The Sharp MPEG-4 Digital Recorder Model VN-EZ1U

By George Margolin,
Former Technical Editor, Popular Photography Magazine 

Times Square New Years Eve with SharpClick here for Still Picture Of Times Square Ball drop
Click here for Streaming Video from Times Square News Years with Sharp Internet ViewCam 

Links to Photo Albums

A peek at the Future EYES and EARS of pocketable Camcorders and Computers

What it is -- what it isnít -- and what it WILL surely become

What it IS -- A Reporters "Dream Machine" A Travelerís Delight and the Future of Digital Camcorders -- All in a device about the size of a pack of cigarettes -- and it wonít cause Cancer!.

Where else can you find a fit-in-your-shirt-pocket Digital Camera-Camcorder-Voice Recorder? And -- a device that is capable of producing LOTS of still pictures of quality adequate for use on a Web Site. And -- a useful, if limited -- archival video stream as a visual record of an interview or an event And Streaming Video for use on the Internet. And -- an adequate Sound Recorder of interviews up to an hour on 4 AA cells and a 32 MB Smart Memory Card. Much longer if you bring along more postage stamp sized 32 Meg Smart Memory Cards and batteries.

All of the above is contained in a miniature marvel I consider to be the first generation of the future. A new breed of Camcorders. Designated by Sharp as an "Internet ViewCam," it automatically creates Streaming Video using the Microsoft Media Player which is part of all the later Windows systems. The format is called ASF (Automatic Streaming Video). Its files are stored in about ľ the space of a normal compressed AVI files. And the still photos are stored in the new MPEG4 format for smaller file size. NOTE: The image quality -- as we write this, of these two new compression formats, greatly limits picture quality, But such algorithms are getting better every day. And -- youíll have pictures you might never have gotten without this little pocket portable gem. Another way to talk about the size vs. quality tradeoff is -- "Give a little in quality, and get a little camera that you can always carry with you."

In the Beginning Ö

The story of how I found it, and how I got hold of one for this article, is interesting in itself. At COMDEX my wife Cathy, who is also a computer person and writer, and I were passing the Sharp booth. Since we were gathering information on the latest digital cameras and camcorders for our website,, I asked if Sharp had a digital camera they could show us for possible inclusion in our show coverage.

The person behind the counter said, "Well, we donít have a digital camera. but we have some kind of ĎInternet Viewcamí at the other end of the booth" So Cathy and I walked over to the counter and were startled by a group of marvelously small and handy little cameras. "Are they still cameras?" I asked. "Yes, and they also do streaming video for use on the Internet." "How many minutes of video?" "An hour." "AN HOUR???"

"Yes, an hour using a stamp size, 32MB Smart Memory Card and a set of 4 alkaline AA cells."

Well, that really got me interested, because as a reporter, it would be fantastic to have a way of recording both sound and pictures during an interview. And with the still picture capabilities of this camera -- one could also take record shots of the person being interviewed or the products they are talking about.

I decided instantly that I wanted to get my hands on one of these little beauties and write it up if it worked AT ALL as it had been described. But no luck -- they had none to loan to the press. "Sad!" But we exchanged cards and I thought that when I got to New York for the New Yearís Ball Drop on Times Square, perhaps I could borrow one to shoot the Ball Dropping with crowds screaming..

So this story is a result of my having gotten to New York, borrowed one of the cameras, stood on Times Square for 6 Ĺ HOURS, in the cold, without any potty facilities for any of the 2 MILLION like minded die hards. And we did use the little Sharp to capture the noise and madness of the crowd at the midnight stroke of the Millennium, as well as for general picture taking and interviewing all over the country since then.

Below weíll tell you what this camera IS and what it ISNíT. But whatever its current limitations -- every time I show it to anyone and take their picture -- and show them the results -- on the spot -- people ask me where they can buy one. This little camera is a turn-on despite some serious current technical limitations. Its tiny size means you can always carry the camera with you and have it ready for instant shooting.

What it is --

  • A shirt pocket sized, sight, sound and streaming video record keeper.
  • A journalistís digital scratch pad
  • A reporters "instant recall"
  • A pocket tape recorder with imaging capabilities
  • A fully random access recording device, since it doesnít use tape
  • A full hour of mono sound and low res pictures on a 32 MB Smart Card
  • A barely adequate but always available snapshot shooter for two hundred eighty eight, 640X480 photos on a 32 MB Smart Card
  • A unique and very useful product.
  • A really fun product to use
  • The FIRST generation of the future of photography and video capture!!!


What it isnít --

  • A "real" camcorder capable of playing on a large TV screen
  • A digital camera capable of generating 8X10 photorealistic prints
  • An MP3 quality stereo sound recorder capable of blasting your eardrums out
  • A heavy, clunky, hard to park, hard to hold, hard to use Digital Camcorder
  • A camera that will produce "National Geographic" quality nature pictures and Landscapes
  • And it isnít very useable in bright sunlight without a means to shade its ONLY viewfinder -- the little LCD screen on the back. For that you should carry a floppy hat.


What it will be -- The beginning of the end of "large" Camcorders for consumers

  • Imaging chips are getting smaller
  • Imaging chips are getting denser with ever higher resolution
  • Imaging chips are becoming increasingly more sensitive (faster) for lower light use
  • Memory chips are growing in capacity while staying the same size or getting smaller
  • Memory devices like the IBM Microdisk, which is already 340 MB -- will quickly increase in capacity to multi gigs in a Flash Memory format -- with the disk itself, the size of a quarter -- and smaller.
  • Camera electronics will greatly increase in speed and capability permitting greater and faster compression for storage and decompression for viewing
  • True Camcorder/Digital Still cameras with hours of SVHS (or greater) quality in a device the size of this Sharp device.

In Short -- This device or its descendents will merge and meld with Palm Pilot-like hand held computers and become the EYES and EARS of computing cellphones and GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) devices, capable of two way wireless communication. This convergence is happening NOW and will be available within the next few years. Very FEW years.

Itís all converging. It WILL converge. This is just the BEGINNING!

The future is coming much faster than you might believe. And for those of us who love Videography -- as do -- it is going to be a Fantastic Future of Hugely capable Miniature Camcorder-like devices. This story is scheduled to appear in the June 2000 issue of Camcorder & Computer Video magazine.







How the Sharp Internet Viewcam can "Win you friends And Influence people"

  • Face and Place Miniature Memory Machine-- For a reporter, correspondent or writer -- use it as a at a convention, such as COMDEX or others -- Still picture of the face -- still picture of the place -- Video of comments and information about the face, place and situation. This is the best way Iíve ever found to Remember, who, what, when and where. It also flatters the people youíre talking with.
  • Travelers -- When Travelling locally or abroad -- Take a strangers picture -- with a friendly attitude -- make a friend
  • Show them that pleasing picture on the cameraís screen moments after you take it and youíll impress that new friend
  • Shoot a few moments (20 seconds to a minute) of Streaming Video where the person tells you who he/she is and something about themselves or their product or work -- And their email and/or mailing address, and you make an indelible memory for yourself and a BIG impression on them. -- This will give you the information you need to know Where to send a copy of your still picture for follow up and to solidify the new relationship for business or friendship.


NOTE: While these suggestions will work with a few Digital Camcorders, such as the smallest from JVC and some of the more sophisticated small Sony models -- to my current knowledge, NONE of the others is as "pocket portable" as this tiny Sharp camera. Nor does any other offer the size, along with the random access instant search capability of this camera.

Size 3 7/32 x 3 17/32 x 1 22/32 (Shirt pocket portable)

Weight 8.5 oz



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