In its short lifetime the Flip video camcorder has set a very high standard for usability and simplicity. The Flip took something that was traditionally expensive and difficult, namely shooting and delivering video, and made it easier than point-and-shoot still photo shooting.
So when representatives of the maker of the Flip, which is now part of Cisco Systems, told me that it was releasing a device that would make it possible to deliver video wirelessly to your television, I was understandably excited. I was envisioning a device that would solve the problem of the cost and complexity of home digital media centers in the same way that the Flip eased video creation.
But when I received the new FlipShare TV and put it through its paces, it failed to live up to my lofty expectations. And it even in many ways comes up short of the more modest goals of simply providing an easy-to-use device that people can use to bring their videos to their TVs.
FlipShare TV, which is priced at $149.99, consists of a small base unit that plugs into your TV either through an HDMI cable or traditional RCA cables, a remote control and a USB dongle that provides the wireless connection between the base unit and your computer. Once connected the device makes it possible to browse through videos saved in the FlipShare software on your computer and also view videos shared through the online Flip Channels service.
First the good. Viewing videos on my TV through the FlipShare TV device was a very simple process of using the remote to scan through saved videos and Flip Channels. The quality of the video was very good overall and the online Flip Channels are a nice way to share videos with remote friends and families.
Now to the rest. Overall, I found FlipShare TV to be too limited in its functionality. Any video viewed has to be loaded into the FlipShare software or be on a Channel, so while I could view other non-Flip videos on my computer they had to first be imported.
Also, somewhat surprisingly, I couldn't view videos that were still on the Flip camcorder. While the FlipShare software makes it possible to view videos while they are still on the camcorder, in order to view a video on the FlipShare TV it had to first be saved to the computer.
Since I was connecting a device of which the sole purpose is to deliver video to a television, I was really hoping for some ability to view online sources such as Netflix, Hulu and YouTube, but the only online video source supported is Flip Channels. And since I already have a very good wireless network in my home I would have liked the option to connect the device to that network, but the only wireless connection the FlipShare TV supports is the one provided through the USB dongle.
When I recently spoke to Flip representatives they said they went with this setup because settings up wireless network connections can be difficult and they wanted the FlipShare TV to have the same high usability as the Flip camcorder. But while it was easier to set up than it is to connect some devices to a wireless network (though this isn't exactly rocket science), it didn't match the simplicity of the Flip.
Initial setup does have to be done in a specific order or users will hit snags. Specifically, you must first update your FlipShare software before doing anything, then plug in the USB dongle, then install the drivers and then plug in the power for the base unit. Any deviance from this procedure can lead to a failed setup. Also, the USB dongle itself is actually fairly large, and made it difficult to plug in other USB devices into adjacent slots.
Despite these limitations, for some people the FlipShare TV will still be a good fit. People with large Flip video libraries who in other ways aren't huge gadget heads will find it a nice way to view and share their many videos.
But for many others, especially the more tech- and gadget-oriented readers of eWEEK, I don't see the FlipShare TV holding much attraction. If you're like me, you probably are already using a lot of the connections on your TV. If I'm going to surrender one of these slots to a device, it has to do a whole lot more than what the FlipShare TV can do.
If you do know someone who might be a good fit for the FlipShare TV, or are just interested in more information, go to www.theflip.com.