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Action-ready camcorder eyes extreme sports

Posted: 05 Sep 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Samsung? SC-X105L? camcorder? MPEG-4? teardown?

By eliminating the optomechanics that have dominated the video camera media paradigm for so long, Samsung has developed a flexible, multifeatured camcorder that folds up into a neat little package measuring a mere 10-by-3-by-5.8cm, about the size of a cigarette pack. In sharp contrast to the ingestible camera-pill featured in a previous teardown analysiswhich is a fixed-function deviceSamsung's SC-X105L is billed as an action-ready camcorder.

The SC-X105 differentiates itself through its many features, including the built-in zoom lens assembly for standard camera duty, with a flip-out color LCD for viewfinder functions. The design is similar to that of "pistol-grip" camcorders, but the size is dramatically smaller than most. Samsung eschewed the usual magnetic tape or recordable optical disk for storage, choosing a mix of built-in and expansion-slot silicon memory for the recording media.

On the down side, this design limits recording timeit's anywhere between 5mins and 60mins depending on resolution, total available memory and selected level of compression. MPEG-4 recording formats are used in all cases, and the 3.4W-hr battery probably means storage capacity will give out before the available charge does.

The SC-X105L's second significant differentiator lies in the novel weatherproofed and tethered "remote camera," about the size of a roll of quarters and used in conjunction with the standard lens/imager of the main camera. Two AAA batteries power the imaging head, whose built-in cable goes to a jack on the front of the camcorder body and contains a record start/stop button.

Mounts and clips are provided to belt, mount, clip or otherwise fasten the External Camera to your person, vehicle or any other place you might want to place it. It's the device to use when you want to capture that run down the ski slopes or mountain-biking trek through the rough stuff.

While the design approach emphasized miniaturization, Samsung made clear efforts to build a rugged product suitable for the sports-centric target buyer. Adding to the intrinsically rugged nature of solid-state recording, the camcorder uses a water-resistant construction with rubberized surface finish to accommodate an active lifestyle. The External Camera in particular uses O-ring seals to keep external moisture away from the electronics within.

Motorola's ROKR handset

Samsung's SC-X105L is billed as an action-ready camcorder.
View teardown diagram.

The two cameras use different technical approaches. The External Camera uses a Pixelplus CMOS-based NTSC analog video imager, while the higher-quality sensor in the camera body is based on a 1/6-inch 680,000pixel CCD from Sony. The latter requires far more supporting power circuitry, and output from the CCD is processed first through a TLV990 analog front-end chip from Texas Instruments to handle gain control, correlated double sampling for noise reduction and A/D conversion. The NTSC video source is processed through a Techwell TW9920, which likewise brings the analog CMOS sensor into the digital realm. The AKM AK4564 audio codec enables audio conversion for the built-in microphone and analog audio output.

A Samsung custom processor served by code flash and SDRAM from SST and Samsung, respectively, forms the primary image processor for the SC-X105L, while a NEC microcontroller handles overall housekeeping duties. The Techwell part takes processed digital output from the Samsung image processor and creates the needed analog video signals used by the camcorder's 2-inch Sony 880-by-228pixel LCD panel. A Samsung K9K4G08UOM NAND flash provides the internal 512Mbytes of storage for recorded video.

The design also incorporates image stabilization, often needed with long zoom lenses such as the 10x optical zoom of the primary internal lens (the External Camera uses only fixed optics). A pair of Epson-Toyocom gyros located on the Flex Interconnect enable image stabilization. The image processor sub-frames and shifts each image to eliminate frame-to-frame motion. Overall motor control is left to an NEC microPD16877 motor controller/driver. Shake a bit and the lens moves slightly to compensate for the motion and to hold the image recorded at the CCD in place.

Along with being a daring departure in camcorder design, the SC-X105L is somewhat of a Trojan horse for Samsung Semiconductor content. While many other vendors share in the parts list, the high-value devices and memory are supplied largely by the end-product manufacturer's sister chip division.

Priced between $450 and $500, the SC-X105L is a bit expensive compared with conventional camcorders of equivalent video quality. Buyers can also expect to invest in some extra memory cards for extended shooting. The design nonetheless telegraphs a potential future video environment free of snarled tapes, fading analog recordings and difficult-to-share video formats. Just be careful in extreme-sport settingsusers may be at risk for injury as much as the camcorder itself.

- David Carey
President, Portelligent

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