During the last few years, there has been a quiet revolution in how people create and consume video: Video has moved from being an expensive hobby that was often too complex for casual users to something that is simple for anyone to capture and share.
One of the leaders of this revolution has been Pure Digital Technologies, with its Flip digital camcorder. The tiny and inexpensive Flips made it possible to capture video at any time with point-and-shoot simplicity, and to quickly share it over the Internet. The biggest perceived drawback to these camcorders was that while the video was good enough for YouTube, it wasn't generally considered high quality.
With the last few iterations of the Flip, Pure Digital has been working to close this quality gap, and the new Flip UltraHD is a camcorder that has all of the simplicity of earlier Flips but can also take good-quality HD 16:9 widescreen video.
Of course, the Flip UltraHD isn't the first HD camcorder that Pure Digital has released; late in 2008 the Flip MinoHD was released with similar HD quality video capabilities.
But until a new MinoHD is released, the Flip UltraHD is a superior choice for Flip fans looking for HD capabilities. The biggest difference is price: The Flip UltraHD, at $199.99, is $30 less than the older $229.99 MinoHD.
The Flip UltraHD also has twice the storage capacity of the MinoHD-8GB, which translates into 2 hours of video over the MinoHD's 1 hour. And, in my tests, the video quality of the UltraHD was superior to that of the MinoHD, and the widescreen was a bit wider. Right now the only benefit of the MinoHD is size, as the UltraHD is about twice as thick as the MinoHD.
One reason for this size boost is the power options for the UltraHD. While the test unit I received came with a rechargeable battery, it is also possible to power it using two AA batteries. When using rechargeable batteries, as was the case with earlier Flips, the unit can be charged through a USB connection to a computer. One difference is that the pop-out USB jack is on the side of the UltraHD, instead of popping out of the top as it does in other Flip units.
There are also slight differences in the controls of the Flip UltraHD. While the setup is the same (a big red record button, a toggle wheel, and play and delete buttons), the UltraHD uses actual, physical buttons instead of the recessed nonmechanical buttons in other Flips. I found the physical buttons to be much easier to use in tests.
Another nice touch in the Flip UltraHD is the inclusion of an HDMI jack in the unit; this makes it possible to connect the UltraHD directly to an HD television set to watch video, although no HDMI cable is provided with the unit.
Shooting video with the Flip UltraHD works the same as with other units-just hit the big red button and shoot. In general, I found my handheld video to be pretty stable and free of jerkiness as long as I kept my movements slow.
Once connected to a computer, the Flip UltraHD appears as a USB drive and users can pull the MP4-formatted video directly onto their computers. As always, the Flip UltraHD also includes the FlipShare software, which works on both Windows and Mac OSX.
The FlipShare 4.1 software on the unit is little changed from older versions. It is still fine for simple video edits and for quick sharing of video. Still, it is probably my least favorite aspect of the Flip. I've always found that video viewed in FlipShare, even after it has been saved to the computer, is jerky and uneven. The same video is smooth if viewed in, for example, Windows Media Player.
If one is looking for very high-quality video from a camcorder with all of the professional bells and whistles, then the Flip UltraHD probably isn't for you. But just as most people prefer a simple point-and-shoot camera to a complicated and expensive SLR, the small and inexpensive Flip UltraHD is a good choice for everyday users who just want to capture video.
For more information go to www.theflip.com.