If you've seen our review of the Panasonic HDC-SDT750, you could be forgiven for thinking that filming your own 3D videos is only possible if you have a spare £1300 to burn. ViewSonic's 3DV5 sets out to prove quite the opposite. At £150, it's a highly affordable way to shoot both photos and videos in three glorious dimensions. But just how glorious are the results?
ViewSonic is probably not a name you'd instantly associate with video-camera equipment. PC monitors: yes. Projectors: maybe. But this is the first time we've seen anything resembling a camcorder from the company. The 3DV5 is in something of a field of its own, since it delivers something that is, at the moment, relatively unique -- 3D.
The closest point of reference, visually speaking, for ViewSonic's video camera is probably the Flip Video Ultra and similar pocket camcorders, which usually employ an upright candybar style, offer simplistic operation and come at a budget price. The 3DV5 is sort of a cruder-looking version of Flip's products -- it even has a built-in USB terminal just like the Ultra.
But where most video devices have a single lens and a single image sensor, the 3DV5 has two of each and films everything twice. Combining both simultaneously recorded images into one provides a three-dimensional effect similar to that used in stereoscopic cinema. You can view your movies and photos in 3D as you film, too, via the 2.4-inch autosterescopic screen on the unit's rear.
This display works using similar technology to that built into the upcoming Nintendo 3DS games console, providing a 3D effect that's visible without the need for special glasses. The screen isn't particularly high quality, but it's good enough to get an idea of what you are filming and how your 3D shots will look when played back.
You don't necessarily need a 3D TV to playback the clips and photos you've recorded, either. The 3DV5 comes with Arcsoft TotalMedia HDCam for 3D preloaded. Plug it into a PC with a standard 2D display and TotalMedia makes it possible to view anaglyphic versions of your recordings using the old-fashioned red/cyan method. It's not quite as effective, but a pair of red/cyan glasses is included in the package and you can also use TotalMedia to upload clips to YouTube's dedicated 3D channel.
2D or not 2D?
The device is quite limited as an actual camera, with fixed-focus lenses, no optical zoom (there's a 4x digital zoom, but it's awful) and no manual settings to speak of. A 2D mode is available -- this records video at 720p high-definition and takes photos at 5-megapixel resolution. 2D video suffers from a low (30fps) frame rate, poor low-light performance and some dreadful motion handling, but photos actually look okay. Sound quality, on the other hand, is fairly poor. Stereo microphones are mounted on the front of the device, but they pick up loads of extraneous ambient noise and it's easy to accidentally cover one with a finger while you're filming.
Using the 3DV5 is very straightforward. Four rather brutish-looking silver buttons provide access to all the main functions -- photo, video, delete and 2D/3D mode selection -- while a five-way mini joystick allows you to navigate the (very limited) user menu. On one side of the unit, you'll find the catch that slides out the camera's USB terminal. On the other, you'll find a mini-HDMI port (and, yes, a cable is provided with the device) and a slot for an SD/SDHC card of up to 32GB. There's 10MB of on-board memory but you'll barely fit one dimension on that, let alone three.
As you may have already deduced from the ViewSonic 3DV5's price point, we're not talking Avatar quality here. That said, we have to admit we were quite surprised by the effectiveness of our 3D test recordings. Some types of subject work better than others -- big buildings, for example, are often better than people. We also tried using the device while walking through some hanging vines and the effect was really quite eerie.
We definitely wouldn't recommend the ViewSonic 3DV5 for 'normal' use as a family camcorder for holidays and weddings, but as a gadget, it's plenty of fun. Quality isn't great and the red/cyan method of viewing clips isn't as satisfying as a proper 3D-compatible display. Again, it's hard to be terribly critical of a product that puts real 3D video-recording in the palm of your hand for a price that's substantially less than most 2D video cams.
Edited by Emma Bayly