"There's a tiny door in that empty office. It's a portal, Maxine. It takes you inside John Malkovich. You see the world through John Malkovich's eyes, then, after about fifteen minutes, you're spit out into a ditch on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike." Such is the world envisioned in Spike Jonze's cult movie Being John Malkovich.
Samsung's Miniket VP-X110L sports camcorder makes this Malkovichian leap possible for any individual -- just strap the Miniket's lens mounting to your head, attach the camera and hit record. Your world is then immortalised in glorious Technicolor from a first-person perspective. Everything you say, and everything you do, is stored to flash memory. Whoever you show the footage to will get close to understanding what it's like to be inside your head. A scary thought, perhaps?
The Miniket's less existentially challenging use is as an extreme-sports camcorder. If you're a snowboarder, skydiver or a mountain biker looking for an interesting way of capturing your brave leaps off dangerous precipices, this is a mainstream consumer version of those tiny cameras professionals use to make their videos. Having said that, it's still very expensive for a small camcorder -- we found it for around £470 online.
While the Miniket may fall substantially short of the video quality you'd expect from the average MiniDV camcorder, does the unique perspective it offers over the action make this a must-have camcorder for the adrenaline junkie?
The most striking thing about the Miniket is its size (59x93x29mm). It's so small we could palm the main body of the camcorder like a blackjack hustler concealing cards. We thought the JVC GZ-MC500 was tiny, but the Miniket redefines petite. Like the MC500, the Miniket makes a convincing argument for carrying around a camcorder with you all the time -- there's none of the bulk and inconvenience of a MiniDV model.
The Miniket's chassis is coated in a soft rubber material that reminds us of the substance Alienware uses to coat the grips on the Alienware Area-51 m5700 laptop. This is both oddly pleasurable to cradle, and fairly grippy -- making it unlikely that the Miniket will slip out of your hands during a moderate wipe-out. It also gives the camcorder a waterproof look, but don't let this deceive you. The Minket may look like it's dressed to go scuba diving, but it's unlikely to survive much more than a few splashes.
The LCD display is of a fold-out and swivel type, and -- for its size -- is surprisingly legible. Buttons on the Miniket are minimal, with a simple on/off slider, a zoom rocker switch, a Menu button and a record button.
The battery pack attaches to the right hand side of the camcorder and uses a thin proprietary battery to power the unit. This is finished in the same appealing, rubberised finish as the rest of the chassis. Releasing the battery is simple, but not so easy that you'll do it by accident out in a snowy wilderness.
The most interesting part of the Miniket's design is the detachable external camera lens. When attached and selected, this lens takes over from the camcorder's built-in optics and lets you record from a first-person perspective. Samsung bundles a head-mount for this lens in the box -- this looks like a tennis sweatband. Once you've put the strap on, you attach the camera, move it into place on the side of your head, and then plug it into the main unit to check you're getting the perspective you're after.
The strap is as comfortable as these things get. You'll be aware that you've got it on for the first few minutes, but after a while you won't notice it's there. Other people will, though -- which is worth remembering if you intend to use public transport.
The Miniket shoots video using a single CCD chip. This means that a single light sensor is responsible for capturing and interpreting the entire spectrum of light received. While this can't hope to match the clarity and sharpness of a 3CCD system -- where red, green and blue light is dealt with separately -- it would be impossible to fit an affordable 3CCD system into a chassis of this size -- or at this price.
Given that you're likely to be shooting action sequences, and that these are likely to be uploaded to the Internet, the Miniket's image quality may be less important to you than it would be with a full-sized model. The true test of this camcorder is in the baggy pockets of snowboarders, not under the scrutinising eyes of pixel scientists. We'll take a more detailed look at the image quality later in this review, but it's worth bearing in mind that image quality alone does not a sports camcorder make.