Sunday in the Park with Flip Video's SlideHD
Flip Video turned the camcorder industry on its head by proving that minimal hardware features sell, especially when tightly integrated with easy-to-use software for your computer. Now, Flip has introduced its most ambitious model yet, the Slide HD, with a 3-inch touchscreen that slides out at a 45-degree angle to show your videos. The camera embeds 16-Gigabytes of memory for storing up to 4 hours of high-def video.
That's the most memory ever packed into a Flip. Besides screen size, another Flip Video superlative is the SlideHD's LCD resolution: 400 x 240 pixels versus the UltraHD and Mino HD120's 320 x 240 pixels. Packed in a truncated cigarette carton, the Slide HD is self-contained except for a wrist strap, cloth pouch, and two-sided sheet user guide. The camera nests a flip-out USB connector, and there is FlipShare software in its memory that will be uploaded to your PC or Mac. Three recesses at the bottom of the camera (held vertically during recording) are meant for use with non-included accessories: a jack for earphones, a socket for a tripod, and a mini-HDMI output for cabling to your HDTV set. The camera is white on front, sliver along the edges, and black on back. It is remarkably sleek and light weight. On a sunny Sunday the SlideHD slipped comfortably into a pocket in my jogging shorts, and I ran with it -- stopping occasionally to take video.
What differentiates the SlideHD from all other Flip Video models is the touchscreen. Except for the power switch, USB trigger, and a touch strip for playback, hard controls are missing. That's a serious drawback when you try to use the camera outside on a bright day. All the controls you see on the back of the camera (below) are part of the touchscreen.
Unfortunately, touchscreens and sunlight do not mix. I found myself often shooting blind, pointing the camera in the general direction of something, but being unable to frame the shot.. What made matters worse is that because I couldn't see the screen and because fingers tend to stray, on several occasions I discovered that I actually was playing back video when I thought I was recording. A hooded viewfinder or buttons I could actually feel were never so missed.
The saving grace for the SlideHD is that it produces terrific-looking video with surprisingly good audio -- despite its fixed focus F/2.4 lens and 2x digital-only zoom. That evening at home when I converted the camera into a palm-size "home theater" I was transported by the picture quality. The 720p video (1280 x 720, 16:9 widescreen) at 30 frames per second was enhanced by the AAC stereo audio. Stereo mics flank the lens and a pair of column speakers surround the screen. I was blown away by cloud formations, reeds dancing in the wind, and detail in a grungy bench. Sounds of a jet on its airport approach, a band of drummers, an ice cream truck, an umpire calling an out, and squawking geese all sounded like I was back in the park.
Like other Flip Video camcorders, you create still photos only after transferring the video to the FlipShare program in your computer. You hit the Snapshot button as the video plays and 10 consecutive frames are captured. You save the best one at a widescreen resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels. See slide show of images created from my Sunday Afternoon in the Park with Flip:
The embedded lithium-ion battery takes about three hours to charge from scratch, and you'll have enough power for about two hours of use. In widescreen playback mode, thumbnails showing the opening frame of each scene appear as in a filmstrip. Touching one enlarges the image and plays the video. Holding your finger on the video for two seconds brings up a little gray horn. Touching it brings up the volume controls. It's the least intuitive control I've seen on a Flip Video product. Until I was advised by a Flip spokesperson on how to control the sound, I was forced to close the door when playing video. My favorite control on the player isn't on the touchscreen (big surprise) but a touch strip on the base that lets me slide through my scene icons at breakneck speed. It felt great not to have to touch glass.
|Slide finger on strip to pick scene||Touch scene icon to start play|
In theory you should be able to import MP4, AVI, WMV, and JPG files from other sources into the SlideHD and use it as a portable player or source component for an external display. I failed to get the FlipShare program import feature to work, and I also tried dragging files using Windows Explorer into the camera connected as an external drive. Nothing I brought in played in the camera, and the spokesperson said the import feature was intended for only playing content created on any Flip camcorder. So much for entertaining the kids with cartoons in the back seat. They'll have to settle for four birthday parties and their trip to Funland.
Not that I can't have fun with the the SlideHD. It's an amazingly portable high-def camcorder that unlike a traditional camcorder I would never think twice about leaving at home on account of size or weight. Given its micro home theater aspect, it's also a great way to share family videos around the dining table while waiting for the next course.
I continue to be impressed by the FlipShare software, a program that has done for Flip Video cameras what iTunes has done for iPods. It's a pleasure to use. Below is a screen grab from FlipShare showing one view of several park scenes.
There are multiple options for showing the SlideHD video on your HDTV set. The most direct method is buying a mini-HDMi to HDMI cable such as the 12-foot Mini HDMI (Type C) Male to HDMI (Type A) Male from Xtreme Cables. If you get a long enough cable, you'll be able to sit on the couch with the camera and control the show. Shorter lengths are less expensive, but you may have to stand by the TV to touch the camera's controls.
Another option that doesn't limit you to content in the camera is the FlipShare TV Wireless Media Extender, which you connect to your TV so it can display video and photos wirelessly directly from footage archived to your computer or shared from the Internet from other family members' Flip Video cameras. It comes with a remote, and the wireless link bypasses any need for a Wi-Fi network.. Alternatively, you can buy a media player such as Western Digital's WD TV HD Media Player or WD TV Live HD Media Player. The latter adds network connectivity. Both offer two USB inputs for attaching Flip Video cameras and outputs for cabling to your TV. Some newer TV models are incorporating their own USB inputs, so you may be able to attach the camera directly to the set, Check with the manufacturer to see if the TV's firmware supports Flip video formats and the TV's remote can control the show.
All things considered the Flip Video SlideHD is a powerful little camcorder with generous internal storage that you'll want to take with you wherever you go. The SlideHD produces gorgeous high-def video from which you can also derive Web-friendly photos using the easy-to-use FlipShare program.