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The Flip Goes High-Def

Pure Digital, the creator of relatively inexpensive and easy to use "point and shoot" video cameras has just released its first high definition camera. The Flip MinoHD, which sells for $229.99, is a very compact little pocket camera that produces 720p videos (1280 by 720 resolution) that look about as good as broadcast HD TV shows. Typical of HD, video is displayed in wide-screen (16:9) at 30 frames per second.

The new camera follows previous standard definition models designed for people who want to take relatively short clips that can be easily copied to a PC or Mac and shared with friends.

While the MinoHD is far from the most sophisticated or feature-rich high definition video camera on the market, it certainly is one of the easiest to operate. To record a video you simply press the power button on the right side followed by the big red button in the middle of the camera. You can also press the plus button to zoom in or the minus button to zoom out using the 2X digital (not optical) zoom. You can instantly review what you just recorded by pressing play and touch the trash can icon if you want to delete it. The amount of time left to record is always displayed on the 1.5 inch LCD, just below the scene you're recording. You can easily hear the audio during playback but viewing a video on a 1.5 inch screen may require a bit of squinting.

When you're ready to transfer the video to a PC or Mac, you just "flip" the built-in USB adapter from the body of the camera and plug it in. The device doesn't come with a CD. Instead the software you need is already in the camera's memory and it loads automatically as soon as you plug it into the computer.

With Pure Digital's new "FlipShare" software, you can view and organize your videos, email them, publish them online and even do some rudimentary editing. This software is not nearly as feature-rich most video editing programs or even the free video editing program Movie Maker that comes with Windows XP and Vista or iMovie that's bundled with all Macintoshes. It does let you trim away the beginning or ending of any clip and you can put in titles and credits but there is no easy way to trim out unwanted material from the middle of a clip nor are there transitions or other effects that many people like to use to enhance their videos. The software does let you either replace the video's sound track with provided music or an MP3 file of your choice or have music play in the background but it only gives you rudimentary control over the volume of background music. When I tested it, I found the music overwhelmed the sound from the video even though I opted to "play music softer than the sound in the video."

The software can also be used to post video directly to YouTube, MySpace or AOL video or to send out as an email attachment. It doesn't work directly with Facebook though you can export a video to a standard (MP4) format and later import it into Facebook.

You can also create some cute video greeting cards and burn the movie to a DVD to be viewed on any standard DVD player. The camera is not optimized for still photos but the software will let you extra a JPG "snapshot" from your video.

At 3.3 ounces, the camera is as light and small as many cell phones so it fits very easily into a pocket. It comes with 4 gigabytes of built-in memory which is enough for an hour of high-definition video. Just with Apple iPods and iPhones, neither the memory nor the built-in lithium battery are removable. So you can't add more storage or replace the battery if you run out of juice. Also like an iPod or iPhone, you recharge the battery by plugging it into a PC or Mac's USB port. Pure Digital plans to offer a plug-in charger before the holdays, according to Pure Digital Vice President Simon Fleming-Wood.

The quality of the video is really quite good, even in somewhat low-light conditions. I was also pleased by the sound quality. In the ideal world, I would like the ability to plug in an external microphone but short of that, the sound quality was quite good.

The company's website also lets you custom design the skin your own camera by selecting graphics or uploading your own graphic or photo.

There are similar products on the market. Kodak, for example, offers the Z16 Povcket Video Camera for $179 that also shoots in HD. For better and worse the Kodak camera uses SD memory cards and rechargeable or alkaline AA batteries. The SD card strategy gives you the option of additional storage and AA batteries mean you can carry extra batteries with you or buy them in a pinch. But the Kodak is heavier (5.8 ounces with batteries) and bulkier. One thing I do like about the Kodak camera is that you have the option to shoot in standard definition. The MinoHD gives you virtually no options when it comes to format or resolution.

Another option is the camera you may already own. Most consumer digital cameras can be used for videos. While most are still standard definition, a few do offer HD options. My $179 Canon PowerShot A1000 IS is an excellent consumer-level digital still camera that does a pretty good job with standard definition videos. I don't recommend you buy it for that reason, but if you're already carrying it or any other video-enabled digital still camera, you might be happy enough with what you have to pass on getting a dedicated digital video camera for occasional and casual video use.

Still, if you want a very well designed, sleek, lightweight and easy to use digital video camera, the Pure Digital Flip MinoHD is an excellent choice. Like its standard definition siblings, I expect it to do quite well in the marketplace.
By Larry Magid

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