Microsoft SenseCam/Vicon Revue intrigues but needs finesse

For the past several days I've been playing with the Vicon Revue, an intriguing device that is based on Microsoft Research's SenseCam technology. It's a camera you wear around your neck that shoots wide-angle snaps a few times a minute and I find it remarkable if not yet fully formed. I plan to write about it in more detail and post pictures but thought it might stir debate to put a few initial thoughts down.

Firstly, the Revue is simple to set up although you'll need the latest version of Adobe AIR, an odd requirement considering the Microsoft heritage. Taking pictures is as easy as turning the device on, hanging it around the neck and remembering to take off the lens cap. OK, so you feel a little dweebish wearing the thing around your neck like a lanyard at a dull conference but you soon forget it's there. It's a light box weighing not much more than a packet of cigarettes and slightly smaller in format. Despite this it feels reasonably sturdy.

Images are uploaded automatically when the device is synchronised via a supplied cable to the host computer and the handsome software organises pictures into albums to which notes can be added. Playback can be accelerated to create a video-like effect.

The results? Meh. The pictures are often blurred by motion and the tiny image sizes mean that these aren't the sort of images you're going to print and have framed. The upside is that the Revue can be worn for about 12 hours without recharging the battery.

Vicon is marketing the device as an aid for people suffering from memory loss and the accompanying booklet cites medical research suggesting it could be helpful for patients to review their activities. There are other possible uasge models of course but what's fascinating is the sensation of looking back, almost as a third-party observer, at your day on the planet. There's an odd, almost voyeuristic sense of hyper-reality in watching the humdrum, blazingly lit activities of office life as hands reach for coffee, fingers depress keys and chat is exchanged. Then there are the chiaroscuro intenals of London pubs and the daze-making scale of human traffic on the streets. Gestures are accentuated, laughter and smiling seem far more apparent than expected.

What's missing? Well, picture quality could certainly use some improvement even if the odd perspectives can lead to some remarkable views. The Revue could use some sort of stablising feature such as a clip or holder, although I accept this might constitute a return to the early 90s fashion crime of the mobile phone holster. Also, there's currently no sound recording capability so the effect is of viewing a silent movie or CCTV surveillance programme. Listening in to a full day's banter might have a postive, chastening effect on many of us.

Another thought: if these devices catch on, there might well need to be some sort of protocol on usage. Is it legal/honest/decent to photograph people you encounter without warning them they're being snapped? Also, you might want to remember that there are times in life when the Revue needs to be turned off...


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