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Team Fortress 2: Sentry Owners Manual

I found this funny. If you own any Valve games, you know they are authorized and launched from their Steam platform. Like most Steam games, Team Fortress 2 includes a PDF manual linked from the Steam interface. What's funny that is instead of a TF2 manual, Valve included a humorous in character manual for the Engineer's Sentry emplacement. Give it a read. My favorite are the safety diagrams, and the step by step upgrade instructions.

If you're not familiar w/ Team Fortress 2, you should probably "Meet the Engineer".


Jazz Elite HDV178 $99 HD Camcorder Review

I've had a few days to play with the Jazz Elite HDV-178 that I picked up at Wal-Mart last week. We took it with us on a trip to King's Island in Oh, so I made sure to take some photos and videos to test it. The verdict? I like it, a lot. It's a very basic camera, but it does everything I'd expect for $99 and is still a cheap enough camera I wouldn't be heartbroken if something happened to it instead of my MiniDV camcorder.

Let's start with some sample video and images:
Here is a video clip I shot at Kings Island of their new Firehawk coaster. This was taken on the HD setting. Keep in mind Vimeo transcoded this video to Flash, so some quality is lost. If you want to create a Vimeo account, there is an option to download the original file so you can see the full quality. The embedded version below is not displayed in HD, You'll want to click over to the Vimeo site to see their HD version.

King's Island Firehawk Coaster /HDV178 Camcorder Test from macrogeek on Vimeo.

Here is a still image taken with the HDV178:
Here is a comparison image taken with the 2MP camera on my iPhone:
Here is another HDV178 still image taken at the amusement park with the macro setting on:
The major convenience of this camcorder is the convenience of flash memory. It boots in about 5 seconds, so you can be up an recording very quickly. I like my Panasonic MiniDV camcorder, but finding a queuing up a tape is a pain. I've missed recording cute baby moments because the camera wasn't ready. Since the HDV178 records to SD cards, you never have to find or rewind a tape, and the recordings and pictures are stored in individual files, so you can quickly find them and transfer them to your hard drive in any order without having to set up a FireWire connection and scrub an hour of tape for the clip you need. I've found that since I started using a flash camera, I'm recording more impromptu videos than before, and taking still images to accompany the recordings. (my DV camera didn't handle still images well)
This camera is light, the body is plastic, which feels a little cheap, but what I expect given the price. There are textured rubber grips on the whole body. It comes with a belt pouch/case and a wrist strap. It's small enough you can fit it pretty comfortably in your jeans pocket. I wore it all day on my belt at the amusement park and didn't find it uncomfortable. I was impressed with the accessories that came with such a cheap camera. The aforementioned case, a composite TV output cable, a HDMI cable, driver CD with a video CODEC and transcoding software to convert the H264 files into common formats, DVD burning software. I kind of wish there was a snap on lens cap, but no luck there.
Battery life seems good. I haven't run the camera completely out yet, but from what I'm reading on forums you can record almost 2 hours straight on one charge. Which is longer than most SD cards will hold. I'm using a 2GB SD card and I can get about an hour on the HD setting and two hours on the highest standard definition setting. HD video looks good. It's plenty of resolution if you're planning on posting videos to a flash based service like YouTube, Revver, Vimeo, or that kind of thing. I'd say sometimes the HD video from the camera rivals my MiniDV camera, but I think the cheap optics give it away. The fixed lens also means that you can only use digital zoom (which looks pretty good), but you aren't going to get great focus at a distance. I think the still camera feature suffers most from the fixed lenses. The pictures look pretty good, but while the camera is marketed at 5MP, they don't look as good as images taken with a high quality 5MP camera. I love the fact that you don't need to install special drivers to get the video off this camera. You just plug a mini-USB cable in and it shows up as a mass storage device. The TV output also works great. I used it to show video to my parents from the camera, and it looked pretty good on their SD TV.
My only complaints with the camera so far? You have to open the viewfinder to start the camera. The viewer has to open, or folded flat to the side of the camera with the LCD screen facing out to record. It would be nice if you could just hit an on button and shoot without the viewfinder once you had framed your subject. Not a big deal though. The system startup sound is annoying an loud, and can't be turned off with the other system sounds. Some folks will complain about plastic construction, but hey, it's a $99 camera. The mic is on top of the camera, facing up, so you have to lean to control your voice, or you will be way louder than the subjects on camera. A CODEC is required to view the H264 format that this camera records. I had to install it on my laptop to play video, my desktop machine played it fine w/o the codec. I'm guessing that something I installed in the K-Lite CODEC pack can handle the Microsoft version of H264 this camera uses. I'd suggest putting a copy of the K-Lite pack and VLC player on a folder in your memory card just in case you need it to view video on a friend's computer. (or you can just carry the video cable and use their TV)
Even with the short list of "cons" for this camera. I find most of them minor and things that I'll tolerate for the convenience of a hundred dollar camcorder.

*Edit 8/13/08* I have shot comparison videos between the Jazz Elite HDV178 and the Pure Digital Flip Ultra. You can find more in my post:


SD Card Camcorder - Jazz Elite HDV178

EDIT: 6-11-08 - I posted a complete review with sample video and images here.

I picked up a Jazz Elite HDV178 camcorder at Wal-Mart yesterday.
It's a little cam with a 5MP sensor. The box touts it as 11MP through some kind of interpolation, for what that's worth.

I've been playing with it and so far I'm pretty impressed. I mean it has cheap optics, but the video looks pretty good. It's probably only slightly worse than my current MiniDV camcorder. Seems like a bargain for the $99 they're charging. Especially for the types of events where you wouldn't want to risk your good camera. I think it's perfect for any recording that's just going to put on YouTube, Vimeo, Revver, or any other Flash video service. I think this kind of camera might lends itself nicely to video podcasting.

It records to some version of H264 in a AVI container. I had to install a codec on my laptop to view it, and Quicktime on a Mac can't seem play it with the default codecs. My Vista box had no trouble playing it, so one of the codecs from the K-Lite Codec pack must have been able to handle it.

It can also take still images at 5MP, and will function as a voice recorder.

It came packed with conversion software that will let you transcode to other formats if needed, and burn DVD's, but I haven't bothered with it yet. I use Vegas Pro 8 for most of my video editing.

I'll do a more detailed review as I play with it more.

EDIT: 6-11-08 - Review is posted with sample video and images here: