Viewsonic 3DV5 HD 3D camera
Stereoscopic stills and video on the cheap
Review If Christmas or even the World Cup had you taking the plunge an investing in a 3D TV, then you’re probably a bit weary of watching Avatar now and if you haven’t got any kids, Alice in Wonderland may have been entertaining once, but…
Viewsonic's 3DV5 offers the low cost perspective
So how about creating your own 3D content? If the likes of Fujifilm, JVC, Panasonic and Sony are to be believed, it’s surely the next step. Still, it’s a step that leaves a significant dent in the wallet if you’re hoping to capture 3D movies. Taking a slightly different view is the 3DV5 from Viewsonic. For £140 this rather chunky, fixed focus camera – reminiscent of a 1990s handheld portable TV – will take stereoscopic video at 720p and 5Mp stills.
From the front, it looks like an evil penguin with the chrome frame around the two lenses and the charcoal, rubberised body that feature a stereo microphone and a cover for the rechargeable 1200mA Li-ion battery.
Over the other side is a tiny mono speaker grille at the top with the 2.4in 3D LCD display below. Underneath this are four chrome buttons for video, stills 2D/3D modes and file delete. In the centre of this cluster is a 5-way mini joystick. You’d be forgiven for thinking that all this chrome makes it look a bit tacky, it does, with all the refinements of a rush to market product.
Even so, the controls seem to sit in the right place, as it takes up most of the width of your palm – this beastie is certainly no Flip camera. One concern is the power button, which has no lock on it and is very sensitive to touch. It’s all too easy to turn it on or off while adjusting your grip. On this side there’s a mini HDMI port and SD card slot, all exposed to the elements, as is the retractable USB A connector in the base.
The controls are basic and easy to handle
The camera takes about 12 seconds to start up and the fairly low-res LCD screen immediately attracts your attention, but not because of the 3D display showing live images, but because of how blue it is. This emphasis is more apparent in subdued light and in 2D mode fares rather better probably due to the fact that the image appears brighter than live 3D viewing.
There are two 5Mp 1/2.5in CMOS sensors in the Viewsonic 3DV5 and yet the on-screen impression you get is of a webcam which may well put you off persevering with this as a potential investment. However, there is a sweetspot when viewing and you eventually adjust your expectations and appreciate what this relatively low-cost camera is endeavouring to deliver. Sure, it’s fixed focus and its 4x digital zoom soon becomes a bleary watercolour, but it does have a certain something, you just have to learn its limitations.
The exposed ports are a bit of a worry
Talking of limitations, being a fixed focus camera, you’re not going to get great close-ups of physical attributes should testing its capacity to convey charming contours capture your imagination. In fact, most 3D cameras struggle with anything closer than six feet, so the 3DV5 is hardly unique in this respect. The lenses are also a narrower distance apart compared to human eyeballs, so there is a trade-off in terms of depth too. Out of 3D mode, in a good light you can move in a bit closer, but the quality remains on a par with a decent phone cam.
Charging is from the USB port only and takes about 45 minutes. Viewsonic claims an hour of 3D video shooting from a charge and if you limit your on-screen playback times, you should be able to get close to this. In the box, the CD only contains a PDF manual and AviDecode tucked away. Like the Flip, the software proper is retained in the camera itself, but unlike the Flip, it’s ArcSoft TotalMedia HDCam for 3D v2.03.33, which is for Windows PCs only.
Along with the soft pouch, wrist strap, USB extender lead and mini to standard HDMI cable (nice touch, thanks), there’s a pair of anaglyph 3D glasses. Yes, those red and cyan lens jobbies. I have mixed feelings about this, as will anyone punting the current generation of stereoscopic technology. However, Viewsonic sees it as a means to an end, because even though ArcSoft’s TotalMedia HDCam supports Nvidia's Vision Kit 3D hardware, it also has the red/cyan option for those who really have run out of options.
Running ArcSoft TotalMedia HDCam seemed promising at first, however, it failed to created thumbnail images for about half the imported stills and video. For 3D images, the software provides either side by side or anaglyph previews (it defaults to the latter) prior to any movie or image conversion you might be tempted to perform before embarking on the YouTube and Facebook upload options. There’s a video merge feature plus in and out marking for editing. Just click OK and a new file is created. Shame there’s no undo though.
3D video in side by side format
For other 3D video formats click the YouTube icon and select Other Optons in the 3D menu
Can't see the video? Download Flash Player from Adobe.com
Still image samples
If you click on the images below shown in anaglyph mode, you can see full-resolution stereoscopic versions of each one that can be downloaded and viewed on equipment supporting 3D playback.
Close-ups tend not to be very successful – 3D mode: Arcsoft anaglyph conversion
Click for a full-resolution non-anaglyph image pair
The Video Merge function allows you to string together clips, but with a distinct lack of thumbnail images, this was harder to organise than it needed to be. Click Next to save it to the hard drive or camcorder. The end result is an anaglyph conversion and there’s no option to switch this off. I had thought it might default to side by side when sending it to the camera, but no, which is just daft.
Delivers depth but its output is better suited to smaller screens
However, choosing to upload to YouTube will deliver the native side by side format. From your YouTube account you can choose to display the clips in a number of ways including YouTube’s own anaglyph conversion options. The sample images includes a YouTube clip displayed as a side by side video, although not all 3D TVs are able to switch to 3D mode when playing on-line content.
If you’ve a 3D telly to hand then you can forget this ArcSoft mullarkey and plug in the Viewsonic 3DV5 using its mini HDMI port and away you go. When tested on the office Samsung UEC46000 3DTV the graininess of the lower light video was immediately apparent. Outdoor footage was an improvement, the digital zoom was predictably awful but a good deal smoother than some. Having taken footage at a gig, the sound proved to be a real disappointment as there appears to be no limiter, so even the most modestly amplified performances came out distorted. For everyday speech captured in normal environs, you should be OK.
Stills obviously don’t suffer these audio issues and, in terms of overall image quality, were much better. The 3DV5 certainly delivers some depth and along with it entertainment value for those with 3D compatible gear. Viewing on a 46in screen is going to be rather unforgiving but if you switch to 2D capture on the 3DV5 the results show that it functions as quite a respectable stills and video camera.
The Viewsonic 3DV5 isn’t a fantastic camera, but it is rather fun and not as bad as its display might make you think. We’re all so used to high-res screens that its less than dazzling lenticular offering takes a bit of adjusting to. You’ll need to experiment to discover how best to frame shots that show off its perspective tricks, but the screen shows sufficient depth to help you get it right.
The battery life could be a lot better and the bundled software is in need of refinement, but does enough to help those without 3D displays to produce anaglyph stereoscopic images. But really, it’s the owners of 3D kit that this is aimed at, and while it doesn’t lend itself too well to being displayed on a large TV, for viewing on a 3D computer screen or picture frame, the 3DV5 will certainly make your stills and video stand out. ®
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