Blurb iOS app: Share your stories in an instant

Blurb

One of the great things about all this technology we have at our fingertips is that we can share instantly with friends and family – maybe post up some pictures from a party, or share a video of a family event with relatives who couldn’t make it.

But sometimes all that uploading and fiddling about can be a bit of a pain. Enter Blurb, a mobile app that allows you to gather all your images, video and audio into one ‘story’, which can be posted on to your Facebook or Twitter account, emailed and put up on the Blurb site (you can choose to make your story private or public), all at the tap of a screen.

Blurb is best known for its book making service, which allows users to create and print their own books online. The makers have taken this one step forward into the online mobile arena with the advent of Blurb Mobile.

The app is really quick and simple to use – you choose to create a story, type in the title and you’re off. You can upload images from your existing library, or choose to take a still shot or video and automatically add that.

Then you can edit them – cropping, rotating, scaling and so on, and arrange them in the order you want – all really easy thanks to drag and drop. It is also possible to add geotagging, so the story can be linked to a map location.

Once you’re done, you can choose to add voice and text captions, and opt for one of seven colour themes (in the free app – more are available if you pay for the full version of the app).

What really impressed me about Blurb is its simplicity. One of the reasons I fail to put up images onto Facebook is that I never seem to have time to download images from my camera and the longer I leave it, the more of a mammoth task it becomes. Something like Blurb, which works quickly and easily, is a great advantage and I can envisage users getting really into ‘reportage’ mode and uploading stories every day.

The app is available for free for the iPhone, while an upgrade to the full version with extra functions is £1.19.

More on the app at www.blurb.com

Lights, Camera, Action – The best action cameras available

Capturing the terrifying yet exciting concoction of feelings produced by participating in extreme sports on camera is priceless, but naturally requires an extremely durable and rugged piece of equipment. Action Cam (pictured) that features standard definition action thrills for only £24.99. If you are looking for something a bit more high-end however, latestgadgets have come up with the most dependable photographic companion to accompany those crazy enough to take part in such white-knuckle, adrenaline-pumping sports.

Action-Head-Cam

Oregon Scientific ATC9K HD Video Camera
Designed solely with extreme sport enthusiasts in mind, the new ATC9K has both a G-sensor and GPS module crammed into its interior, allowing tracking and recording of the geographical and physical aspects of thrill-seekers escapades, and not merely the visual.

Recognizing the difficulty of switching a camera onto play mode when you are hurtling down the side of a mountain, Oregon Scientific have included a one button recording feature and a laser pointer to line up the action, regardless of the precarious places the ATC9K might be attached to. Weighing 160g, the ATC9K is shock resistant and waterproof for up to 20 meters, but manages to retain an attractive exterior despite being such a sturdy device. The camera takes five mega-pixel photos and records up to 1080p of high-definition video.

The ATC9K costs £249.99, which includes mounting accessories. GPS plug-in can bought for an extra £49.99.

Drift HD170
Pioneered by Drift, the HD170 is similar to the ATC9K, in providing 5 mega-pixel photos and 1080p, 720 or WVGA high-definition video settings. But what is particularly favourable with this action camera compared to many others on the market is that users can benefit from a 170-degree wide-angle lens, which we presume gives the camera its name. The lens can be rotated at a 300 degree angle, optimizing the field view of the action.

Other features to make life easier for the adrenaline junkies amongst us includes RF remote saves batteries, memory and edit time by making it easy to shoot briefer clips. The RF remote also starts and stops recording safely to avoid the possibility of brawling with the camera on the go. A 4X Digital zoom also enables the HD170 to get closer to the action.
The Drift HD170 is more expensive at £329.99, which we assume is because of its rather special lens.

GoPro HD Helmet Hero 1080P
Marketed as being the world’s first true 1080p HD wearable camera with 30 frames per second recording, the HD Helmet Hero 1080P capitalizes on resolution, clarity and realism – the essence behind the reasons of employing an action camera.
The wider the field of view is with wearable cameras the better, to allow extreme sportsmen and women to visualise not only their own personal techniques but the techniques of rivals. With a 1280x960p resolution the HD Helmet Hero gives users the largest field of view of any wearable camera.

This GoPro wearable camera has protective waterproof casing, which not only protects the camera from the most aggressive of journeys but is also waterproof up to 60 meters under water, some 40 more than the ATC9K, making it a firm favourite for deep sea divers.

Retailing at £299.99 the GoPro HD Helmet Hero 1080P is reasonably priced, although without any viewfinder, knowing what you are filming may prove difficult.

Get a new angle from the Canon EOS 60D DSLR

The Canon 60D is the third similar camera that Canon has released in the past year, so what makes it worth the £1,099 price tag?

Well, probably one of the most obvious new features is the articulated screen, which makes it easier for the photographer to be more creative with their angles, and which is also a bonus for filming video or when you’re waiting for that perfect shot when the camera is set up on a tripod.

Canon--EOS-60D

The screen itself is the 3:2 ratio high-res LCD that was found on the 550D, which puts it a step ahead of its older sibling the 7D.

You can capture 1920x1080p HD video with a variety of user-selectable frame rates, including 30, 25 and 24fps, as well as 720p video at 60 and 50fps. Video photography also has a new plus – with full manual control of both image and, unusually for a consumer DSLR – audio.

So how about getting creative with your stills images? In an interesting move, Canon is offering built-in filters to give effects such as Miniature, Soft Focus and Grainy, as well as customisable features offering you quick access to your favourite settings.

The 9-point, all cross-type autofocus (AF) system offers an extra-sensitive centre point for lenses faster than f/2.8, which aims to allow you to get artistic with shallow depth of field during portraiture or for more atmospheric shooting.

With an 18MP processor, the 60D, which will replace the Canon 50D when it is released in October, can capture 5.3 JPEG images a second at full resolution. It can also capture Raw images; good news for photographers who like to play around with their pictures after the fact.

Whether you’re saving stills or HD video, the 60D user will be able to capture them to SD memory card and the new SDXC format, which can offer up to a massive 2TB of storage.

Other changes from the 50D it replaces include Wireless Speedlight control and standard ISO range extended to 6400 (rather than 3200), which can be extended to a speedy 12800.

So is it worth an upgrade? Well, you have to consider whether the articulated screen and upswing in video capability is worth trading in your 550D for. But unless you’re desperate to upgrade from a somewhat older model, we suspect a lot of Canon fans will keep a hold of their cash and wait to see what else their favourite camera manufacturer comes up with.

TWIG: StumbleUpon, FaceBook Places, Action Cam

The Week In Gadgets

This week saw a number of interesting announcements centring about the Internet. And a Head camera.

Action-Head-Cam

Wired editor Chris Anderson did a Nas and proclaimed that the Web was dead, before a number of companies and columnists rose to dispute his claim. At the same time StumbleUpon released a mobile app for Android and iPhone handsets, which I found pertinent as the original incarnation of StumpleUpon helped me to “rediscover” the Internet and brought weird and wonderful websites to my attention longer before social sharing on sites such as Twitter and FaceBook and in mobile form should be ideal for “lost moments” waiting for buses or idly loitering. Speaking of which, both these social networking Titans unveiled changes, with Twitter hoping to making finding people easier via the “You Both Follow” feature. Facebook released the geolocation based Facebook Places, bringing the annoyance of FourSquare and GoWalla check-ins into your timeline. It will probably be huge. According to Facebook, “with Places, you can discover moments when you and your friends are at the same place at the same time”. Thank goodness someone created a solution to that problem. Places is US only at the moment but will spread to these shores soon enough.

In the office, we took at look at Logitech’s G series of gaming hardware, for the hardcore PC gamer. We also had some quality time with the Linksys WAG320N router, a pretty robust networking solution that fulfils all your Network Admin dreams (you do have Network Admin dreams don’t you?) saved some money with Current Cost and reviewed some iPod docks.

My favourite gadget out this week was the Action Cam from Chilli Technology (pictured). Basically a medium res video camera you strap to your head, the Action Cam is a great way to capture action (or indeed arty) video shots. The Action Cam has a CMOS 1.3 MP sensor, records at 640×480 at 30 fps and takes up to 32GB of SD Card based storage. Of course there are many head cams on the market already, but the Action Cam is only £24.99, putting it in the hands of “ordinary” extreme sports enthusiasts. Footage from skiing holidays, cycling trips all possible and you can even try and recreate the Jigsaw Falling Into Place video

You should be able to pick one up from Amazon UK.

Flip Mino HD review and sample footage

FlipMino-HD

I’m clearly not the target market for this device. I love twiddling with video cameras and their settings. I never go on a shoot without taking a bunch of pink and blue tinted cards for creative white balancing. One of my favorite software packages is Apple’s Color (sic), where users can tweak footage sessions and create wonderful bleach bypass effects or stark, emotive black and white footage. So when I pulled the Flip MinoHD out of its little black box, my immediate reaction was “is this it?”

To call the device simple would be an understatement. It is pretty much a big red button. To operate you just point the camera at something and press the big red button. It’s really that simple (ok there are a few other buttons to playback that footage). You can master the device in about 3-5 minutes without ever looking at the manual. Although I was itching for more controls at first, a quick play with the device in the part reminded me how much fun a simple device could be.

Sample footage:

The onboard hardware and software automatically define the best shot for the occasion – you literally just point and shoot. This actually works great for casual footage – the sort of thing that people pull mobile phones out to record. The Flip Mino HD has a very small form factor and feels just like a mobile phone – a much lesser conspicuous HD recording tool than a full sized cameras and just as good for uncomplicated shots – I would happily take it out to a concert, a skatepark or even out freerunning. And as it is the size and shape of an old candy bar phone, I could easily see myself carrying it with me at all times.

The microphone was a little sensitive and some of the audio was lost due to a windy day. However the footage take was very smooth. The onboard software was clear and simple and it was child’s play to add simple titles, music, trim sections from footage and upload to YouTube. Nothing more complex is provided, but you can access the file and attack it with a more serious editing package if that is what you are after. The USB connector flicks out, which is fun but a bit annoying to connect to a PC – the flip is clearly geared for laptops, but people assure me a USB extender exists somewhere. If you are after simple, reliable 720p footage you would be wise to take a long hard look at Flip’s offering. The Flip MinoHD is available at leading retailers from 8th April at MSRP £179.99.

HD video calling comes to Skype

Skype is my Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) client of choice. Relatively stable with cross platform support, solid audio calling options and a less garish take on Instant Messaging (IM) than MSN Messenger, I have used Skype almost daily for 3 years.

However one area that I have been looking for improvement in is Video calling. Whilst the Windows version offers “High Quality” calling options with a suitably powerful webcam such as the Logitech Pro9000, I’ve found the results to be merely satisfactory – calls sometimes lag, images can be pixellated and the feature as a whole lags behind iChat on the Mac.

However all that seems set to change with the recent announcement at CES that Skype were supporting HD webcams and Skype-enabled HDTVs. Skype are working with faceVsion and In Store Solutions on three Skype Certified webcams that will be optimised for HD video calling.

The new HD webcams come with a high performance optical lens and a 5 megapixel HD sensor allowing 24bit true colour. HD video can be encoded at up to 1280×720 (720p) at 30 frames per second in H.264 format. The also include Auto Exposure and White Balancing – which from personal experience can make a world of difference when chatting from a poorly lit bedroom. “The availability of these new webcams through the Skype Shop will make High Definition and High Quality Video calling accessible to Skype users around the globe,” said Manrique Brenes, Skype’s director of business development and product management for consumer electronics.

Also announced were Skype-enabled HDTVs. I have a MacMini hooked up to my HDTV in the living room and find using it combined with Skype and a High Quality Webcam a different and in many ways more rewarding experience. Chatting in groups from the sofa to distant relatives has a much more organic feel than being huddled around a TV. I’ve used the same setting to host meetings, and again, it has a far more open, collaborative feel.

LG and Panasonic are manufacturing a range of Internet connected plasma and LCD HDTVs. With a compatible 720p webcam you should be able to make living room to living room video calls. The webcams come with specially calibrated microphones which should reduce the need for shouting – I had to rig a boom mic across the living room to achieve similar results to this is a welcome development.

HD webcams should be in the Skype store “soon” and the HDTVs are slated for release in spring.

Veedesk brings you face-to-face with customer service

The massive growth in online shopping over the past decade has changed the way we think about retail forever and has become to many shoppers a cheaper alternative. It is not, however without it’s detractors. Retail is an art and there is real value in face-to-face interaction with trained staff. I like to think of myself as a fairly competent shopper but when faced with a baffling array of similarly named XLR leads, HDMI cables or power adaptors it can be hard to know which is best. For all its myriad conveniences, occasionally it would help to have a shop assistant on hand to clear up queries. I spent 15 minutes on Amazon this morning trying to buy a Blu-Ray player and was stumped by a number of questions. The player in question had You Tube – but could it play You Tube HD? It has *.mkv file playback – which sounds incredible, but can it playback files in 1080p resolution? And off what? An HFS formatted USB key? Or merely a FAT32 formatted one? I could go on.  Sometimes 5 minutes with a well trained shop assistant could save hours Googling.

veedesk-from-vee24Here’s where Andy Henshaw and his Vee24 platform come in. Billed as an “online customer service interface,” I envisaged popup windows with sales reps asking “How could I help you?” and as a result, approached the platform with a large degree of scepticism. After all pop-ups are annoying,  sales reps asking how they can help all the time can be annoying and a mixture of the two just might break the Internet/irrevocably damage the online shopping experience.

Fortunately Vee24 does none of these things and uses a number of intelligent design features to make the service unobtrusive and genuinely helpful. CEO Andy Henshaw took me through an extensive live demo of the product and answered a few of my key questions. The service is powered via “the VeeDesk” (pictured) and a human operator. New visitors to the website are noted and flagged if their behaviour shows signs of confusion  – the digital equivalent of holding two seemingly similar models of toaster in either hand and a quizzical gaze. A small panel slides across offering assistance and can be slid back with the click of a button. The platform also allows for Reactive assistance allowing you to press a Help/Assistance button.

Asking for help pulls up another window with a video of a sales rep and an Instant Messaging window, plus the option for sound using VoIP. I was impressed how this worked seamlessly, even in Google Chrome, without me having to download any special programs or codecs or waiting for dialogue boxes. Surfing from a fast broadband connection, Vee24 pumped high quality well lit video onto my desktop – although there is a dynamic resource allocation system in the background that varies video quality depending on your connection and system settings. The high quality video really helps and the attention to detail in this area really impressed me. Instead of a washed out office glow, each VeeDesk is fitted with a proper key and fill light set up and Autocue style secondary monitor that makes the on screen image seem eye to eye and is very useful for transmitting non-verbal cues.

On my trial run with Andy he showed me a co-browsing feature where the operative and I shared the cursor and were we able to browse an electronics site, look at a few models of TVs an even fill in a form. Andy pointed out that this functionality is not only useful for standard retail queries but also for more in-depth work such as filling out a mortgage application form or applying for a credit card.

When I question Andy about any possibly security implications he reassured me that no personal data was stored and the platform accessed web-browsing data in a similar fashion to Google Analytics – which is found on literally millions of websites. The platform has also cleared a number of security related hurdles required to launch in Germany – where they have very strict privacy laws.

At the end of our talk Andy ran me through some a retail statistics. 82% of online shoppers abandon carts, 42% value interaction and for every 100 browsers on a site on 2/3 actually make a purchase. Based on the demonstration I saw I expect this platform to be extremely popular with the larger online retailers and a welcome addition to the online shopping experience in the not too distant future.

Vuzix Wrap brings large screen video to, err, sunglasses!

While most people assume (and quite rightly most of the time) that it always rains in Britain, that hasn’t stopped Vuzix from kindly bringing their stylish sunglasses-style video eye-wear to our shores. To be fair, the company does point out that they can be used whenever and wherever, you want and not just on a sunny beach!

Through the technology embedded in the Wrap product range, you can view a picture that, in theory, recreates the experience of watching a standard large screen – providing a virtual viewing choice from 44 to 67 inch, right in front of your eyes.

vuzix wrap

The Vuzix Wrap is compatible with devices which have composite video-out (found in mobile devices as well as things like camcorders, portable DVD players, games consoles, etc.). and it comes complete with an iPod/iPhone adaptor which most people have come to expect these days.

Launched in time to cash-in on the Christmas shopping, the Vuzix Wrap comes in three versions The Wrap 230 (£129.99 inc VAT), Wrap 280 Widescreen (£179.99 inc VAT), and the Wrap 920 (£249.99 inc VAT) and is available directly from the company as well as through Apple, Firebox and Play amongst others.