Flip Video Ultra review: Flip Video Ultra

We'd seen demos of Muvee's full desktop application and have been impressed with its capabilities. It can take fairly boring video and make it seem pretty jazzy--or, better yet, amusing. A handful of movie-mix styles are currently available, some more stylized than others. With its standalone PC software, Muvee offers you the option of buying additional "StyleLabs," but it's unclear at this point whether Pure Digital will include new ones with future software upgrades. It's important to note, however, that owners of earlier Flip Video cameras will be able to download and use the upgraded software package starting in early October.

As we said, one of the key selling points of the Flip Ultra is how easy it is to get videos off the camera and distribute them. To get started, you flip out the USB connector and plug it into the USB port on your Windows PC (Windows 2000/XP or later)--a link to the camera's integrated software quickly pops up. On a Mac (OS X or later), the camera appears as another drive on your desktop, and you must install the software the first time you use it. After that, it operates the same as it would on a Windows PC. You can play back one clip, string several together to make the aforementioned movie mix, pull a single frame (still photo) out of the video, and share your clips with selected viewers via e-mail or the Web. When sharing via e-mail, instead of attaching a large file (even short 20-second clips can result in a 12-13MB file), recipients are sent a link to your compressed video. It looks worse than your raw video footage, but it doesn't look bad.

Aside from the fact that it can take several minutes for your video file to be "processed," sharing a file is very simple. Click on the Share Video button in the software interface and you're taken to a screen that asks you to select a video clip and choose to share it via e-mail, share a greeting (send a private video card), or share it online.

To publish directly to YouTube or AOL Video, you'll need to create an account for each service and log in. But once you do, you can automatically upload your videos to the Web for private or public viewing with a click of a button. If you're allied to some other video-sharing site, a click of a button allows you to prepare the video for uploading--but unlike with YouTube or AOL Video, you'll have to manually upload the processed file from a folder on your desktop.

Truly a technophobe? You do have the option of bringing the camera to any CVS, Rite-Aid, Duane Reade, Longs Drugs, or Ritz/Wolf Camera store and having the folks there make a DVD of your footage for around $13. RCA offers its owner DVD-burning accessory for its Small Wonder EZ201, but Pure Digital currently doesn't.

In the final analysis, the Ultra is a nice step forward for the Flip Video series. We'd still like to see a flip-out LCD and, more importantly, some sort of expansion slot for more memory (RCA's Small Wonder EZ201 offers these features). While Pure Digital maintains that its user surveys show that Flip owners aren't demanding an expansion slot, the fact is that people do take video cameras on extended vacations and don't necessarily have a computer with them to offload their photos. If you shoot videos over a week--or even a few days--60 minutes gets used up quicker than you'd think. But even with those small knocks against the Flip Ultra, its newly upgraded software and superior video quality make the Ultra the current leader in the budget digital camcorder space.

Editor's note: For a full comparison of the standard Flip vs. the Flip Ultra, check out this chart.

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