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The Flip camera with its mini size and its capability to upload videos to the Internet rewrote the book on camcorders. Now big manufacturers are working not only to create a Flip-like video camera, but to up the ante with additional features. JVC is one of the first into the pocket camcorder fray. Their Picsio GC-FM1 is smaller than the Flip and has some new features. So we decided to take a look.
At 2 1/8" x 3 7/8" x 11/16" (5.3 x 9.7 x 1.7 cm), the JVC Picsio GC-FM1 is smaller than the Flip camera and current competitors like Kodak Zi6/Zi8. The small camcorder comes in a small box, as shown in Figure 1.
At the top of the box is a small circular dot that indicates the color of the camera. This camcorder currently comes in three colors: brilliant blue, black ice, and sparkling purple. Our review unit was sparkling purple. As you can see in Figure 2, the colors are called brilliant, ice, and sparkling because the front cover is encased in thick plastic that has a sparkly, holographic image that features a square-and-diamond effect. Moving the case from side-to-side makes the image switch between squares, diamonds, and triangles in a mesmerizing image.
The contents of the box are shown in Figure 3. Included are the camcorder itself, a USB charging cable, a composite video cable, a wrist strap, and a small instruction booklet.
As you can see from the contents of the box, this camcorder comes with a USB cable. It does not have the flip-out USB dongle that is so popular on the Flip camcorders. At first we didn’t think this was a big deal, but when, a few weeks into the testing, we misplaced the USB cable, we found ourselves wishing for an integral flip-out USB device.
[nextpage title=”The Controls”]
As shown in Figure 4, the front of the camera has the camera lens and four small holes for the microphone. Like most camcorders of this size, the audio is a little faint. However, the stereo audio is a plus. There were several times in our testing that we wished this JVC had a port for an external microphone, but that is not an option with the current GC-FM1.
Figure 5 shows the back of the camcorder. Its 2” screen is bright and clear.
Below the screen are the controls, which are shown in Figure 6. The controls consist of an on/off button on the left near the top and a round scroll wheel with two buttons on either side. The buttons to the left are the record/playback button and the delete button. Those to the right are the movie/still button and the index button. The index button doesn’t seem to do anything when pressed alone. When pressed along with the delete button, it will get you to a limited setup menu where you can control the time and NTSC/PAL video output. You can also format the memory card and see the installed firmware version.
On the right near the top you can also see the charge light. On the right, near the bottom, you can also see the reset hole. The round wheel does not actually scroll. Instead, around the wheel are four arrows that can be pressed to perform tasks. Before recording these arrow keys scroll through the different resolutions: VGA, QVGA, 720p, and 1080p. When recording, these arrows cycle and control the digital zoom.
While the controls are nicely spaced, they are not necessarily easy to use. There is no tactile feedback, so often you don’t know if your button press was processed or not. This is especially problematic with the on/off button. It is recessed to prevent unwanted presses, so you must press it with your finger nail. Sometimes pressing it will register, sometimes not. The trick is to press and hold the button until the green light next to the button comes on. If you use your right hand to press the on/off button, you will be able to see the green light. However, if you use your left hand, your finger will cover the light. So if you are a left-handed person with very short nails, the on/off switch will be especially difficult for you. It just shouldn’t be this difficult to turn a device on and off!
Once you do get the unit on, it is ready to shoot almost instantly. There is not delay, which is quite nice.
The other controls are slightly raised and easier to press, however with no tactile feedback, it is difficult to tell if the button press registered or not. We found this especially problematic when taking a still photo.
[nextpage title=”Ports and Hardware”]
The left side of the JVC Picsio is shown in Figure 7. The first thing you will notice is the ridged silver decorative trim. This trim runs along both sides and the top of the device, adding a decorative look that makes this camcorder quite attractive. On this side are the AV port, the HDMI port, the USB port, and holes for the speaker. The USB is a mini USB port that is used to charge the device as well as to transfer videos to the computer. The package includes AV cables for showing the videos on a television. You can also use the HDMI port for even better quality. Unfortunately, however, the HDMI cable is not included so it will be an additional purchase.
The decorative silver trim continues on right side of the Picsio. As shown in Figure 8, this side has a slider for the macro function.
in Figure 9, the bottom of the camcorder has a tripod mounting socket. Next to that is a sturdy door that slides open to reveal the SD card slot. The corner also has a place to loop through the included wrist strap.
[nextpage title=”Performance and Use”]
If you can get used to the controls, you will find that the GC-FM1 takes very nice videos. These are some of the clearest videos that we’ve seen on a pocket camcorder. Videos are recorded in MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 format and stored as .MOV files. Using these popular formats make it easy to share your FM1 videos. The Picsio takes videos at 1080p at 30 frames per second and 720p at 60 frames per second.
The 1080p at 30 frames per second looks quite good, but it is odd that this camcorder only uses 30 frames per second rather than the full HD 60 frames per second. The 1080p video is 1,440 x 1,080 pixels at 30 fps rather than 1,920 x 1,080 at 60 fps. The problem here is that some players and video editing software will automatically scale the resolution up to 1,920 x 1,080, which will degrade the picture.
So you may want to do a side-by-side comparison that shows the 1080p and the 720p resolutions. We did just that and found that some people thought one resolution looked better, while others preferred the other. Bottom line is that both are very good.
Which one you use on a regular basis will be determined by how the editing software you use handles the videos and how you will show the videos. It you plan on using the videos for YouTube, either resolution will probably be good. But if you will show your videos on a television, you will want to see which looks better on your TV after editing.
The Picsio takes excellent videos in natural sunlight. Color representation is especially good. Since there is no flash, you will have to supply the lighting when taking videos inside. However, given the proper lighting, interior videos are also very good. Although low-light are a little dark, color representation remains good.
The FM1 is very easy to pocket making it useful to have handy for impromptu videos. We actually liked its flashy purple faceplate ribbed silver edges which not only give it a unique look, but also make it easier to find among our other devices.
Although this JVC Picsio has a sturdy built, at 3.3 oz. (95 g), it is extremely lightweight. This makes it feel a little fragile. It also makes it difficult to keep steady. The Picsio’s image stabilization is electronic rather than optical, and doesn’t add much to the quality of the video.
We are generally not a fan of digital zoom, but found that the 4X Picsio’s digital zoom worked fairly well and although far from perfect, it looked better than most other pocket camcorders we’ve seen. The macro switch on the side is convenient and again, worked fairly well.
Still pictures can be easily taken with the Picsio’s 8.17 megapixel sensor. While most pocket corders of this size use a ¼” sensor, the PICSIO has a 1/3.2” CMOS sensor. While the sensor is larger and there are more megapixels than most other camcorders of this type, the still pictures are not as clear as we had hoped.
Taking still pictures brings us back to our complaint about the controls. There is no tactile or audio feedback to indicate that you have taken a picture. When you press the button the picture appears on the screen for only a few seconds and you are often left wondering if you actually took the picture or not. The only way to confirm that the picture was taken is to go into playback mode and scroll through to find the picture.
The Picsio has 128 MB of built-in memory but only 34.5 MB is available for storing pictures. This device takes SD cards with capacities up to 32 GB. So you have to factor in a little extra into your budget for a few memory cards. However, doing so will assure that you can continue to take movies if you fill up the first card and don’t have a computer handy to transfer the videos to.
The internal battery is recharged through the USB cable and we were able to take about 1 ½ hours of video on a single charge. Although a wall adapter is not included, the PowerBlock Dual Universal adapter by Griffin can be purchased if you will be in situations where you need to recharge the unit and a computer or USB port is not available.
[nextpage title=”The Software”]
One of the things that make the Flip Video Camera popular is software. The Flip’s software automatically installs when you insert the camcorder’s USB connector. JVC follows that trend by having their software pop up immediately when the device is attached to the computer via the USB cable. However, that is one of the few things that JVC got right with its software.
The FM1 comes with the Pixela MediaBrowser LE. This software has a nice interface, as shown in Figure 10. However, it is really lacking in functionality. With it you can browse and preview your video clips and still pictures and you can download them to your computer. However, you cannot do any editing. What if your video is just a little too dark? Well, you will have to editing it with some other video software.
We also found the software to be unintuitive. We had to look at the help menu to learn how to move the videos to the computer. This should be something that is clearly marked and easy to do.
This software is Windows only. Mac users, however, can attach the JVC to their Mac and edit the videos with iMovie without a problem. I believe that PC users will also want to use other software with this camcorder, as well.
If the videos you have taken don’t need any editing, you can use the YouTube button on the software, shown in Figure 11 to import your videos directly to YouTube. This is fairly easy to do and the software even supports multiple YouTube accounts.
We know that we have been spoiled by the Flip camera’s ability to edit vireos, to import different file formats, and to compile multiple clips into movies. However, JVC will have to do a lot of work on their software before we can give it marks that even come close to the Flip’s software.
JVC Picsio GC-FM1 camcorder main features are:
- Image Sensor: 8 Megapixel 1/3.2" CMOS
- Zoom: 4x digital
- Dimensions: 2 1/8" x 3 7/8" x 11/16" (5.3 x 9.7 x 1.7 cm)
- Weight: 3.3 oz (95 g)
- Image Stabilization: Digital
- Recording media: SD/SDHC memory card
- Screen: 2” color LCD
- Video Recording Modes: 1080p (1440 x 1080, 30 FPS, 12 Mbps, 16:9), 720p (1280 x 720, 60 FPS, 12 Mbps, 16:9), VGA (640 x 480, 60 FPS, 4 Mbps, 4:3) and QVGA (320 x 240, 30 FPS, 0.7 Mbps, 4:3).
- Video Format: MPEG-4 AVC / H.264 MOV
- Audio Format: AAC
- Still Recording: 8 Mpixel (3264 x 2448, 4:3), 5 Megapixel (2592 x 1944, 4:3), 2 Megapixel (1600 x 1200, 4:3) and 0.3 Megapixel (VGA, 640 x 480, 4:3)
- Connectors: HDMI out (Mini), AV out, USB 2.0/1.1
- HDMI Output Mode: 1080i
- Continuous Operation Time: Approx. 96 minutes
- More Information: https://www.jvc.com
- Average price in the US*: USD 150.00
* Researched at Shopping.com on the day we published this review.
Pocket sized camcorders like the JVC Piscio FM1 are very convenient. Although you won’t get the optical zoom and image stabilization that you’d get with a full-size dedicated camcorder, you will get a lot of functionality. The Piscio takes very good videos in HD, which is its biggest claim to fame. It is also very small and the sleek-looking holographic finish is wonderful. The removable SD card and HDMI port add to the device’s functionality.
Unfortunately, the great design and good videos are marred by controls that offer no tactile feedback and very poor software. If you can live with those two drawbacks, this is a great camcorder.
- Very good 720p and 1080p videos
- Good color accuracy
- Compact and lightweight
- Excellent, unique holographic design
- HDMI port
- SD card slot
- Stereo audio
- Comfortable to hold
- Instant start up
- Finicky controls
- Poor software
- Poor image stabilization
- No HDMI cable included
- No external microphone port