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8/29/2006
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Review: Pure Digital Point & Shoot

I wasn't expecting much from Pure Digital's stripped-down camcorder. Looking more like an MP3 player with a lens glued on than a real video camera -- and priced at $130 at retailers such as Target -- it seemed more like those toy camcorders sold to children than a possible contender to record my son's next birthday. But as it turns out, I was pleasantly surprised by the camera.

I wasn't expecting much from Pure Digital's stripped-down camcorder. Looking more like an MP3 player with a lens glued on than a real video camera -- and priced at $130 at retailers such as Target -- it seemed more like those toy camcorders sold to children than a possible contender to record my son's next birthday. But as it turns out, I was pleasantly surprised by the camera.

There are some important caveats to get out of the way first. The Point & Shoot has no moving parts, it records the video on pre-installed memory inside the camera. You can record up to 30 minutes at a time without having to download and delete footage. There's no ability to change quality settings to record longer, or to add more memory. Thirty minutes isn't an unreasonable amount of recording time, a DVD camcorder typically gives you around that much time at the standard quality settings. Of course, with a DVD camcorder, you can swap disks when you fill one up. The video is recorded using a special version of the DivX compression format at 640x480 resolution, and the audio is mono.

The camera is very light. The controls are minimal (power, play, record, delete, and a 4-way pad that doubles as a zoom control.) It takes 2 AA batteries, and has a clever flip-out USB connector to let you attach the camcorder to your computer. Realistically, you'll need a USB extension cable to attach it to most hubs, though. There is also an included cable that lets you attach the camcorder to a TV.

In actual use, the shape and size of the unit make it easy to hold. You use the LCD screen as a viewfinder. The image was bright and clear, even under sunlit conditions. Once you're done shooting your video, you plug the camera into a USB port, and the camera automatically installs all the video drivers needed to view the videos. Or, at least it tries to, it hung up trying to install the driver on my Windows XP box and I had to install it manually. The camera shows up as a new disk drive on your system, and you can copy and edit the AVI-format videos just like any other Windows video.

In good lighting conditions, the video was clear and smooth, if a little oversaturated color-wise. The digital zoom should be used sparingly, as the image becomes noticeably pixilated. Low-light filming is grainy, and any bright image source tends to flare badly, but is on the whole acceptable. The sound is fine, and the lack of any moving parts means it's free of camera noises.

Robert Rodriguez isn't going to shoot his next blockbuster on this camera, but for day-to-day family usage it will do just fine. Considering the price point, it more than met expectations and would make an excellent first camcorder for a teenager.

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