Versatile video camera is smooth to use for MPEG video, JPEG images and audio

The GCN Lab got a chance to find out.


Hitachi Home Electronics' MP-EG1A, the first MPEG camera on the market, can do
compression and full-motion video capture in real time. Nicknamed the MPEGcam, it takes up
to 20 minutes of MPEG video, 3,000 high-resolution Joint Photographic Experts Group
images, or 1,000 images plus 10 seconds of MPEG audio.


You can even record one still image with almost four hours of audio. Combinations of
file types are no problem, and everything stores on a 260M Type III PC Card hard drive.


The MPEG video resolution is 352 pixels by 240 pixels; JPEG stills are 704 pixels by
480 pixels. All the images are pulled in by a quarter-inch, charge-coupled-device imaging
system capable of 390,000-pixel resolution.


Video undergoes compression and MPEG-1 encoding in real time. Under the MPEG standard,
it plays back at 352- by 240-pixel resolution at 30 frames per second in 24-bit color. The
sound is CD-quality.


MPEG compresses video by recording only the differences between key frames. That means
if you record lots of motion, you will lose some image quality.


The Hitachi's MPEG-1 chip encodes and decodes. Not only is the chip a boon for digital
video capture, it also speeds up recording JPEG stills.


At only 1 pound, 3 ounces, the MP-EG1A is light for a video camera and comparable to
still cameras in our recent digital camera comparison [GCN, Jan. 26, Page 27].


The built-in LCD worked well, and the lithium-ion battery gave 40 minutes of constant
use. It took 100 minutes to recharge, and there was a second battery for swapping.


Taking still images was easy. The CCD registered and recorded images slowly; however,
in the film world, this would be equivalent to the aperture setting. Images blurred unless
the photographer stood quite still or used a tripod.


That fault is common among digital cameras, as is unreliable color reproduction with a
tendency toward excessive red tones. The MPEGcam did not have a flash, but it did
autocorrect for white balance, focus and backlighting.


Minimum focus distance was 11 inches. That's fine for most subjects, but this camera
would benefit from a macro focal setting for close-ups.


As a videocam, the Hitachi surpassed our expectations. MPEG playback of images on a PC
was excellent. Hooking the camera up to a television set and VCR delivered sharp images,
too. TV resolution is lower than that of a computer monitor, so the image was full-screen
on TV.


Video stored on the camera could either play back straight to a TV with the correct
input jacks, or it could be played on the TV and recorded on ordinary VHS tape.


One of the best surprises in this camera was its flexibility. For PC compatibility, it
could use either the Type III PC Card hard drive or connect through an optional ISA card.


Microsoft Windows NT users will have to get a PC Card reader, but the ISA card worked
with our Windows 95 computers. For Apple Macintosh, the camera connects through a SCSI
interface.


Hitachi provides a remote control device for recording, zooming and camera settings.


The MPEGcam zoomed to 6X via a combination of 3X optical zoom and 2X digital zoom. You
can set it to take pictures at preset intervals for time-lapse photography.


As a still camera, videocam, or video and audio input for teleconferencing, the MP-EG1A
is the most complete imaging system we've seen. Hitachi's World Wide Web site even gives
details on finding a camera housing that can withstand submersion in water at depths of up
to 200 feet.


The onboard MPEG encoder serves images to your PC instantly. Record them for instant
appearance in a presentation, Web site or database. The camera comes with many programs to
manipulate and fine-tune image files.


Sticker price is a little high at $2,399, but the camera does the duties of several
peripherals. Easy to use and configure, it's well- designed. However we tested it, the
camera performed above expectations.


If you need a combination of digital video, stills and voice-annotated images, the
MP-EG1A is an excellent choice.

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