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Are Still Cameras Becoming Obsolete?

This week, Nvidia and MotionDSP launched an interesting Cuda-based application called vReveal. This product finds all the video on your PC, and uses Nvidia’s pre-OpenCL Cuda platform to dramatically improve it. Cisco also bought the Flip video camera company this month for $590 million, making me wonder what the second shoe to drop would be (hint: think networked). Coincidently, I’ve had several folks argue compellingly this week that still cameras will be dead in a few years as a result of inexpensive HD cameras, and tools like vReveal that turn a movie camera into a better solution for still shots. Yes, this initially sounded nuts to me too, but I get it now.

Let’s explore each of these announcements, and the possibility that the still camera may be on its last legs.

Flip Mino HDWhat Will Cisco Flip Cameras Into?

Cisco is a networking company, but has recently broadened its focus with a line of home media products. I’m particularly fond of the Cisco Media Director. However, video cameras, MP3 players, DVD players and other CE technology seems to be far removed from the company’s core competence, which initially had me wondering if Cisco had made this camera company purchase decision after a few too many beers. In this economy, you’d hardly blame them for the beers, but they likely should have left the big cash at home.

However, in thinking about this, what Flip brings to the table is the ability to build very high-quality, low-cost cameras, and Cisco has been positioning to follow up its home music solution with a home video distribution solution. To make that work, you likely will need more than Hollywood movies, you’ll need personal content.

In addition Cisco has hinted that it will have an HD home video conferencing solution as well, going back to the skill set they just acquired, which should result in a product that’s both high quality and affordable.

The end game is likely a line of networked (wired and wireless) camera products, ranging from a Wi-Fi-connected HD Flip, to a networked home video conferencing camera. And both could exist in the same product. But how, you ask, does that replace the still camera?

Cleaning up HD Footage with vReveal

This is a fascinating product. Using the power of the GPU (graphics card), and technology similar to what Crime Scene Investigators (CSIs) use to improve grainy video, vReveal takes video files and sharpens them significantly to near digital still quality. You can then enjoy an improved movie, or pull out a single frame and use it as a photo.

The tool is simple to use. It first scans your PC for all your video files, and then asks which ones you want to mess with. After you select one, it’s impressive in both its speed and the quality of what it puts out.

vReveal Software

vReveal Software

Be aware that this product only works with certain Nvidia-based GPUs at the moment, so check for compatibility. Later offerings will be OpenCL-compliant, and likely work on a variety of discrete graphics cards. But the real interesting part is that the still pictures are very good, and this has a lot of us wondering why we need a still camera.

Obsolescing the Still Camera

The problem with a still camera is, unless you are taking a posed shot, you have to catch the moment. Many current-generation still cameras can take a large number of pictures very quickly (burst mode), and you can then go back and find the one you want. But isn’t that what a movie camera does better? In effect, a movie camera has been optimized to only run in burst mode. A movie camera constantly rolls as you follow the action. If something happens quickly, you can pull out that shot after the fact, and create a nice still if the resolution is high enough. This requires an HD-level camera, at least, and even then the result can be kind of grainy. But, after using a product like vReveal, the pictures are actually surprisingly good – not yet good enough to blow up like you would a good SLR digital or film camera – but good enough for the Web, your wallet, or a 3 x 5 print.

Because the quality of inexpensive HD movie cameras will improve over time, and vReveal-like products will improve as well, you can see a point where, for most, the quality of video-captured stills would be good enough. That result would take a big chunk out of still camera sales, because most of us want to catch things that are in motion, and either put them on YouTube, or put stills onto something like Facebook. Wait a minute – the combination actually is good enough for that now. And that’s what I mean about looking ahead to the death of the still camera.

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Rob Enderle
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Rob is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. Before…
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