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2005 Digital Imaging Products Guide

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As teaching professionals move more content online, the need for digital material to support that Web-based content is growing rapidly. This article will look at a handful of approaches to creating, capturing and manipulating digital content. All of the methods reviewed can generate digital content for Blackboard, WebCT or the Web, while some have educational uses beyond the online world. As an additional bonus to cash-strapped educational institutions, none of the solutions are very expensive and a few are even free.

I will first look at two digital cameras from Gateway, then I will explore a couple of free programs for working with digital images. In addition, reviews for three hardware products - a device for capturing analog video signals on a computer from Dazzle Fusion, the Seiko InkLink handwriting system for capturing handwriting digitally, and an Aspire DVD recorder - are below.

Digital Shutterbug

After last year’s digital camera reviews, readers requested that I look at Gateway digital cameras since many schools and colleges have purchasing agreements with the company. I was able to get my hands on two models: the Gateway DC-M42 and the DC-T50 digital cameras (www.gateway.com/education).

The DC-M42 offers a 4.1-megapixel resolution, while the DC-T50 has 5-megapixel resolution and retails for $250, making it one of the least expensive 5-megapixel cameras available. While both cameras are small enough to fit in a shirt pocket, the more powerful DC-T50 is surprisingly smaller (by about 25%) than the DC-M42. Both are automatic point-and-shoot models that include a built-in flash, a back 1.6” color TFT LCD and an optical viewfinder. In addition, the DC-M42 and DC-T50 feature 3X optical zoom and digital zoom lenses.

The DC-M42 comes with 11 MB of internal memory, which limits its storage capacity to about nine images at maximum resolution. This model d'esn’t come with a memory card, so you must either download the images to a PC and burn them to a CD, or purchase a Secure Digital (SD) memory card for more capacity. The DC-T50, however, comes with a 32 MB SD memory card that holds about 12 images at maximum resolution. In addition, both models offer several lower-resolution settings and can take short, low-resolution video clips as well.

The DC-M42 runs on two AA batteries, while the DC-T50 uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Both come with cables and software to connect to a USB port as well as serviceable photo-editing software such as Roxio’s PhotoSuite 4, which is easy to use and will handle most common editing needs. There’s no question that both cameras take great snapshots, especially at their highest resolution, just visit click here for examples of photos that I took with the cameras. Overall, given its higher resolution, sleeker design and small difference in price, the DC-T50 is the better choice.

One final note: As this article was going to press, Gateway discontinued the DC-M42; however, used models of the digital camera are widely available beginning at $130.

JPEG Solutions

You may not know it, but your digital camera actually stores information called EXIF data within each photograph. The data includes the file name, photo dimensions and size, exposure and ISO information, as well as camera brand and model. EXIF Image Viewer is free software, available online at http://home.pacbell.net/michal_k/exif_v.html, which displays this information for all JPEG files in a folder. There is also a shell extension for Windows 2000 that displays the EXIF information as a pop-up balloon.

However, it is widely know that the JPEG file format uses lousy compression. Each time you save a JPEG file, the image is recompressed and information is lost. One solution to this problem is available for download at JPEGclub.org (www.jpegclub.org). This free software, known as JPEGcrop, allows you to crop and rotate JPEG images without sacrificing their quality. The software d'esn’t even require installation; just download the ZIP file, decompress it and run the program. It is easy to use and performs flawlessly.

- Dr. Ronny Richardson,

Southern Polytechnic State University, Georgia


Dazzle Fusion Review

The purpose of Dazzle Fusion is to transfer analog or digital images, as well as video or audio onto your computer. Priced at $99, this inexpensive external box takes digital input from Type I and II compact flash memory cards, as well as from a number of peripherals such as a Memory Stick, SmartMedia, MultiMediaCard, SD card and IBM Microdrive. It also takes analog input from almost any camcorder or VCR. Video can be captured using MPEG-1, MPEG-2 or AVI with a frame rate of 25 frames per second and a capture resolution of 320 x 288. The captured material is then streamed to the computer via a USB connection. With Dazzle Fusion, you can film lecture snippets or lab demonstrations using any camcorder, and then easily transfer the results to a computer for editing and uploading to the Web.

In addition, Dazzle Fusion comes loaded with software that lets you capture, edit, and arrange audio and video along with photographs. As video is captured, the software tries to guess at the different scenes for you, which makes it easy to delete or rearrange scenes. Then once your production is complete, it can be exported as AVI, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, Real Media or Windows Media. However, it’s important to remember that Real Media and Windows Media work best for posting to WebCT or Blackboard. While fairly complex, the software was straightforward and relatively easy-to-use after a learning period.

If you have an older camcorder that cannot output directly to a digital format that will interface with your computer, Dazzle Fusion is an inexpensive way to get your video into the computer while also providing the editing software needed. In fact, the software alone is worth the low purchase price. Dazzle Fusion is an excellent tool for creating instructional, Web-based video, and its ability to read digital camera memory cards is an added bonus.

For more information, visit www.pinnaclesys.com/ProductPage_n.asp?Product_ID=1429&Langue_ID=7.

InkLink Handwriting System Review

The InkLink handwriting system from Seiko Instruments USA Inc. lets you capture your handwriting on any desktop, notebook or PDA. Any text, equation or drawing that you can write can be captured. Your writing can then be exported to a JPG file, which can be e-mailed to a student to answer a specific question or posted on a Web page as an illustration. The result is like having a virtual blackboard.

The InkLink product comes with a device that attaches to the top of any notepad up to a legal size. This device also attaches to your computer via the USB port or to your PDA via an IrDA transceiver. When you write on the pad using the special enclosed pen, the software displays a notepad on your computer screen and what you write gets captured.

I found it easy to use and very useful for posting notes for my statistics course where I needed to produce a lot of distribution drawings. The product’s list price is only $129.99, which makes it very affordable. Although my handwriting and drawings came out somewhat sloppy, this is certainly not the fault of InkLink. Some of my efforts are shown on this page.

The InkLink has two main drawbacks: First, it captures text slowly, at least on my USB 1.1 system, so you have to write slowly. Second, the pen d'es not have an on/off switch so it continues to drain the batteries while not in use. The batteries are $12 a set so I take them out of the pen when not in use.

Editor’s note: The Seiko Instruments Web site classifies the InkLink as a “discontinued product,” but still offers plenty of background information on the product.

For more information, visit www.siibusinessproducts.com/support/discsupp.html.

Aspire Digital’s AD-8091 DVD Recorder Review

DVD recorders record to a writable DVD rather than a tape. There are two main formats: DVD+R/W and DVD-R/W. The +/-R discs are write-only while the +/-RW discs can be erased and reused. You must make sure to buy the right discs as they are not interchangeable, but once recorded they will play back on most DVD players. The +/-R discs are about a dollar each in small quantities, while the +/-RW discs are $2 to $3 dollars each. DVD recorders have dropped in price enough that it now makes sense to switch from a VCR to a DVD recorder.Aspire Digital’s AD-8091 DVD recorder is one of the newer, inexpensive DVD recorders. Its suggested price is just $249. In addition, the AD-8092 DVD recorder adds FireWire (IEEE 1394) for connecting directly to digital camcorders for a list price of $299.

The AD-8091 records to DVD+R and DVD+RW discs at five quality settings, allowing between one and six hours on a disc. It has connections on the back for RF in/out, composite video in/out, and S-Video in/out. It d'es, however, lack the front composite-video inputs common to most recorders, so you must fish in back to connect a camcorder.

The AD-8091 can record from the television as you watch it, or you can preprogram it to record shows. You can transfer content from a VCR or camcorder but only at viewing speed, so transferring an hour tape takes one hour. It will also automatically create chapters for you during recording that you can name these later, but the interface is clunky. The AD-8091 supports copy protection on commercial DVDs so you cannot make duplicates of copyrighted material.

In addition to recording from the television, I used the AD-8091 to transfer videos I use in the classroom to DVD. The process was easy and, in all cases, the resulting quality was every bit as good as the source video. Once on a DVD, I could upload these to a computer for further processing or uploading to the Web.

The AD-8091 is a user-friendly and inexpensive DVD recorder that I highly recommend.

For more information on Aspire Digital’s products, visit www.aspiredigital.com.

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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