Tag Archives: camcorder

The Flip Mino in the UK

Regular readers will know that one of the things that I’ve been getting more into this year is video editing (see the page that I’ve just added as a teaser for things to come in 2009). This has been driven by the increasing ease-of-use of online services, the capabilities of the machines and software I have, and the gadgets I’ve been playing around with. In January I looked at a cheap USB video camera, and since then I’ve had even nicer toys to look at 🙂

Interview

Back in October I was invited to talk to the EMEA President of Flip Video, Ray Sangster, at the press launch of the Flip Mino in London. I imagined at the time that my earlier blog posts about this category of devices was at least partly responsible for the invitation.

Before the visit I’d canvassed some questions from my friends on Twitter, and I had some ideas and thoughts of my own that I wanted to discuss. For instance, why bother with a USB camcorder like a Flip when mobile phones are increasingly able to record video and connect to the Internet? Why are the Flip cameras later coming to Europe (typically several months behind the US launch?). Would the Flip cameras get external mics, or other accessories to make them more useful to journalists?

Ray kicked off the conversation by showing me some sample video made by college students in the US… and immediately also pointed out that the target audience for the camera is primarily the 14-25 age group who use the web more than TV, and also particularly with the Mino (which is slimmer and sleeker than the previous Flip Ultra) more slanted towards women, who capture “memories” more than “video for editing”.

The answer to my core question around the value of the device compared to, say, a mobile phone was a great one – Ray offered me his phone and suggested that I try to find the controls for recording video. It’s true that right now, it is relatively difficult to do that (and impossible on the iPhone, which still doesn’t support video, or have a decent resolution)… The very simplicity of the Flip is the selling point. It is reflected in the design of the hardware (big lens, big record button, flip-out USB connection, that’s about it!) and the use of the software, which I’ll talk about in a moment.

The time-delay on release was put down to the time needed to convert to European standards and languages, which is fair… although I remember when the original Flip came out, I got very frustrated waiting for the UK release. It would be great if they could reduce that window for future models.

The accessories include tripod, underwater casing (for the Ultra… I’ve not seen that for a Mino yet but I’ve not looked hard)… but it doesn’t seem likely to me that items such an external microphone are coming along, given the focus on simplicity and the consumer market.

I was interested to learn that the Mino is being used, in the words of the PR company, “from the catwalks to Kandahar” – they are being used to record fashion shows from people like Stella McCartney, and covering war stories in Afghanistan for upload back to the UK over a telephone modem.

A very enjoyable afternoon!

Hands-on

The Flip Mino itself is delivered in a smart box reminiscent of Apple packaging (particularly that of the iPhone). You get the camera, a soft carrying pouch, and that is it – all you need to get going.

You get a simple camera with no batteries to fiddle around with. It’s a fixed 2Gb capacity (60 minutes recording time), unlike some other devices on the market which can support additional storage like SD cards. You record your clips, plug in to a computer, and the software can upload directly to YouTube and MySpace… I was somewhat surprised that it doesn’t support other services like Viddler and Facebook too, given their growing popularity.

If you’re curious to see what I thought of the hardware and the Mac software, take a look at the short clip below.

A number of small things bother me about the Mac support for the Mino, some of which I mention in the video. Firstly, I notice that the software is PowerPC and therefore runs in Rosetta on an Intel Mac – why not ship a Universal binary? It doesn’t support logging in to YouTube with a Google ID (iMovie 08 does). The Save to Album option puts the videos into [homedir]/Documents/My Flip Video Library – which seems strange – why not use the Movies folder, or just use drag-and-drop on a Mac to copy the movies straight off the USB drive (which is actually what I ended up doing, and editing with iMovie). Generally, I’m left thinking that they could have done a better job of the Mac support. It works with OS X though, and that’s a step forward from previous models.

I also took the camera out with me on a weekend break with friends in November. It was a good opportunity to see how it performed outdoors, and also to see what others in the target age group thought about it. Here’s a chance to see what kind of audio and sound quality you get.

As for opinions: generally, friends were commenting that the screen was too small, and shared my impression that phones are moving into the same space, so many were doubtful that they would buy one… but they also don’t make many videos at the moment anyway. In all honesty, their reactions were not strongly positive.

By the way, you can also see those videos on my YouTube channel, along with some other examples of footage shot with the Mino.

So where is the “but”?

So far I’m probably sounding reasonably positive, and the fact is that I do like the Mino, despite the faults I’ve observed. It’s small, convenient, and “good enough” in most respects. My issues with it are that I think it’s somewhat expensive given the competition from alternatives like the bulkier and AA-battery-driven, but 720p-capable Kodak Zi6 HD; and that right around the corner are some other rather nice-looking HD devices. DSLRs are also increasingly getting HD video recording capabilities, so the market space for these devices is potentially narrowing. That said, there will always be something better on the horizon!

My overall feeling is that if you want a simple, straightforward video camera that is easy to use, portable and “good enough” then absolutely, check out the Flip Mino. And if you don’t want my opinion, then Scoble reckons the Flip was the best gadget he “stole” in 2008… although commenters on his post also note that the Kodak is a contender. You can also take a look at Julia Roy’s video review.

Available from Amazon in black or white (which, weirdly, is slightly cheaper!)

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Flip Video hits the UK – is it overpriced?

I see that the Flip Video camera is now available in the UK. I remember being pretty excited when these things were initially announced in the US, and sent the company an email at the time asking when I’d be able to get one in the UK (answer – they weren’t sure yet).

I have to wonder if these guys haven’t missed the boat and are relying purely on brand recognition to get them through here. The disgo / Busbi Video Plus (see my review) has been available for six months already, and is priced £30 cheaper (available from Amazon UK and Currys). Now, the difference is that the Flip has 2Gb memory, but add a cheap 2Gb SD card for less than a fiver and then remember that the Video Plus has a fold-out screen, and it’s hard to see how the Flip has a market.

I’m not in the market for a cheap video device at this point, but I’m fairly sure I’d think twice about the Flip. If they’d brought the new Flip Mino device straight over the pond it might have been a harder choice, but as it stands, I’d look at the alternatives.

Review: disgo Video Plus

A new video device

Video PlusA couple of weeks ago I saw a short news item on Tech Digest, which mentioned a new handheld USB camcorder called the disgo Video Plus (also mentioned on Shiny Shiny and Slashgear). Something similar has been available in the US since last year – the Pure Digital Flip Video – but that product is not available in the UK. The disgo camera has a flip-out screen which the Flip Video does not have, but in other respects they seem very similar.

I’ve been experimenting a little bit recently with video. This device seemed neat – it plugs in directly via USB and is aimed at YouTube-quality, quick video capture. The only thing I was concerned about was that according to the specifications, it didn’t support the Mac… unlike the Flip Video, which has full Mac and Windows support, the disgo product is only listed as compatible with Windows. I contacted disgo’s support team and had an excellent conversation via email where we established that it should just be a USB Mass Storage device, and I might have to do some fiddling to get the AVIs to play on the Mac, but I was willing to give that a try.

Impressions of the Video Plus itself

The camera is extremely neat. It takes 2 x AA batteries (a pair are supplied), comes with a soft carry case, and apart from that… it’s ready to go. The height is less than the size of my hand from the base of the palm to my fingertips, and it is about the same width as a classic iPod. It’s light, too.

ScreenThere’s a 1.5 inch screen (which, incidentally, is really nice and clear) that flips out sideways to enable you to see yourself if the camera is pointing at you – it doesn’t rotate on the axis, though. On the back there are a few buttons: on/off; play/pause; delete (which enables individual clips to be deleted on the device itself); a four way next/zoom/volume button; and a big red button to start or stop a recording. And that’s about it – this is simple stuff.

On one side there is the battery compartment, an SD/MMC card slot which will take up to a 2Gb SD card, and a slider which when pressed causes the USB connector to slide out of the top of the camera to the right of the lens. On the other side there’s a switch to choose between high quality or long play recording, and an A/V connector for hooking up to a TV. There’s a tripod screw connector on the base, and a mystery port on the top with a rubber cover, that I’ve not identified just yet.

It was dead simple to get going – switch on, hit record, and start making video clips. The onboard memory will store 30 minutes of video at high quality, or 60 minutes at lower quality; beyond that, you can obviously add an SD card to expand the capacity.

Using the disgo Video Plus with OS X

There was no CD in the box, and I’ve not plugged the camera into a Windows PC. When I plugged it into my MacBook, it appeared as a USB drive called ‘disgo’ on the desktop.

disgoVideo-1.jpg

Interestingly, although the disgo website does not say that the device is supported on OS X, the ReadMe.txt file included on the disgo’s internal memory does give information about how to access the video files (i.e. you can get them from the DCIM/100VIDEO folder you can see in the screenshot). It is not clear whether files on an SD card plugged into the camera will be able to be read in the same manner – I suspect possibly not, and that I might have to use an external SD card reader, but I’ve yet to try it.

The AVI files played without problems in Quicktime on Leopard. Thinking about it, I did have all kinds of codecs installed already – the camera appears to record an XVID video track at 640×480 resolution, with an mpga audio track – so I may just have been lucky, and it might be necessary to find the right codecs before this will work for anyone else. The files would not, of course, load into iMovie, since that application does not recognise AVI files.

The solution is very simple – transcode to a more Mac-friendly format like a .MOV file or MPEG. The free option for doing this is ffmpegX, but you can also use VisualHub, which I’d previously bought for other purposes and is rather more user-friendly than ffmpegX. Once I’d done that, I was able to use iMovie ’08 to quickly edit together a movie. iMovie ’08 is quirky, and possibly less functional than the previous version, but actually it was ideal for this kind of rapid editing.

Availability

The disgo Video Plus is available via Currys in the UK or direct from disgo.

More photos on Flickr.

Final thoughts

There’s only one way to do this, really…

(I’ve also put this on YouTube)

Update: rebranding, and Windows software

My friend Heidi notes in the comments below that the camera is available in the US as the RCA Small Wonder EZ201. According to this ZDNet review, the original Small Wonder was based on the same technology as the Flip Video, but now RCA have tried to differentiate more (which they seem to have done, in adding the flip screen etc.). However, as we established above, although the ZDNet article claims that this is not Mac-compatible, and the manufacturer doesn’t supply software for the Mac, it seems to work.

The Windows software is on the device itself (remember, I said there was no CD in the box). Inserting the camera into the USB slot on an XP machine, it appeared in My Computer as a USB device called disgo, and when I right-clicked there was an option “Manage your videos” which started the software. It has a few simple features – a grid or list view to access the AVIs and play them; the ability to grab a single frame as a .bmp or .jpg; a section for “editing” i.e. using just part of a clip, or splicing clips together; and a section to email your video to a friend. I’ve added a screenshot on Flickr.

Update: SD card support and UK retailers

I’ve now tried plugging an SD card in. This is treated as an additional device. When you first plug the SD card in the camera copies its software to the card and creates a directory structure. When you then plug the camera into the computer, it continues to see the internal USB flash memory as the storage device, but if you then press the red button while it is connected to the computer the device vanishes (nasty unsafe device removal message), and then the SD card gets mounted instead. So it does work with OS X, but not entirely seamlessly.

Oh, and it looks like Amazon UK have the same device, but branded a Busbi BUSVP0010R Video Plus (and looking at the Busbi site, it looks like they and disgo are the same company since they are both handled by cleverstuff.ie).

Update: other reviews

Paul Knight has done a very detailed video review including a comparison with other cameras including DV tape, and an excellent screencast of how to get the disgo working with a Mac. Shiny Shiny have a short review on YouTube, too.