part of the company's strategy behind the product, he added that personal computers have a business-use associated with them while camcorders are for fun and vacations and so the company felt it needed to remove a PC from the mix.

Sony managed to reduce the size of the DCR-IP7 by switching from the popular MiniDV cassette format to MicroMV, a proprietary format developed by Sony for which the new camcorder is the debut device. MicroMV cassettes occupy 30 percent of the physical volume of MiniDV cassettes, which mean much less space is needed inside the camera for the cassette and its associated mechanism.

Reducing the cassette size means having less tape to record on and so sticking with the MiniDV encoding format would have meant much shorter recording times -- less than one hour -- on cassettes. To get around this obvious problem, Sony decided to employ the MPEG2 compression system, already commonly used in direct to home digital broadcasting, which can compress files tighter. As a result, the MicroMV cassette can store a hour of video at comparable quality to MiniDV in a much smaller cassette, said Sony.

As a result of the new cassette format, Sony was able to make the DCR-IP7 weigh 310 grams and measure 47 millimeters high by 103 millimeters high by 80 millimeters deep. In contrast, the company's popular DCR-PC9 camcorder, which is based on MiniDV, weighs 490 grams and measures 58 millimeters by 103 millimeters by 97 millimeters.

The second camera announced Monday, the DCR-P120, is based on MiniDV but also includes Bluetooth support.

Sony plans to begin selling the DCR-IP7, to be called the Network Handycam IP, in Japan on October 10 at a price of 170,000 yen ($A2402). MicroMV cassettes will go on sale the same day at 1,500 yen. The camera is scheduled to be launched in Europe during the fourth quarter and then in other regions. Sony has pegged initial production of the camcorder at 15,000 units per month.

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