When Pure Digital released its first Flip Video pocket camcorder in 2007, it was a game changer, inspiring me-too devices from giants such as Kodak and Sony. Now, after a long period without updates, Pure Digital, which now has 13 percent of the U.S. market, has revamped the Ultra’s design and is offering a standard-def and a high-def 720p version, each of which has a generous amount of built-in memory. While some will opt for smaller, cheaper models that can take still photos, others will be enticed by the $199 UltraHD’s whopping 8GB of storage, which makes it easiest to start shooting right out of the box.
The Flip UltraHD (along with the standard-def Flip Ultra) is a marriage between the last-generation Flip Ultra and the sleeker Flip Mino series (such as the Mino HD). At 4.3 x 2.2 x 1.2 inches, it’s about as bulky as the original Ultra (4.2 x 2.2 x 1.3 inches) but at 3.2 ounces, it weighs almost the same as the Kodak Zx1, which is a more compact 4.2 x 2.0 x 0.8 inches. The Flip UltraHD has a black satin finish with gray and silver accents, the same color scheme introduced with the Mino line. Ultimately, something as small as the Mino but with the new Ultra’s scratch-resistant surface would be the best design of all.
As with all other camcorders from Pure Digital, the UltraHD has the signature flip-out USB connector, from which the Flip line gets its name. Instead of the touch-sensitive controls used on the Mino, the UltraHD has defined buttons, including playback and delete buttons, and a four-way navigation pad with a bright red record button in the middle. The up and down arrows control the 2X digital zoom.
Aside from the maturer aesthetic, the UltraHD boasts a few improvements we’re excited about. The 2-inch screen is larger than the previous Ultra’s 1.5-inch LCD, and has a wider, 16:9 orientation. We took plenty of shots on a cloudless afternoon, and had no problem framing and playing back our movies on the screen. Moreover, the device has an HDMI port to match its 720p resolution. Although we’ve seen plenty of HD pocket camcorders by now, HDMI output is still uncommon.
Like its predecessors, the Flip UltraHD has few buttons. Pressing the playback button enters playback mode, as you’d expect, but the camera immediately starts playing the last clip you filmed. You have to press the button again to pause it, and then use the left and right buttons on the navigation pad to scroll through them. Kodak’s Zx1 shows thumbnails, which makes finding the intended clip easier. Pressing the record button reenters shooting mode, and using the up and down buttons to operate the zoom felt intuitive.
The Flip UltraHD has 8GB of internal memory, which can store up to 2 hours of 720p video; this is double the time of the Mino HD ($229), which has 4GB of internal storage. The UltraHD records 720p video at 30 frames per second, although you can also downgrade to VGA. Our video looked colorful, bright, and sharp. Moving objects, such as cyclists, looked smooth in playback, and finer details were discernable, like the stubble on the face of a passerby and the sheen on a balloon. The digital zoom worked well, but the catch with digital zoom in general is that it makes the picture look less clear.
We got the best results when we kept the camera still. The UltraHD, like other camcorders in this category, lacks optical image stabilization, and the benefits of having a higher resolution are lost when the video appears shaky. A tripod mount is on the bottom, but who really carries around a tripod to support a pocket camcorder?
The sound quality was particularly excellent. The various street performers we filmed all sounded loud and clear. The mics even picked up the voices of our friends standing behind the camera. Finally, the camcorder did well in crowded environments, with many voices layered on top of each other. The effect in our clips was realistic and never garbled.
We were also impressed by the loud built-in speaker. In our testing, we joined a large crowd surrounding a group of performers in a park. The troupe played music from a boombox while the onlookers cheered and clapped. We played back our footage of the scene on the spot, and had no problem hearing our clip over the commotion.
Like other Flips, the UltraHD carries its FlipShare software onboard; there’s no installation disc in the box. You install the software when you connect it to your PC using the flip-out connector. Unlike the Kodak Zx1, it’s compatible with both Macs and PCs.
As with every other Flip, the HD’s software allows you to upload directly to YouTube and MySpace. You can also export video so that it’s ready to upload to other video-sharing sites. Other sharing options include e-mailing videos and sending them as greeting cards. The upload process is easy, since you enter your username and password from FlipShare’s interface, and not your browser.
When it comes to creating things with your footage, you can burn a DVD, pull snapshots from the footage, or make a movie. We made a 4-minute-and-11-second movie by combining various clips we took. We began by dragging and dropping the clips in the order we wanted them. Then we had the option of adding a title and end credits (you can’t change the font or transition time). You can also add music, choosing either one of seven bundled tracks or any MP3 on your computer. You can even decide if you want it to play louder, softer, or on the same level as the sound in your movies.
When it comes to editing, you can trim movies at either end, but that’s it; you’ll have to use another program to adjust anything else.
Battery Life and Warranty
The Flip UltraHD can record up to 2 hours of HD video. Every time you stop recording a clip, you can see on-screen exactly how many minutes of recording time you have left. Although the battery lasted through an afternoon of shooting short, intermittent clips, we wished there were an on-screen battery life indicator.
The Flip Ultra comes with two removable, rechargeable AA batteries, which partly explains why it’s so heavy. In general, the benefit of having removable batteries is that when they die, you can pick up a fresh set anywhere and resume shooting.
The Flip UltraHD has a one-year warranty.
There are HD pocket camcorders cheaper and smaller than the Pure Digital Flip UltraHD, including the $149 Kodak Zx1, which also takes still photos. However, the $199 UltraHD has a generous 8GB internal memory. Additionally, many of the Flip’s competitors aren’t Mac-compatible, but the UltraHD is. Although it’s a bit bulky, the UltraHD offers excellent storage capacity, video and audio quality, and ease of use for the money.
Here's video we shot with the UltraHD. Please note that it has been compressed from its original 720p resolution.