Jun 18, 2009

Product Review: Oregon Scientific ATC-2K

My experience with this product goes under the heading of "what you should expect to get for little-to-nothing."

The upside to the ATC-2K is that it is inexpensive (~$80 sans memory). The downside is that it is a flaky, unsupported product that works intermittently. The "works intermittently" bit is the motivation for this review.
My ATC-2K problems haven't been as serious as other users and my review will be slightly different due to my application:
My application is as a helmet-cam on a motorcycle tour. The most important thing about any touring gear is reliability. The ATC-2K gets a 2-out-of-5 score on that count. Lots of other users have had problems with formatting the SDRAM card and outright failures of the camera. I have intermittent loss of the data files. For example, today I was riding a particularly cool North Dakota road and I wanted to document a bit of it for a video I'm hoping to make with a friend's music. At the end of the road, the camera was displaying "ON." I don't know what that means, but I'd initated the record function and waited to see the counter ratcheting up before mounting the camera on the helmet. After several attempts with the power button, the camera turned off. When I got to camp, I tried to download the video and discovered the file was nowhere to be found. The really pitiful users' manual suggests that problem might mean the camera recorded the file on the internal RAM, so I pulled the SDRAM and discovered there were two small files in the internal storage. Not my file, though. Windows Explorer said there was 1.4G of used space in storage, but nothing I tried could uncover the data. So, once again, I reformatted the disk to get back the data space.

So much for reliability.

Ergonomically, the ATC-2K is pretty old guy hostile. The setup icons require a microscope, at least for me. My grandson could read them, though. He just couldn't figure out what they meant. After wasting a good while on initial setup, I got pretty much what I expected. The audio is terrible, but it was easy to turn off, once you figured out the microphone icon. Are these guys from 1940's radio? Since I hope to use the video for television production, I had to use the high res (640-480), 30fps mode, which is a RAM burner. Dumping the audio doesn't seem to save any data space, either.

At least from my perspective, there is no way to find any of the buttons wearing gloves. It's hard enough bare fingered. So, setting up a recording session is a bit cumbersome in motorcycle gear. All of my videos start with the same routine; start the camera, put on the gloves, get on the bike, start it up, get going, start doing something worth filming. Gotta love routines.

The upside is the camera is pretty damn water resistant. The mfg claims 50m, but I'm just testing in the rain; a lot of rain. The tiny lens resists gathering rain drops, but it doesn't take much of a drop to distort the lense. The mounting hardware is well thought out and works perfectly on a motorcycle helmet. An additional mounting kit is only $13.

So, it's cheap, hard to use, marginally reliable, and when it works, it's pretty good. Here's a sample, you decide about the "pretty good part."

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