What's the Best Way to Record, Compress and Transmit Video From Antarctica?

Our friend Ben Saunders is a polar explorer who frequently travels across Antarctica in the name of science. Part of his expedition responsibilities include sending video from the field back to the home base via satellite phone.

Unfortunately, the Iridium radio frequencies only allow for a data transfer of 2.4 kb/s, which means that a 1 minute video will take at least an hour to upload. And that's at a quality level most of us would consider horrendous. And now Ben is asking for your help in finding a better solution.

Ben's current setup for video capture involves the following:

  • HP iPAQ hx2490: Yes, it runs Windows CE. Yes, it transfers wireless data at dial-up speeds. Yes, it can withstand temperatures as low as -50 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Motorola Iridium 9505 satellite Phone: It more or less looks like that candy bar phone you had in 1998. But you know, gets a signal in the middle of nowhere.
  • Socket Serial I/O CompactFlash to Serial RS-232 cable: Using a Compact Flash slot, this cable connects the iPAQ modem to the phone so that it can pick up a signal.

What's the Best Way to Record, Compress and Transmit Video From Antarctica?

He is wondering if anyone out there has a better, more modern, way of recording, compressing, and transferring better quality video with equipment that uses minimal amounts of power and can withstand the frigid elements. But Ill let him expand on that:

We're also v low on processing power while we're on the ice (either an ancient PDA running Windows CE, or a tiny netbook if we really push the boat out) so compressing video in the tent isn't an option.

So the challenge is this: we need a device to record video in a low-ish resolution (with sound) that spits out relatively small file sizes, either on to an SD/Micro SD card or Compact Flash. Previous expeditions have used early Blackberrys to do this but I'm hope there might be a more elegant solution.

It needs to be a device that we can either power from lithium AA or AAA batteries, or that we can recharge from solar panels via a 12V connection. Obviously it should also be light, durable and relatively idiot-proof!

I know one of you out there is a technical wizard. Sure you haven't been to the South Pole, but maybe you have a more modern set up that could work. So you tell me, what's the best option for Ben?