Streaming Spotlight: Flip Video Ultra

A few months ago Eric (Schumacher-Rasmussen, editor of and I were discussing new article themes, and came upon the idea of the Streaming Media Spotlight, which would highlight new and interesting vendors of all sorts in the online video space. Given my own active participation in the industry, I was cautious about reviewing my competitors in a negative light and causing a ruckus, so I created a set of questions to flatly ask of all the candidates that we interview for the Spotlight series in the fashion of a TV show called Star Quest from the early 1990s.

The other part of the idea was to get more streaming video up on the site. The problem I had was that, given that I do actually have a day job and a family, I was a little reluctant to start capturing video off my DVCAM and encoding it, trimming it and so on and so forth to create videos of the interviewees since that was a little more time-consuming than I had planned.

What Eric and I were both dreaming of was a simple camera that could shoot in FLV or WMV and from which I could, in one drag and drop action, publish the interviews. Then we got wind that Dan Rayburn had been sent a Flip Mino and it pretty much did what we had been dreaming of. So we put in a call, and a few days later my Flip Ultra arrived in the post. The Mino is not yet available in the UK so I had to make do with the Ultra. Also, I guess being as it was a review model, the one I received was PINK (!). Lucky I live in Brighton, otherwise it could give off the wrong impression...

Spotlight on the Flip Ultra
So I thought we would restart the spotlight series with a Spotlight review of this interesting little gadget since I plan to use it as the tool with which I’ll capture interivews with future Spotlight participants. After playing hard with it for the last two weeks I have to say that I, my wife and 16-month-old daughter have fallen in love with it. That should give a few clues as to where it is aimed. It’s a great toy for a family, and in our case, with my wife’s parents in Brazil this camera is absolutely ideal for keeping the grandparents up to speed with the granddaughter’s expertise on the slide in the playground!

The picture quality is fine – it’s better than that on my phone. In fact my absolute favourite thing is that, from the moment you hit “on” it’s ready to film in about 3 or 4 seconds. My phone, by comparison, takes about 8 to 10. This means that I can catch those moments that I want to catch, rather than the tail off of “the moment.”

As a work tool, although the pink case has been cause for comment (!), it has the feel of a Dictaphone, but with video. The microphone is great and seems to catch my voice, from behind the camera, just as well as the respondents’.

The 2X zoom does little more than help to frame the picture a little better, but it’s a nice feature. Any more than 2X and the graininess of the image would reduce the effect of the camera considerably.

From Camera to Hard Drive
So what about getting the image off the camera into a usable streaming form? Overall I had a few reservations that it wasn’t recorded directly into a streamable format, however on reflection there are so many possibilities here that I can appreciate that it would be difficult to come up with a one-size-fits-all solution. As it is, the camera creates Advanced Profile MPEG-4 videos in an AVI container. This is definitely a good way forward, since most internet formats are close to MPEG-4 and so the compression to your chosen internet format doesn’t reduce the picture a shocking amount. If you plug in the camera to your TV using the provided cable, the picture is great. Motion is, as one would expect, not absolutely perfect, but it is as near as can be to a perfectly watchable picture. Static or tripod mounted (it has a standard tripod screw fixing on the base) shots are excellent. They make my camera phone loos like a webcam, and webcams look prehistoric.

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