CVS One-Time-Use Video Camcorder

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Last summer I took a look at the single-use digital camera from CVS, and I was pretty impressed. Now the pharmacy has upped the ante with a digital camcorder that lets you shoot 20 minutes of video. Having taken it for a spin and then having had my footage turned into a DVD at the CVS photo-processing counter in about an hour, I'm even more psyched.

Simplicity reigns. There's just four buttons on the whole device: Power, Record, Playback and Delete. You can shoot as many clips as you want, until you reach 20 minutes of accumulated footage. The catch is that you can only playback and delete the last thing you recorded. Sure, it's a bit of a bummer that you can't select out your least favorite clips from a day of shooting, in order to give yourself more space for evening festivities. But at least the Kubricks among us can shoot and re-shoot and re-shoot the blowing out of birthday candles until you have a take that really crackles (or until the candles melt away).

As you might imagine, the biggest downside of the single-use camcorder is video quality. It's not painful by any means, but it blurs in comparison to today's $600 digital camcorders. The picture is no sharper than that of a VHS tape. The good news is that both the color reproduction and white balance seem to be better, and in good lighting it captured action very nicely. In any event, my low expectations were met and bested.

When you process the video, you say "buh-bye" to the camcorder itself, but you get in its place a disc that plays in most run-of-the-mill DVD players. In a small family, a DVD library of precious moments alone could be worth the expense of product and processing, but there's a whole sharing service, too.

Put the DVD into your PC and click on its icon. CVS' own program starts up, allowing you to send particular clips one at a time or joined into a continuous movie. You input e-mail addresses and off it goes. Broadband is better when you're uploading your video: a 5-minute clip can easily take 10 minutes to upload, even on a high-speed connection. But even if it's going to multiple addresses, it only has to upload it one time. Recipients get just a link that they click to download and watch the video, so no one's e-mail inbox is bogged down by your clip.

You can save videos in MPEG-2 for editing, so even people with camcorders and video editing software might want to count this as an option for, say, shooting in a hazardous environment, or when your camcorder isn't available.

Mind the economics: If you've got more than five events per year that you want to shoot for DVD, then there are other means that make sense. However, if it only costs around $45 to preserve an occasion, and to do it with very little hassle, I'd imagine there are many people with no camcorder aspirations that would nevertheless be eager to put this to use.