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Bluetooth Camcorders Tout Value, Limits

Bluetooth-enabled camcorders unveiled here by Panasonic and Sony underscore the potential and limitations of the emerging network technology and how manufacturers are hoping to capitalize on it.

Both camcorders are due in North America later this year or early 2002, though release dates and prices have not been firmed up by either company.

Sony’s model, tentatively called the Network Handycam IP, is the first product in a companywide “Ubiquitous Value Network” strategy. The goal, Sony said, is “seamlessly connecting a wealth of Sony hardware to the network with various content and Internet communications services.”

The Handycam can transfer short video clips and still images to other Bluetooth devices — but not full length video. It will capture video on Sony’s new MICROMV cassette format using MPEG2 data compression.

Sony, however, is also considering other wireless networking options. In a prepared statement, the company said it is viewing its offering as a market test and will consider further Bluetooth offerings.

Likewise for Panasonic, whose Bluetooth-enabled NV-EX21 is expected to hit American shelves in the spring at around $1,600. The EX21 features a detachable, SD-enabled digital still camera equipped with Bluetooth to wirelessly transfer still images.

The problem for both companies is that there are not many destinations for these still images. Nor can either product wirelessly transmit full motion video because of Bluetooth’s bandwidth limitations.

Simon Ellis, chairman of the Bluetooth SIG marketing committee, said engineers are working on higher bandwidth Bluetooth specs that would enable, among other things, transfers of full-motion video, but the development is still in its early stages.

Ellis also said he expects a “critical mass” of Bluetooth products to reach the market in the next three years, at which time the proliferation of products will bring real value to users.