OK, I know that this is not related to programmable logic per se (although we could assume that CPLDs and FPGAs are to be found in some of the products I'm about to discuss), but I'm presenting this article here for three reasons:
- It's the holidays and we all deserve to have some fun.
- Lots of folks have been emailing me asking about the video hardware and software products I've been waffling on about in my blogs.
- I'm the editor of the Programmable Logic DesignLine website, so my vote is the only one that counts (grin).
Bearing all of this in mind, let's leap into the fray with gusto and abandon...
Introducing the Flip Video
Just to set the scene, this all started about six or seven weeks ago as I pen these words when my wife (Gina the Gorgeous) presented me with an early Christmas present in the form of a Flip Video (www.TheFlip.com).
1. Flip Video (front side).
Observe the built-in USB connector sticking out of the side in the above image (this is usually folded into the body of the camera); we'll be returning to discuss how this works in a moment.
Now, I already have a digital camcorder with a hard disk drive that can record up to 10 hours of video – and it's really jolly nice – but I rarely use it because it would be too much of a pain to carry it around everywhere.
By comparison, my Flip Video is smaller than a pack of cigarettes, which means I can take it with me everywhere. Strange to relate, the folks who make the Flip Video don't seem to offer a case for it, but I solved that issue by trundling round to the nearest cell phone store. There I found a leather pouch that clips to my belt and is the perfect size to hold my little beauty (the Flip Video, not... Oh, never mind).
One point I really admire about the Flip Video is the way its designers have engineered the hardware and software to be mega-easy for anyone to use. In the case of the camera itself, the majority of controls are on the back as shown in Fig 2.
2. Flip Video (back side).
First you turn the camera on and off using the power switch that you can just see sticking out of the upper right-hand side (if you don't use the camera for more than a minute or so, it turns itself off automatically).
Once the camera is on, you press the red button in the middle to start recording. While you are recording, you can use the + and – controls located above and below the red button to zoom in and out respectively. Once you've finished capturing the scene, you press the red button again to stop recording.
The Flip Video can store up to an hour of video. You can use the left and right arrows located on either side of the red button to scroll between the various video snippets you've recorded. When you reach one in which you are interested, you can press the "Play" button to play it (the + and – controls now affect the audio playback volume) or the "Delete/Trashcan" button to dispatch it to the nether regions from whence it came.
When you're ready to copy your video snippets to your computer, you simply press the release catch located on the side of the Flip Video to deploy its built-in USB connector and plug it into a USB port on your computer.
Once again, everything has been designed for ease of use, such as the fact that any software you need is actually embedded in the Flip Video. Thus, the first time you plug your Flip Video into your computer, you'll be prompted to let it copy its FlipShare application onto your system (after this first time, the software will automatically deploy when you connect the camera to your computer).
3. The FlipShare application.
(Click this image to view a larger, more detailed version)
You can play around with the videos on your camera, but my personal preference is to copy them over to my computer before I do anything with them. Once the videos are on your computer, you can play each video and perform small edits (like modifying the start and end points) by selecting a video and clicking on the scissors icon associated with it. Alternatively, if you select a video and then click the "Snapshot" icon in the "Create" area at the bottom of the screen, you can scroll through the video and select individual frames to be saved as still images.
Also, you can select a group of videos and then click the "Movie" icon in the "Create" area at the bottom of the screen. This launches a wizard that guides you through the process of creating a simple movie, including a title (if you want one), adding background music (if you wish), and credits at the end (if you so-desire).
And sharing your masterpieces with the rest of the world is equally easy. All you have to do is to select a video snippet or a movie you've created and then click on the "Email", "Greeting Card", or "Online" icons in the "Share" area at the bottom of the screen (the "Online" option allows you to upload your videos to AOL Video, MySpace, YouTube, or other online services).
One point you have to consider is what resolution do you desire (or require). As I pen these words, I have two Flip Videos in front of me – my Flip Ultra and a Flip MinoHD.
The Original Flip Video (MSRP $129.99), the Flip Ultra (MSRP $149.99), and the Flip Mino (MSRP $179.99) can all record up to 1 hour of Standard Definition (SD) VGA video with a resolution of 640 x 480 and an aspect ratio of 4:3. By comparison, the Flip MinoHD (MSRP $229.99) can record up to 1 hour of High Definition (HD) video with a resolution of 1280 x 720 and an aspect ratio of 16:9.
Note: The prices shown above are from the manufacturer's website. As I pen these words, you can get Flip Ultra's for $129.99 in stores like Staples and Best Buy. Personally I think the Flip Ultra is your best bet, unless you really need High Definition as discussed below.
The Original Flip Video is a bit chunkier than the others, the Flip Ultra is a bit smaller, and the Flip Mino and Flip MinoHD are a bit smaller again. (The Original Flip Video and the Flip Ultra both use two AA batteries; the others have built-in batteries that are charged via the USB port.)
So now you have to make a choice... Standard Definition (SD) or High Definition (HD). On the one hand, videos recorded in HD are really sharp and contain lots of detail; on the other hand they also involve lots of data. In turn, if you are planning on performing a lot of video editing, HD videos are going to require a lot of disk space and a lot of processing capability.
If you are planning on displaying your videos on a HD television screen, and if these videos are going to contain cherished memories of your loved ones, then HD may be the way to go. For myself, I've decided that SD is more than adequate for the little video snippets I'm collecting and the experimental films I'm playing with.