Shortly before I went to Las Vegas, I decided I’d like to buy the Flip Video Ultra camcorder while I was down there. If you don’t know what it is, here’s a short description:
It’s a handheld, solid state, 2GB capacity video capture device. It captures 640×480 video at 30fps. There is a 1.8″ LCD screen on the back and it runs on 2 AA size batteries. It has a neat flip-out USB connector that allows you to plug it straight into a standard USB port. It also has an output plug and cable for direct TV output. On the bottom there is also a standard sized threaded tripod connector. There is no memory card slot, and the device holds 60 min of video. It retails for about $100.00-150.00. That’s about it.
When you plug the device into a Windows or Mac machine the first time, it will install some nifty software to preview the videos, transfer the videos and allow for some basic editing as well. It also shows up as a generic USB mass storage device. On Linux, this appears to be the only option. It might be possible to run the windows version of the software under Wine, but I haven’t tried it. But being able to easily pull the avi files off onto my drive is the all important functionality I was looking for.
One of the problems I found during my pre-purchase research, was that I couldn’t seem to find any full size avi samples to download and view in order to judge the quality of the video. I purchased it pretty much on blind faith, just hoping the video quality would be good. Since trying it out and viewing the video on my pc, I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised.
So in order to possibly help out others looking at this camera, I’ve decided to post a 23 second clip from the camera for people to download and view. But first a word about video formats…
The camera saves video in a format called 3ivx. It seems to be a specific type of mp4 format. The audio portion of the codec seems to be the main stumbling block for some of the video players I’ve tried.
On my Windows box at work, once I installed the proprietary software that came with the camera, the videos could be played by the proprietary player as well as Windows Media Player (I think the software installs the proper codecs for WMP to use).
On my Linux box (Ubuntu Hardy Heron), I was able to play the video with no problem using Totem, but VLC and Mplayer would only play the video and not the audio. Hmm. This is weird since Totem is usually the weakest of the three.
So for the sake of comparison, I decided to modify a couple of the scripts we use for our screencasts and converted the original 3ivx file to an mpeg4 (h264/mp3) file and also to a flash version to allow people to avoid video codec hell entirely.
So you can download the original file to see the quality the camera provides and also download the h264 version and if you have any trouble playing either, you can also view the flash version. From my relatively untrained eye, the three versions are fairly close in quality. All three are the full 640×480 resolution so you should get a much better idea of the quality than you would from YouTube or similar sites.
Note also the relative filesizes. The original avi and flash versions are 11.5MB and 18.5MB respectively, but the h264 version is a whole lot smaller. You’d expect to see a huge degradation in quality, but it actually looks very similar to me (again with my untrained eyes of course). So you be the judge:
Original AVI from the Flip Video Camera:
(640×480, 23sec, 11.5MB) VID00026.AVI
h264/mp3 file converted using mencoder:
(640×480, 23sec, 3.2MB) VID00026_h264mp3.avi
(640×480, 23sec, 18.5MB) Click Here to View
Have a look and give me your comments. I’d be interested in also hearing from any Mac users (ahem.. Earl Moore?)out there to see how the original and h264 versions play on your shiny Macs as well.
All in all I’m very pleased with the Flip camera. It’s simple, seems fairly rugged and is just about exactly what I was looking for.