“What you see is what you keep.” — This incredibly lame slogan was actually trademarked by the appropriately named Joker Technologies for use in the marketing of its Active-I spy glasses.
But when you use these stealthy shades, with their built-in video camera and microphone that capture everything you see and hear, you can see why you won’t necessarily be keeping anything recorded on them.
On the surface, they look like an ordinary pair of sunglasses. But look closely and you’ll see a minuscule 640 x 480 VGA camera and microphone embedded in the front of the frames.
Master controls run down the right arm, but because those controls are out of sight when you are wearing the glasses, finding the right one can be hit-or-miss. The glasses also have a separate monocular viewer which attaches to the left arm and swivels to the front so you can view videos and snapshots without a computer. What a great idea — if you have 20/20 vision or wear contacts. For those who wear eyeglasses, the Active-I’s design does not easily accommodate them. And, of course, it’s not particular pleasant to watch videos through shaded lenses, either. Fortunately, you also get a set of interchangeable clear lenses.
Playback on the monocular viewer is reduced to QVGA 320 x 240 resolution out of necessity, which is essentially like looking at a moving thumbnail image. And if you want to preview the audio, you’ll have to plug your headphones (not included) into the frames.
The rig comes with cables so you can view the AVI files on computer or a TV. It’s a much more comfortable experience, but it’s also where the true quality of your recordings becomes evident.
The Active-I glasses capture every tiny head movement as you walk, resulting in some jerky images. It’s not handheld video, it’s head-held video, which is even worse. The audio is filled with whooshy wind noises even when it’s not breezy out — the movement of air generated as you walk is enough to crunchify the soundtrack. The audio-input volume is preset and can’t be adjusted. And if you want to shoot a long video, the internal 2-GB memory chip can save up to 55 minutes of footage — but your opus is inexplicably divided in two separate 25-to-30-minute chunks.
So what’s there to like about the Active-I video glasses? Simply, they’re a clever way to capture sights and sounds on the sly while your subject remains none the wiser. In other words, a serviceable — if not particularly great — way to spy on neighbors, stalk your ex, or case the joint around the corner.
WIRED Hands-free filming on the down-low. Lightweight at 2.1 ounces. Interchangeable shaded and clear lenses for different lighting conditions. Preview your perversions with the monocular viewer. MicroSD card slot lets you expand beyond the 2 GB of on-board storage.
TIRED Jerky images are inevitable with the smallest head movement. Mic captures the movement of every air molecule. Audio volume isn’t adjustable. Can’t wear them on top of other eyeglasses.
Photos by Jon Snyder/Wired.com