In back to the Future, Doc Brown was really excited about Marty’s camcorder from 1985,
but that camcorder is looking just a bit outdated these days.
So, just imagine what doc would have thought had he seen a smartphone, which has pretty
much taken the place of the camcorder for day to day video recording.
However, we didn’t make that transition overnight.
In fact, I want show you an interesting little forgotten piece of camcorder history.
And, I’ve had this device in my possession for about 13 years, or since around about
And, to understand why it’s such an interesting piece of technology I need to kind of set
the time period for you.
If you look at a rough timeline, in the year 1980 people were still using Super8 film cameras
to record motion video.
It wasn’t until around 1983 that camcorders like the one Marty used in Back to the Future
actually appeared on the market, which is crazy to think that was just 2 years prior
to when the movie came out.
By 1990, we were still using these sort of cameras, although not for long.
By 2000, camcorders had shrunk a lot and were using a variety of different cassette formats,
with Mini-DV being the most common on the high end.
And then 10 years later in 2010 we were using memory card based camcorders.
And finally, a decade later the smart phone has more or less killed off most other still
cameras and camcorders, because everyone has one in their pocket and the video quality
is good enough for most consumers.
But I want to focus on a little slice of time right around 2005.
So realistically speaking, if you wanted to record video during this time you could go
for a regular Mini-DV camcorder.
For those that are too young to remember, these recorded to little cassette tapes, but
the information was stored digitally and the quality was generally pretty good.
You could also get a camcorder that recorded to DVD.
Both of these products produced video that was pretty good quality, but was also generally
expensive and bulky to carry around with you.
Thus they were used mostly for special occasions.
Many digital cameras of the time also had the ability to to record small video clips.
The trouble is, they were often very low resolution, slow frame rate, limited to usually around
15 to 30 second clips, and often didn’t even include audio.
These are some clips I personally took on various such cameras back in the day.
Most cell phones of the era also included cameras, and a few even had the ability to
record short, low resolution video clips.
Remember there were no smartphones on the market at this point, at least not any that
would resemble the ones we used today.
And one other option was a USB webcam attached to a laptop computer or something.
However, from around 2005 to 2008 there were a variety of no-name brands that introduced
a variety of little cheap devices like this that could be used as camcorders.
Aiptek was one of the leading companies in this regard.
It may be pronounced AIPTEK as I’ve never heard it pronounced by anyone else.
AIPTEK stands for affordable, innovative, personal, technology.
Now, whether thats an acronym or a backronym, I don’t know.
Anyway, they produced a variety of little camcorder type devices.
I have one of them here with is the IS-DV2 model, which came out for the Christmas season
And while the website and company itself seems to be long gone, you can still check out the
website using the way-back machine.
So, you can see that the IS-DV2 model was selling for $129 dollars at the time.
But if you fast forward to the next year, you’ll see the price had dropped to $89.
And I believe I paid $69 for mine sometime around that time.
So, let’s have a closer look at this one.
Mine is a little beat up because it saw quite a bit of use for a couple of years.
So, it actually runs on a couple of double-A batteries.
And, we’ll need an SD card.
Believe it or not the largest card it can handle is a 2 gigabyte card, and that is the
smallest one I could find around the house, so that worked out just perfect.
I’ll go ahead and insert that here.
Now, let’s open the screen here and have a look.
The screen is smaller than you would probably think, watching this video.
It’s actually about the size of a postage stamp.
In fact, I highly suspect they used an off-the-shelf screen that was common at the time on the
outside part of the flip style cellular phones, like this.
I also think they used an off the shelf CMOS imager from a web-cam at the time.
So, let’s have a brief overview of the main menu.
In here you can set the resolution, self-timer, and a whole bunch of other features you wouldn’t
expect to see on a toy camera.
And while it does have white balance settings, you can’t do a custom, you have to use one
of the presets.
It also has a video light, which uses a couple of LEDs in the front.
They aren’t super bright, but they are good enough to illuminate objects that are only
a few feet from the camera.
On the mode screen, you have camera mode, obviously, and then playback mode, and then
Yep, this also doubled as an MP3 player, albeit not a very good one.
It was also a voice recorder, but I should also say not a very good one.
And then in here you have settings where you can configure things like NTSC or PAL, format
an SD card etc.
And in playback mode, you can see some of the video clips I’ve taken and watch those.
Ok, so let’s mount this thing to a tripod.. another feature I might add that a lot of
toy cameras lacked at the time.
OK, so this is some video directly from the camera.
Now, I wanted to give you like a comparison with something you’re familiar with or used
to seeing, which is this studio.
I mean, I show it in every video.
So, I thought this would be something interesting to show.
Now, keep in mind it’s 4 by 3 aspect ratio, so it’s not going to fill the widescreen
format that youtube wants to have these days.
Also, you’re hearing the audio from my overhead microphone, which is what you always hear
in my videos, but just for the heck of it, I thought I’d let you hear what the audio
sounds like from the camera itself, keeping in mind that the camera is about 6 or 7 feet
away from me.
And, to be fair, you don’t normally hear the audio from my regular camera either, because
again, you’re always hearing from above.
But, anyway, let’s take the camera around town and see if we can find something interesting
to take video of.
I took the camera down to our local Kennedale town center to have a look at the clock tower
and all of the colorful flowers underneath.
Here’s our 9-11 memorial, which has an original piece of one of the twin towers, along with
a momument showing the names of all the people that died.
Now, while the video quality is questionable, even by the standards of 2005, it can also
take still photos.
And honestly, they aren’t bad.
As a still camera, it was actually pretty decent for the money and was much better than
cell phone cameras of the time.
In fact, using the macro mode, I took this photo of my daughter back in 2007, and the
depth of field makes it look like a pretty fancy camera.
Looking at some other old footage, I took this video of me washing my car back then.
So, yeah, that’s what I was driving in 2007.
That’s actually a 1995 model Eagle Talon and it was already 12 years old at that time,
but I took good care of it.
I’m sure its in a junk yard or been recycled by now, though.
So, looking at these files, you’ll see the videos are stored in the old Microsoft ASF
Fortunately, VLC player will play these.
I wanted to take a look at the media information and see what we can find out.
So let’s click on codec details.
So, it is an MPEG-4 video stream.
And it is 640x480, which is what it is supposed to be.
It says 30 frames per second, but I have my doubts about this, which we’ll look into
And the audio is mono, and 11 Khz sample rate, which partially explains why it sounds so
Anyway, I can’t even import these videos into Final Cut Pro, so I have to use a program
like this first to convert them over to something more modern.
So, let’s take a look at this in Final Cut Pro.
I’m zoomed in right now to the point that you can see single frames.
So, if you look where my mouse is, you’ll see these little gray boxes that light up,
that’s an individual frame.
So, lets go to the beginning of this clip.
Ok, so new frame.
And look here.
These two frames are identical.
So, new frame, new frame, new frame, new frame, and here we go again, identical frames.
So, by my estimation, it really does about 24 frames per second, and it actually gets
much worse in dark environments because it leaves the shutter open longer.
I also wanted to see if their claims of megapixels was accurate.
You see, it was advertised as a 6 megapixel camera, which to be honest, was quite a claim
to make back in 2005 even for a professional product.
But looking at the specifications in the manual, you may notice here that it says sensor effective
resolution is 3 megapixels, and interpolated resolution is 6 megapixels.
What does this mean?
Well, this was a common deceptive practice back at that time, particularly for no-name
That is, they would put a substandard CCD or CMOS imager in one of these devices and
then claim that it had twice or three times the resolution that it did.
And the way they achieved that is by upscaling the picture in software.
It would be really no different from me taking a low resolution photo into a paint program
and then doubling the resolution in the paint program and re-saving it.
I didn’t add any additional detail to the photo, but it is now a bigger image, right?
And since 99% consumers probably didn’t know what interpolation was, they probably
just assumed, like in the case of this, they were getting a 6 megapixel camera.
Now, keep in mind, AIPTEK was by no means the only company that used this deceptive
practice, but I will say that I rarely ever saw that practice used by brand name, or recognized
brand-name cameras like Panasonic, Sony, Nikon, and things like that.
They typically advertised the exact resolution of their sensor.
Still, I thought it would be interesting to put this to a scientific test, so I mounted
the camera on a tripod and put it macro mode.
According to the specifications in the manual, the optimal distance is 60 centimeters.
Then I took one of these camera test patterns and taped it to the wall.
However, the resulting image was kind of blurry.
So, I decided I’d have to just experiment until I found the optimal focal distance myself.
I started by setting the resolution to 1 megapixel, then taking a picture, then taking a picture
in 3 megapixel mode, and eventually in 6 megapixels.
And so here we are.
The idea is I’ll want to zoom in and compare pieces of this chart from all three modes.
Now, these numbers themselves are meaningless for this particular test, but they are good
for making relative comparisons.
So here I have all 3 resolutions, with 1 megapixel on the left, and 6 megapixel on the right.
So, if you look at this convergence test, you’ll see it starts to get blurry around
the number 4, and by 5 if it just a big blur.
Moving over to the 3 megapixel image, you can see an improvement here and even by 5
there are distinct lines.
However, when we go over to the 6 megapixel image, I can’t see any difference at all.
Here’s another test.
Some people on camera forums back in the day used to argue that you should still use the
6 megapixel mode because even though the resolution is fake, there is less compression noise,
because a larger file size is allocated.
This does appear to be possibly true since I can see less compression noise around the
actual numbers themselves, like 4, 5 and 6.
But there is certainly no extra detail.
OK, so even though the specifications didn’t live up to their claims, in fact I’d go
so far as to say that a VHS based camcorder could probably produce superior results, at
least with the video aspect of the device, despite that, these devices were still pretty
cool because they were small enough to fit in your pocket and they were also cheap enough
that you could carry them with you wherever you wanted without worrying about them getting
broken or stolen.
And, it was super convenient to be able to record directly to SD cards.
As a result, I have a lot of videos and still photos from the time period that I would not
have otherwise had.
And while many people laughed at me for carrying around what was essentially a kids toy, complaining
about the video quality, the reality is the best camera to use is the one you have with
Today, that’s your smart phone.
But 13 years ago, for me at least, it was this device.
I often had it with me and so I got a lot of video of my daughter and other family events
that I wouldn’t have had otherwise, even if the quality isn’t super great.
One interesting tidbit though…
It has a jack that doubles as a headphone jack or composite video jack.
When connected to an old CRT television, the video quality actually looks surprisingly
good, since the resolution is lower on the TV, it hides a lot of the artifacts.
So, for playing back your videos in this manner, it wasn’t bad.
I’d say this product is the 21st century equivalent of the Fisher Price PIXL camera
from the 1980s, or the Tyco Camera from the 1990s that I reviewed a while back.
And was actually sold for around the same price as what you would have paid for the
Tyco camera back then.
So, this product sort of rides the line between a kids toy and a real camcorder.
Well, I hope you enjoyed seeing this little piece of forgotten technology, that really
wasn’t all that long ago in comparison to a lot of the videos I do.
The first nail in the coffin for devices like this was probably around 2007 when a lot of
name brand manufacturers like Sony and Panasonic started making memory based camcorders that
used SD cards, then I think the final nail in the coffin was when all of the smart phones
started to have video recording capability.
I mean, after all, if everybody already has a video recording device in their pocket,
there’s not much market for a separate device to do that.
Anyway, so that about wraps it up.
So, as always, thanks for watching.