Every six months or so, Flip Video releases another version of its YouTube-friendly, point-and-shoot mini-camcorders. Most recently, it was the MinoHD, which offered a convenient and simple option for shooting HD video.
Slated for release in late June, the company brings us two updated versions of the Flip Video Ultra: a higher-end model, the UltraHD, which shoots 720p high-definition video, and a less expensive Ultra, which shoots 640x480-pixel VGA video.
According to Amazon, the UltraHD will have a price tag around £160, while the revamped Ultra will cost around £130. We've reviewed the UltraHD model.
On the outside at least, not much has changed from Flip Video's first-generation Ultra. Still, there are a couple of notable differences. For starters, the transflective LCD on the back is bigger, measuring 51mm (2 inches), compared with 38mm (1.5 inches). The buttons are also bigger and the UltraHD, which will come in black or white, has a rubberised, matte finish that allows you to grip the device more easily.
The UltraHD comes with an AA-size NiMH rechargeable battery pack, which can be charged via the camcorder's trademark flip-out USB. The battery pack is a nice convenience, but there's a drawback: it's bulkier and heavier than the slim lithium-ion type built into the MinoHD. You'll get a bigger, heavier camcorder now -- the UltraHD weighs 172g versus 94g for the MinoHD. That said, the UltraHD is still pocket-friendly, just not as much as the MinoHD.
One thing we don't like about the new design is the chrome plastic trim on the sides of the unit. It looks good, but you'll spend too much time wiping off fingerprint smudges with the camcorder's soft, velvety pouch. We would have preferred brushed metal.
Another minor ding: there's an HDMI output on the side for HDTV connections, but no bundled cable.
Like the MinoHD, the UltraHD shoots 1,280x720-pixel video at 30fps, with H.264 compression and MPEG-4 encoding. The unit lacks a memory card slot, which is too bad, but its 8GB of internal memory allows you to record 2 hours of video. That should be ample recording capacity for most shooters, but if you're on holiday and want to film all the sights, it would help to stick a laptop in your rucksack to offload your video.
Shooting and transferring videos to your computer or uploading them to YouTube and other video-sharing sites remains a breeze. Flip Video definitely gets simplicity right. You hit the big red button to record and the play button to play back videos.
There is a 2x digital zoom onboard -- although you won't want to use it -- but nothing in the way of manual or advanced settings or even a still-capture mode. You can pull stills from your video using the software package that's built into the unit.
For the UltraHD's target audience, having fewer choices and menus to toggle through is good. It's also good that Flip Video's software supports both Windows and Mac. It offers basic editing features, but you can always import your video into another editing package, including Apple's iMovie.
The UltraHD has some of the best video we've seen recently from one of these budget, Web-friendly camcorders. Video is relatively sharp and saturated in outdoor shots and adequately bright without being overly noisy or blurry in low light. The audio is clear and loud. It still can't compare with the video produced by a top-of-the-line HD camcorder, which would make your wallet a few hundred quid lighter.
You also have to keep the device absolutely motionless while shooting for the best results, but the video's been incrementally improved over the MinoHD. Overall, video seemed sharper and smoother, the colours more accurate and the low-light performance improved with less noise in dimly-lit shots. These are very small improvements, but they're noticeable.
We should note that this model has the same optics and image sensor as the MinoHD, but Flip Video has refined the video processing to improve image quality. It's still not great -- and your video can appear jittery if you don't hold the camcorder very steady -- but comparatively speaking, it's decent, especially for a camcorder this small.
The UltraHD may not be the tiniest or sexiest camcorder out there, but where it lacks in style, it makes up in substance with good video quality and ease of use. It's your best bet unless you're after the smallest, most lightweight mini-camcorder, in which case the MinoHD and Creative's Vado HD remain better choices -- for now, anyway.