In preparing for our recent Faculty Symposium on Digital Trends: The Mobile Classroom, I took a video lecture that I had in AVI (Xvid encoded) format and converted it into several formats to play on portable devices to demo in the presentation. Getting the video on my iPod Video and Playstation Portable was straightforward and familiar. But the phone was new and even though I knew it could be done, it took some experimentation and an inexpensive hardware purchase.
When I bought the phone, I asked the salesperson in the Cingular (now AT&T) store if I could get pictures and video I took with the 2 megapixel camera in the phone off of it with the data cable if I bought it. She said no and that the only way to get things on and off of the phone was to buy their data plan and do a network transfer. Well, I thought this was just a lie in an attempt to upsell me the data services which I refuse to buy. It turns out she was partially correct. The data cable relies on a driver and Samsung media management software for communication with the phone. I can easily transfer music and (possibly video – though I haven’t tried this) through that software over the cable to the phone. But not in the other direction. You can’t even get pictures and video recorded on the phone using the internal camera off the phone with this software and cable! I’m sure this is some asinine DRM-driven policy. Don’t get me started on that.
In any case, the internal memory of the phone is not sufficient for media. I needed to buy a memory card for the phone anyway. It takes a MicroSD (also called TransFlash) card. I found a compatible 1 GB Kingston card on Newegg.com for $12, including an SD adapter. The day after I made the order I got the Newegg newsletter and they were offering the 2 GB card for the same price I had just paid for the 1 GB card – a 2 GB card for $12. Amazing. I also spent $4 on a USB adaptor to make it easy to use any computer to get stuff on and off the phone. These MicroSD cards are ridiculously small. Every time I see it, I can’t help but feel I am in some kind of Star Trek episode. It just amazes me. Take a look at the card next to a dime for comparison. That’s also the standard SD card-sized adapter on the left side of the dime. My hope in buying this hardware was that I could use the MicroSD card to move any kind of media on and off the phone.
Luckily, my hope turned out to be well-founded. Not only can I use the phone to access audio and video on the card, but I can have the built-in camera store any pictures or video taken with it there as well. My next step was to figure out what the native format for video on the phone was and how difficult it would be to convert video to that format. As is usually the case with phones, the documentation was sparse, to say the least. I was able to record video with the internal camera and then transfer that video to my PC where I could analyze it for format, video and audio bitrate, and dimensions. This was an obvious place to start because the phone could, of course, playback a file with those properties. The file was in 3gp format. I was also able to make note of the details of bitrate and dimensions. Luckily, I am familiar with 3gp and I have a couple of utilities for converting video to that format. Before worrying about getting the right settings in detail, I attempted to use presets in the software I had on hand. I tried both Xilisoft Video Converter and Nero Recode (part of Nero Ultra Edition 7). Both Nero Recode and Xilisoft Video Converter made quick work of the encode and, after transferring the file onto the MicroSD card and popping it into the phone, the video played back beautifully.
What’s the use, you might ask? The screen is tiny. For most purposes the video might be too small to really add much, especially for someone without perfect eyesight. I have to say that this argument has some validity. But the image is surprisingly good. The Sync also lets you flip the image and turn the phone sidewise to get a wider screen for the video. All in all, I think it’s a great new mobile technology, with excellent possibilities when it comes to extending the classroom and making learning available when our students both want and need it.