The PXL-2000 (also known as Fisher-Price PXL2000, Fisher-Price PixelVision, Sanwa Sanpix1000, KiddieCorder, and Georgia) is a toy black-and-white camcorder produced in 1987 that uses a compact audio cassette as its recording medium. The PXL-2000 was created by a team of inventors led by James Wickstead, who sold the rights to Fisher-Price in 1987 at the American International Toy Fair in Manhattan. Surviving on the market for merely a year, only around 400,000 units were ever produced, resulting in the PXL-2000's eventual present status as a sought-after cult object among many artists and media historians.
The PXL-2000 consists of a simple aspherical lens, an infrared filter, a CCD image sensor, a custom ASIC (the Sanyo LA 7306M), and an audio cassette mechanism. This is mounted in a plastic housing with a battery compartment and an RF video modulator selectable to either North American television channel 3 or 4. A plastic viewfinder and some control buttons complete the device.
A standard audio cassette tape stores both video and sound. The PXL-2000 holds 11 minutes of video by moving the tape at a high speed, nearly 9× normal cassette playback speed. The PXL records at roughly 16.875 in/s (429 mm/s), vs. a standard cassette's speed of 1.875 in/s (47.6 mm/s) on a C90 CrO2 (chromium dioxide) cassette. The higher speed is necessary because video requires a wider bandwidth than standard audio recording. (In magnetic tape recording, the faster the tape speed, the more data can be read/written per second, i.e. higher bandwidth.) The PXL-2000 records the video information on the left audio channel of the cassette, and the audio on the right.
In order to reduce the amount of information recorded to fit within the narrow bandwidth of the sped-up audio cassette, it uses an ASIC to generate slower video timings than conventional TVs use. It scans the 120 × 90 pixel CCD 15 times a second, feeding the results through a filtering circuit, and then to a frequency modulation circuit driving the left channel of the cassette head, as well as to an ADC, which created the final image for viewing.
For playback and view-through purposes, circuits read image data from either a recorded cassette or the CCD and fill half a digital frame store at the PXL reduced rate, while scanning the other half of the frame store at normal NTSC rates. Since each half of the frame store includes only 10800 pixels in its 120 × 90 array, the same as the CCD, the display resolution was deemed to be marginal, and black borders were added around the picture, squashing the framestore image content into the middle of the frame, preserving pixels that would otherwise be lost in overscan. An anti-aliasing low-pass filter is included in the final video output circuit.
When the PXL-2000 was available in retail outlets, it came in two versions, one with just the camera and necessary accessories (power supply, blank tape, etc.), and another which came packaged with a portable black and white television that had a 4.5-inch (110 mm) diagonal screen for use as a monitor. There were also extra accessories sold separately, such as a carrying case. The market success of the PXL-2000 was ultimately quite low with its targeted demographic, in part due to its pricing. Initially sold for $179 ($383 in 2017 dollars) and was later reduced to $100 ($214 in 2017 dollars), the PXL-2000 was expensive for a child's toy, yet found lasting minor success with a smaller pool of young video artists as a cheap alternative to more expensive handheld videocameras.
The original retail price of this package was about US$150.
The PXL-2000 has several weak points. The most common fault is a decayed drive belt, common to most tape mechanisms of the 1980s, and fogged blue filters. The blue filter is a glass optical component that is fitted behind the lens to prevent infrared light from reaching the CCD and producing miscoloured images. They tend to become fogged in stored PXLs, possibly as a result of outgassing from the plastic components of the camera. This issue can be fixed by disassembling the camera, removing the blue filter, and cleaning it with a window cleaning solution like Windex. Many PXL-2000 cameras have also suffered damage from leaking electrolyte from old batteries, but this is usually not serious and can be easily repaired. Cameras left with tapes inserted for long periods of time may also need the tape path to be cleaned and a pinch wheel replacement.
The PXL-2000 has seen a revival in popularity since the early-to-mid 1990s among independent graphic designers, experimental/avant-garde, and underground filmmakers, due to its point-and-shoot simplicity and resonance within a deliberately amateur subculture. Since the PXL-2000 both breaks down easily and is past production, its use is aligned with a certain romanticized mortality, unfit for serious mainstream appropriation. Erik Saks writes that: "Each time an artist uses a PXL 2000, the whole form edges closer to extinction."
In 1990, Pixelvision enthusiast Gerry Fialka organized PXL THIS, the first film festival dedicated to projects shot exclusively on the PXL-2000. The festival continues to occur annually in Los Angeles , California . Recalling the PXL-2000's initial promise of accessibility, Fialka's vision includes accepting submissions indiscriminately, juxtaposing the works of established artists with those of amateurs and children.
PXL-2000 cameras are still popular in the filmmaking scene—in fact, some individuals offer modifications for the PXL-2000 to output composite video, to interface to an external camcorder with a composite video in, or a VCR. The cameras themselves are still in demand, fetching prices as high as $500 on auction sites like eBay (As of 2012).
The PXL-2000 was used by Richard Linklater in his 1991 debut film, Slacker. A (roughly) two-minute performance art sequence within the film is shot entirely in PixelVision.
Peggy Ahwesh's Strange Weather (1993) was shot entirely on a PXL-2000. This video, which follows several crack cocaine addicts in Florida, relies heavily on the camera's portability to maintain an intimate presence.
Video artist Sadie Benning is among the most critically acclaimed pioneers of the PXL-2000, one of which was given to her by her father James Benning around the age of 15. Benning's early video diary works gained popularity in art circles, earning her a lasting reputation as an innovator, with an important presence in video art.
Michael Almereyda used the camera for several of his films. Another Girl Another Planet (1992) and his short Aliens (1993) were shot with it entirely, it was used for point of view shots of the title character in Nadja (1994), and it was used by the title character to make video diaries in Hamlet (2000).
The camera has also been used for several music videos, including "Mote" by Sonic Youth and "Black Grease" by the Black Angels.
Artist John Humphrey's 2003 video, Pee Wee Goes to Prison is shot on a PXL-2000, employing a cast of dolls and other toys to stage the imaginary trial, incarceration, and eventual pardoning (by newly-elected president Jesse Ventura) of Pee-wee Herman for the sale of Yohimbe.
The PXL-2000 was used by the characters Maggie (Anne Hathaway) and Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal) in the 2010 film, Love & Other Drugs, although the black and white "footage" from the camera is shown at full film resolution.
In 2018 Toronto Filmmaker Karma Todd Wiseman used a PXL to shoot key scenes with Canadian actress Cora Matheson on Dundas Street East and also used for mobile inside a Dodge Aries K car, the footage was processed with enhanced monochrome B&W FX, The custom PXL cam was fitted with windshield mount suction cups and painted with the red and white paint scheme of the Canadian flag.