By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers
Digital cameras are hot this year. But good ones still cost $500 or more, and most digital cameras require expensive memory cards if you want to take pictures away from your PC.
But suppose I told you that you could spend about $200 and get a good digital camera? The one I'm thinking of doesn't need any expensive storage cards. (It uses $2 devices to store thousands and thousands of still frames.) Better yet, for that $200 you can also capture video and store it on your PC, so that you can create your own PC-based movies.
No, I'm not teasing you about some oddball futuristic gadget. All you need is a camcorder—and chances are you have that already—and a device called Snappy. The latest version is called Snappy 3.0. You should be able to find the deluxe version, which comes with some fancy image-editing software, for about $200.
Snappy was introduced by Play Inc. two years ago. The current version uses the same hardware—a small plastic adaptor that plugs into your PC's printer port—but has much better software.
What Snappy does is easy to explain. It takes video and turns it into digital images, either still frames (regular pictures) or actual moving pictures. Sound also can be recorded if you capture moving pictures. The video can come from a TV, a VCR, a camcorder or a separate video camera, and the sound can be from the sound track or from anything else, such as a voice-over track you create.
What Snappy does not do is easy to explain, too. It does not record video well enough to impress your friends or wow the dog. Video capture is almost an afterthought. The impressive part of Snappy's video-capture performance is that it does it at all, not that it does it well, and you'd probably have as much fun as I do making short video clips out of your favorite tapes. (Clips longer than five minutes tend to lose their synchronization, meaning the sound drifts out of sync with the picture. As set up by the factory, Snappy won't record long video scenes anyway, but you can turn that limitation off by editing the Windows Registry so that the line within the "AcquireOptions" key called "PreviewTimeout" has a value of zero. Run the Registry editor and search for "PreviewTimeout" (without the quotes, of course) and change the value to 0. Don't do this unless you know what you are doing. The Registry is not something to experiment with.
Snappy has only one quality level when it records video, even though you can twiddle with a few settings that are supposed to improve the picture. But Snappy has four quality levels for capturing still images, and the highest level is leagues ahead of the best quality from any digital camera you can afford. This highest level requires a live picture of something that is absolutely still, but the results are worth the extra effort.
The phenomenal still-image quality comes about because Snappy takes advantage of a flaw in the way still video images are sent from the camera. These stills aren't really "still" at all; they shake slightly because of jitter in the signal. With each little shake, the scene shifts slightly in one direction or another. Snappy grabs all the jitters and turns the blurs into added detail, much the same as your own eyes do when you're trying to see through the slats in a fence. By moving your head from side to side, you see more of the scene, but never at the same time. Your brain puts everything together to show you much more than you'd see through any single slits.
I use Snappy to create still pictures for my Web site, so you've already seen what Snappy can do if you've opened the page on my site that gives a brief autobiography. I'll be adding a few more samples of still images and one sample of Snappy video-and-audio capture. Check back for the links. (The images are being prepared for the Web and should be available soon.)
You can see even more impressive Snappy captures at the Snappy home site, http://www.play.com.