The headlining Flip camera gets HD and is better for the move. (June 5th, 2009)
Product Manufacturer: Pure Digital (Cisco)
- HD video at a still-affordable price.
- Good form factor; HDMI out is new.
- Very user-friendly hardware and software.
- Much more storage; longer recording than Mino HD.
- Replaceable battery.
- No optical zoom; same image quality as before.
- FlipShare is quick but still limited.
The Ultra HD is Pure Digital's flagship camcorder and carries 8GB of memory in addition to its high definition (720p) recording. Flip also offers the small form factor Flip Mino HD. It commands a thirty dollar price premium for the smaller size, but it offers only half the amount of memory that its full size brother can manage; in theory, the Ultra HD is likely to be much better. But are the savings and extra capacity worth a handful of sacrifices?
physical design, screen, and ports
Although the Ultra HD's form factor is distinctly larger than the Mino's, in practice it's is still light and manageable. The casing is a rubberized plastic on the front, top, and back and a polished gray plastic on both sides. The rubberized plastic feels sturdy enough for its size but the shiny, polished sides easily pick up smudged finger print marks. Our review unit was a matte black color, but the Ultra HD also comes in white and is more practical in that form.
The screen is a transflective TFT screen that is bright and still viewable in day light. Measuring two inches from corner to corner with a resolution of 960x240, the screen is extremely sharp and a pleasure to view; it has a clear plastic cover protecting the screen and so doesn't get destroyed in a pocket. The change is a tremendous leap over even the recent Mino HD and is much better-suited to getting a sense for the final output.
On the right side of the camcorder you'll find a small power button on the top and a place to attach the wrist strap on the bottom. The left side holds an HDMI port -- an appreciated new feature on the Ultra HD -- and a flip out USB connection to connect the camcorder to your computer. The flip out USB port works well and snaps back into place easily. Perhaps the best feature, however, is its expandability: the bottom of the UltraHD has a release button to open the battery compartment and a tripod mount. Unlike the Mino HD, the built-in battery pack is replaceable and will work with any typical AA set. That makes the Ultra HD the only real choice of the two HD Flips for travelers.
Pure's user interface for the Ultra HD is very simple and easy to pick up quickly. There are only seven buttons so recording, playback and on-camera file deletion are all easily found. The up and down buttons operate the digital zoom during recording and change the volume during playback; the left and right allow you to sort through recorded videos during playback. There's little mystery to using the camera in the field, and it remains one of the strongest selling points.
With a heftier battery to go with the upgrade to 8GB of storage, the new Ultra is the first HD-capable Flip to have more battery life than it does recording time; it can hold two hours of video but lasts about 2.5 hours before the battery gives out. While we don't expect many owners to ever use their cameras for long enough to test these limits -- that's not what it's intended to do -- it's a welcome change that ensures the camera will almost always have enough energy to fill the memory to the brim. Eventually, Pure will hopefully provide enough storage and a powerful enough battery to last the duration of a particularly long event, but that's dictated more by price and size than anything under the company's control.
The Ultra HD uses the same imaging engine and basic lens technology as the Mino HD, so videographers should know what to expect. Video from the camera is sharp but, given the budget, isn't terribly advanced. Fast movement has a tendency to blur (if tolerably so), and transitions between bright and dark scenes often lag a few seconds before the camera adjusts to the new light levels. These are all to be expected given the price -- one low enough that many standard-definition cameras struggle to reach it -- but it doesn't change what can be done.
Colors are flat and even dull at times, but also balanced. Unlike the Kodak Zi6 or some other pocket cameras, there's no deliberate "punch" added to make the image superficially more appealing. Newcomers may be frustrated, but more experienced users may actually be quite pleased: the overall neutral output is better-oriented towards those who want to play with colors themselves.
The real limitation, as could be expected, is the lens. An absence of optical zoom and a limitation to 2X digital zoom prevents the more ambitious from cropping the shot or simply from bringing a subject into greater detail. While adding zoom would detract from the simplicity, the Ultra HD as Pure's range-topper is the model that would most deserve better optics, and it's somewhat disappointing not to get that here.
As with most recent Flips, the new camera comes with FlipShare cross-platform editing tools preloaded on the camera's own memory. The first time you plug the USB camera into your computer it either automatically installs or, in the case of Mac users, even lets you run the app from the camera itself.
The software has a simple design and basic feature set that almost anybody could use for editing and viewing. Beyond the basic controls, it's also designed to create and share; The share functions as always support YouTube uploading, e-mailing and creating greeting cards. Creation functions range from rudimentary editing to single-frame capturing (for photos) and basic DVD authoring.
In practice, this will never truly replace dedicated movie tools, particularly for Mac users with access to tools that can already perform many of the same functions. However, it's a great option in terms of sheer speed: as we've tested in the past, it's possible to get a rought cut of a movie from camera to the Internet in a matter of minutes. If your only trimming concerns are length, transitions and subtitles, FlipShare is more than up to the task.
If a budget-priced handheld HD camcorder is what you are looking for, the Flip Video UltraHD is certainly worth consideration. The video quality won't decimate that of much more expensive cameras, but it's still good for the category and very much workable.
More importantly, both the camera and its software are still as easy to use as ever. The Ultra HD is, effectively, the ultimate video blogging camera and can get away with other short-form movie making just as well. So long as you don't have high requirements for advanced features, the Ultra HD should definitely be on the short list and is arguably a better buy than the Mino HD. The latter may fit more easily in a pocket, but the Ultra HD isn't so large as to be unwieldy and has enough new features that it's clearly the winner.