The other weekend I was at a wedding and I’d been asked to bring my video camera along and shoot some footage of the reception. I have had my camera, a Sony IP7, for quite a while and haven’t really used it all that much. It’s a minuscule thing, smaller than my G5 still camera and very easy to handle. Battery life is okay and I can hook it up to my PC via USB, firewire or, should I ever figure out how, Bluetooth. The camera uses Sony’s own MicroMV format tapes though (along with a Sony MemoryStick for still images) and that’s where the problems start. Part of the reason I have not used the camera much is because it’s a pain in the arse to transfer the files to a PC. There are, as far as my research goes, only three applications that support the MicroMV format: Ulead’s VideoStudio (version 7 and up), Pinnacle’s Studio (version 8 and up) and Sony’s MovieShaker software, which is supplied with the camera. My new Mac Mini isn’t really potent enough to edit movies on, but it doesn’t matter as none of the software is Mac compatible.
Of the three of them I’ve only ever been able to capture from my camera in MovieShaker. The others simply refuse to see the camera. One of the limitations of MovieShaker is that it only works with Quicktime 5, so I had to uninstall Quicktime 6 and sacrifice playback of anything newer just to get it to work. The MovieShaker software, as you can guess, isn’t exactly fully-featured or particularly easy to use. When it captures footage, it saves the files in MMV format. Now, as MMV is simply (as I understand it) a barstardised version of MPEG 2 (which is the format DVDs and many digital TV systems use, it’s something to do with Sony using the ‘transport’ stream rather than a ‘program’ stream, apparently) the question has to be asked as to why it simply doesn’t just put the data in a regular format that is supported by a lot more software to start with. I have recently found a command line utility that converts MMV files into MPG (apparently Windows Media Player will play the files as long as you rename the files extension to MPG and Quicktime should play them too). This is one of the things that Sony doesn’t seem to comprehend. Locking people into your format is a recipe for disaster, not success. They found this more recently with their digital music players that only supported Sony’s own format and meant you could only buy music from the Sony online store, they soon changed their tune (no pun intended). The reason there is still so much MP3 formatted music about, and why it’ll continue, despite being a technically inferior codec, is because everything plays it. iPods play Apple’s AAC format, and MP3, most other MP3 players (note how they’re generically called MP3 players and not digital music players) play WMA files and MP3.
Digital-8 and Mini-DV dominate the home video camera market. This means that there is a truckload of hardware and software that support it. When Sony introduced the MicroMV format, a tape that is tiny compared to either of the above, it was on to a winner, only no one else adopted it. This meant that only Sony’s software supported it, which made it unpopular because people couldn’t use their favourite editing package, which meant that no one else could see the point of making a camera that used it, which sealed its fate. As long as I can get the media and it’s not going to break the bank, I don’t care what the camera records onto. The camera is the transfer hardware, assuming you’ve got the right port connection already, so that’s taken care of. The most important things then are:
- I must be able to hook the camera up and capture the footage off of it quickly and easily, I’m not fussed if I have to use a special little application to do so, all the better if I don’t, but it better work on any platform and without me needing to uninstall other applications to get it to work.
- Make sure it’s then in a format I can play and edit in any bit of software I choose (which means capturing and saving to one of the most popular formats that is currently supported).
It’s not hard, but you forget it at your peril. I won’t lie, I‘m not a big fan of Sony products. I’ve had quite a few in recent years (mainly as presents rather than by choice) and they’ve all had gaping usability holes (both my home CD and old car MD players, for example, won’t let you use the forward skip on the last track of a disc. On every other system I’ve used, when you hit skip on the last track it returns to track 1, but not on the Sony systems. Either you have to listen to it in full, fast forward manually to the end or skip backwards to the start of the disc. How stupid is that?). They look good, but they don’t work well, in my opinion. Hopefully Sony, and other manufacturers, will learn that users don’t like being limited and that forcing your customers to do what you say will spell the end for your product, no matter how advanced it is.