In today's multimedia-hungry world, there's a continuing question: how do you get
the video, or audio, that you need onto a computer in digital format? Professional
solutions abound, but these often have hefty price tags and steep learning curves.
Are there simpler options?
Yes, and there are all sorts of ways: one is with built-in Web cams found on many
desktop and notebook computers; you can also get add-on products from Microsoft
Corp., Logitech and, for Mac aficionados, MacAlly. Pricing ranges from around $30 to
$130 or so.
You can also use many home-style video cameras, but these can cost several hundred
dollars, are a bit bulky, and may be limited in terms of recording media: you need
tapes or mini discs or, well, something.
Into the fray steps Pure Digital Technologies of San Francisco, which offers the
Flip video camera range. About the size of a small cell phone, the Flip cameras
offer quick video shooting and a plug-and-play method of retrieval. Just pop out the
built-in USB connector, hook up to a computer and your files start to transfer.
The Flip Mino, which I plan to purchase outright, lists for $180, is smaller than my
Apple iPhone, and shoots very good, full color, video in an unobtrusive manner. It
shoots 640-by-480 pixel video, up to one hour's worth on its internal 2GB memory,
which sadly isn't expandable. The video is shot at a rate of 30 frames-per-second,
which is equal to broadcast quality video. You won't equal a studio television
picture, but you will get highly usable results.
It's the kind of device I'd like to have had when traveling overseas recently; it's
a good way to quickly capture a "live" scene of some stripe and share that with
others. I could imagine college students using it to record key parts of lectures,
as an adjunct to business meeting note-taking, and for reporter types like me, a new
electronic "notebook," which can put results on YouTube.
The Flip software that is embedded in the camera comes in versions for Windows and
Mac, and allows you to grab still pictures from a video as well as upload the videos
for e-mails, greeting cards, and MySpace and AOL pages. There's a built-in LCD
screen for on-the-spot viewing of videos, if desired; the screen is also your
I couldn't find much to fault in the Mino, which is smaller than earlier Flip
products. It would be nice to have a SecureDigital or SD memory card slot,
which might increase storage to two hours of recording. There's also no external
microphone jack, which might also be useful in some cases. But you can get a
optional tripod and an "action mount" that would let you affix to Mino to your bike
helmet, so you can film your ride along the Appalachian Trail or some other path.
I've mentioned before that we're in a visual age; the Flip Mino adds sound and
motion to the visual, and does it in a stunning fashion. More information can be
found at www.theflip.com; I highly recommend this product.
Sometimes, though, you may not need a picture -- all you want is sound. In those
cases, clip the $49.95 iTalk Pro, from Griffin Technology
(http://www.griffintechnology.com) on to your iPod (it doesn't yet work with an
iPhone) and you can record hours and hours of conversation or music -- there's a
stereo microphone here. The device is simplicity itself, and the end result is a
file that's easy to listen to, share or edit for broadcast or podcast. I can't say
this is the equal of high-end audio recorders, but for many instances, it is more