The new Flip UltraHD ($199) is the first full-sized Flip camcorder from Pure Digital to offer high definition video recording. Previously, HD recording was only available on the smaller (and more expensive) Flip MinoHD. Not that the new Flip UltraHD is terribly large at 1.17 inches thick and weighing in at six ounces.
Flip UltraHD Video Quality
Don't confuse the Flip UltraHD with a full featured camcorder. It's a pocket camcorder - an inexpensive, easy to use video camera with almost no features to speak of. Depending on your needs, the lack of features is either a huge plus (it's easy) or a major drawback (there's not much you can do with it). While Pure Digital was a trailblazer in this pocket camcorder category, it no longer has the field to itself. There's been an influx of competition from the likes of Kodak's Zx1, Creative's Vado HD and Sony's Webbie. How does it stack up?
The Flip UltraHD records video at 1280 x 720 resolution at 30fps. Though it's not the 1920 x 1080 resolution you'll find on more expensive, full-featured camcorders, it's still quite crisp. Even better, the Flip UltraHD holds up much better in low light than many of its competitors and is a marked improvement from the original Flip.
Flip UltraHD Ease of Use
The Flip UltraHD retains the elegant simplicity of the original Flip. To record video you simply turn it on and hit the big, red record button. If you want to get fancy, you can use the (meager) 2x digital zoom. That's it. There are no other options, features or buttons to operate.
Playback on the camcorder is similarly simplistic. You can hit the play button, scroll back-and-forth between your saved videos and adjust the volume on the built-in speakers. Again, absolutely no menus or other functionality to get lost in.
When it comes time to transfer your video to the PC, the Flip Ultra HD uses its trademark flip-out USB port and built-in FlipShare software. Since it's built in, there's no disk to load and it pops up automatically whenever you connect the Flip to a PC.
Like the hardware, the FlipShare software is straightforward, although here you'll have a few more options to choose from. Using the software, you can directly upload your video clips to YouTube, create low resolution still photographs from your video, do some basic editing or send the video off to Pure Digital to have a DVD of your footage made.
If you want to view your videos on the big screen, the Flip UltraHD does have an HDMI port, but you'll have to buy the cable separately.
As with earlier versions, the biggest liability of the Flip UltraHD is the lens. First, it only offers a 2x digital zoom. A digital zoom is not much help on even the best camcorders, but when it's the only magnification, it's useless. See this article for the difference between an optical and a digital zoom, and why it matters. Second, there's no image stabilization, so the video can get choppy if you're not holding the Flip UltraHD firmly.
The other downside is the lack of expandable memory. You can record two hours of HD footage on the UltraHD's 8GB of internal memory. After that, you'll have to transfer the video off the camcorder if you want to keep recording. Competitive models, such as Kodak's ZX1, offer an SDHC card slot, which gives you the ability to extend your recording time by adding higher capacity memory cards.
The Flip UltraHD retains everything that made the original Flip so popular, with a significant boost to video quality and low light performance. The lack of a real zoom and no expandable memory are downers, but the overall package remains best in class.