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Flip Video 'the future of journalism': UK chief blasts Sony, hints at HD

We met Flip Video's European chief to discuss the success of the Ultra, the new Mino and future plans, as the Flip transforms journalism and competitors like Sony take a bashing

Having had a sneak preview of the Flip Video Mino courtesy of Firebox, we met with Ray Sangster, Flip Video's European president, in the swanky surroundings of the Park Lane Hotel in London's Piccadilly. Crave was the first to get an official hands-on with the Mino, and in our exclusive chat Sangster was quick to praise online journalists and e-tailers, as well as having some fighting words for competitors -- including Sony -- in the budget camcorder market.

First off, we were assured that the Mino is not a replacement for the Ultra. Instead, Sangster says Flip is "looking at a younger audience, 14-25 or 28, who'll just slip it into their pocket... This particular product is a subsector we're creating, and it'll be interesting to see whether the users of YouTube, MySpace etc, will go out and buy this product themselves or be dependent on their parents to make the purchase. I see both working in the marketplace together."

With Christmas on its way, the Mino is set to follow the Ultra on to shelves in Dixons and Toys'R'Us, with Tesco and Argos also selling them online. Sangster highlighted the online merchants who were early adopters of the Flip phenomenon, saying "e-tailers moved very quickly... they're the guys with the fingers on the pulse. Traditional stores are excited but have their own process... it's a different challenge getting into the stores."

According to Sangster, one group buying into the Flip philosophy is journalists. With the debate over citizen journalism a hot topic at the moment, it's interesting to read the BBC's chief geek Rory Cellan-Jones referring to the Ultra as being part of the "modern reporter's toolkit". The Flip also proves to be the camera that can go anywhere, from the front line in Afghanistan with reporter Alex Strick van Linschoten, to the front line of fashion, with Grazia's online coverage of Paris Fashion Week rocking the Mino as a killer accessory.

Although Cellan-Jones would be "reluctant to go anywhere without the services of a professional, wielding a decent video camera", the Morpeth Herald -- brought to prominence with coverage of recent catastrophic flooding -- is won over. Editor Terry Hackett describes the Flip as "£95 worth of modern miracle". Meanwhile, a big announcement is expected today from a major UK television channel.

Even assuming that TV viewers will accept lower-quality video on their HDTVs by buying into "raw, gritty, real" on-the-spot footage, the Flip still seems best suited to the Web. Asked if this is the future of online journalism, Sangster said "personally I suspect that's the way it's going." The Flip also puts reporting in the hands of the ordinary Joe Sixpack, both in terms of user-generated content for news outlets and reportage on consumer issues, for example.

The Flip Video Ultra is available now for around £90, with the smaller Mino set to go on sale for around £120. For the future of Flip, including a high-definition hint, competitor concerns and a dig at Sony, click to the next photo. -Rich Trenholm

So what's the future for Flip? The company, Sangster says, is "playing with technologies today that will come out sometime in 2010, 2011... but as we're looking at these technologies in our labs it comes down to the philosophy: keep it simple, keep it clean, let the user have an enjoyable, easy experience within a price range we want to play in. If we can't work within those parameters, we don't want to know...

"We don't want to be a £500 digital camcorder that's got 429 functions, of which only 5 or 6 are ever used. What it says on the box is what the product does. It's intuitive and it's simple to use, and you don't have to get the manual out and go to page 400, subsection 2. It does what we say it does, and that's it: we don't pretend to be anything else."

The next product release is expected in the US "shortly", with the UK three months behind. Sangster hinted high definition is on the way, but will stick to the established pattern: "when we bring our HD product it will run for the hour -- these products can film an hour, with four and a half or five hours battery life. Whether we're talking about the the Mino or the Ultra it'll be exactly the same." He's relaxed about competitors such as the Creative Vado or Kodak's hi-def Zi6, arguing they "validate the sector".

He went on to brand the Sony GC1 Net-Sharing Cam, Sony's attempt to get in on the action in 2007, "a disaster". The Japanese company "saw what Flip was doing and tried to rush a product out to get into the sector. It just died and disappeared," Sangster said. "I don't know where Sony went wrong... the sales of Ultra were going through the roof and continue to go through the roof."

If you've flipped out over the Flip, let us know. Is it the future of journalism or a toy for YouTubers?