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How To: Multimedia to Go

from Technology & Learning

The ubiquity of cell phones makes them handy devices to capture audio, stills, and video. But how well do they work?

Cell phones are everywhere today. They've become a necessary tool for business, home, and personal efficiency. But what about cell phones for education? A December 2006 study by the Yankee Group reported that 70 percent of teenagers today own wireless phones. And beyond making and receiving calls, these devices have the capacity to let users create multimedia on the fly. I set out to see how well they work for a PowerPoint project.

Photographs

A majority of cell phones have cameras, the difference between models being in features such as resolution and zoom lens. The camera on my phone (a Verizon VX8600, made by LG) has 1.3 megapixels of resolution. I set it to the best resolution (1280x960) to get the highest quality photos, took a few pictures, and saved them.

To move the photos to my computer, my phone offered three main choices: e-mail them to myself, send them to Verizon's Picture Place (a site for photo storage, album creation, etc.), or move them to the phone's Micro SD card and use a card reader. An alternative choice is to e-mail them to a blog for direct Internet publication (some blog systems, such as Blogger, offer this feature). I chose to e-mail them to myself at a cost of 25 cents plus airtime per picture under my "pay as you go" plan. A few seconds after doing so, the photos appeared as JPG attachments in my inbox.

Video

By default, my phone takes short 15-second videos (this setting can be overridden to use all available memory if I choose). After shooting the video and saving it to my phone, I had the same options for download as with the photos: e-mail, send to Picture Place, or move to a Micro SD card. Once more, I decided to e-mail the video to myself. When the email arrived, the attached file had the extension "3G2," one which I had never even heard of. I double-clicked the file to see if it would open and it did, with Apple's QuickTime software. My concern, though, was if PowerPoint would accept this format. I booted up PowerPoint, and tried to insert it.
No luck.

What I needed to do was somehow convert this 3G2 file to a format PowerPoint accepts (such as AVI, ASF, MPG, WMA). I immediately thought of the site Zamzar, which offers free conversion of many file types. No luck there either. What to do? Since the file seemed to be recognized by QuickTime, I explored the QuickTime Web site.

I quickly found that QuickTime Pro (a $29.99 upgrade to the free QuickTime Player) could import 3G2 and export to some video file types PowerPoint accepts, such as AVI. I upgraded QuickTime to Pro and I was able to open the 3G2 file and export it to AVI easily. I inserted it into QuickTime with no problem.

Unfortunately, the low-quality video my phone creates is not bad on a phone screen, but a bit small for a computer. Trying to enlarge it on the PowerPoint slide only worsened the resolution, increasing the pixilation.

Audio

The heart of a phone is its audio capability; after all, talking is what it was originally designed for. What I needed was a way to use my cell phone to make a recording in a format PowerPoint accepts, such as WAV or MP3. Enter GabCast. Although this site was developed for podcasting and audioblogging, one offered feature is the ability to create an MP3 file from a phone call. I created a GabCast account, called their toll-free access number, entered my access code, and recorded my call. Then I went to the GabCast Web site and downloaded my call as an MP3. Inserting it into PowerPoint went flawlessly.

The Pluses and Minuses

It's definitely possible to create media for computer use (in this case, PowerPoint) by using one's cell phone. This opens up a myriad of possibilities for teachers and students. Document field trips. Create audio, video, and photographs and record from different perspectives to incorporate many points of view. And there's no need to carry big, expensive equipment.

The negatives: at least with my phone, quality of video and audio. Aside from the poor video quality, the audio I recorded on GabCast was able to be understood but had noticeable static.

Still, it can be done. I don't doubt that there are ways to record higher quality audio using a phone, and I'm sure as phone quality and memory increase there will be ways to store better-resolution video.

Other Possibilities

Beyond PowerPoint, cell phone multimedia can be used to create podcasts, post photos and audio to blogs, send videos to YouTube and Google Video, and even…make phone calls.

Jeffrey Branzburg is a contributing editor and columnist for T&L.

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