We're Not Just in Kansas Anymore
There are many special moments that we would love to share with friends and family, from sonny's first baseball game, to that cute thing the baby does when she eats her sweet potatoes. But unless you live in the same neighborhood, grandma may not be able to witness Mary toddle unsteadily across the living room floor to retrieve her favorite teething toy.
Flying is always an option, but it's expensive, not to mention the time and energy each flight will cost you. So unless you have Scotty on speed dial ready to “beam you up”, online video sharing may be the affordable, fun way for you to share your memories with all your loved ones. All you need is a computer with an internet connection (and since you are reading this article it's fairly safe to assume that isn't an issue) and some footage to share with the world.
I will be covering some of the camera options later in the article, but first I wanted to talk a little bit about the video sharing options online. For those of you who are even just a little tech savvy, the names YouTube and Skype are undoubtedly a part of your vernacular, in which case you might want to skim this next part and head straight over to the products highlights section of this article. For everyone else here is a brief overview of some of the ways you can share video on the web.
While they weren't the first site to allow users to share pre-recorded videos, YouTube was the first site to do it right -- and they aren't about to relinquish the crown. A neat blend of community and functionality, YouTube is one of the easiest free sites to use, both as a viewer and as a submitter.
The content on YouTube varies from user to user. You'll find a neat blend of home movies, submissions normally seen on America's Funniest Home Videos, trailers and clips from the latest Hollywood blockbuster film, Music Videos, foreign art film clips, and the phenomenon known as the YouTube Celebrities and Stars. From LonleyGirl15 to the NumaNuma boy, many users have used YouTube as a launching ground to stardom. There have even been a number of recording artists who have been discovered on YouTube such as Marié Digby whose acoustic version of Rhianna's Umbrella caught the attention of Disney's Hollywood Records, netting her a recording contract.
YouTube offers some great features such as 720p High Definition videos, the ability to “follow” a user ensuring that you never miss one of their entries, and one click quick-post options which allow you to post videos to your favorite social networking sites including Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. Whatever your intended audience, YouTube is an easy way to share your vision with the world.
Of course there are many alternatives to YouTube, such as AOL Video, MSN Video, Veoh, Metacafe, Yahoo Video, Vimeo and Blip.tv to a name a few popular choices.
YouTube is a great option for any pre-recorded media you may have, but when it comes to video conferencing Skype is one of the best applications on the market. It's a free download, with plenty of free features that can be used with no registration fee!
Skype is primarily a free video conferencing application, so rather than just making the typical phone call to your mother this May 10th, (that's right, mother's day isn't too far away…) treat her to a video call. This will allow her to see you when she tells you that you don't call enough…
Other free features found in Skype are unlimited phone calls to other Skype users, individual and group Instant Messaging, and Skype based conference calls. Skype also offers some great VoIP (Voice over IP, or internet telephone) options if you want to use them as your regular phone line.
Some great Skype alternatives include iChat for Apple users and GoogleTalk for Gmail users.
Now on to the tech!
If you are looking for the most affordable way to use online video, your best bet is a WebCam. A WebCam is literally a video camera for your computer which remains tethered to your computer whenever in use. This is a great option for those of you who are only planning on using video conferencing applications or any other applications that that can be done strictly near a computer.
Three great affordable choices are the Microsoft LifeCam VX-1000 USB Web Camera, Microsoft LifeCam VX-5000 USB Web Camera, and the Logitech QuickCam Communicate STX Webcam. These cameras will all work with any PC as well as Macs running OS 10.4.9 and later, although the software bundled with the camera will not run on a Mac. Apple users will be able to use the camera with iChat and Photo Booth.
Now while all these WebCams do come with a built-in microphone they don't always pick up sound as well as you would like, which is why we recommend the Logitech Desktop Computer Mic to ensure that you can be heard properly.
Shoot & Share Camcorders:
Shoot and Share camcorders offer a more versatile approach for creating web videos than WebCams. Aside for the mobility it offers by not requiring a computer while you capture your footage, Shoot and Share cameras tend to offer features not usually found in most Webcams.
There are many Shoot and Share cameras on the market but the following are a few of the choice ones to consider:
Pure Digital took the market by storm with their Flip Video series of cameras. These cameras focus on simplicity and ease of use and are the most popular Shoot and Share cameras on the market. Here at B&H we carry 2 models of the Flip Video, the Flip Video Ultra and the Flip Video Mino.
The Flip Video Ultra is a compact camera that can record up to 60 minutes of standard definition video on its built-in 2GB flash drive. This camera's focus is clearly on ease of use rather than. This means you won't find any customizable controls on the Flip Ultra.
Relying on designated buttons rather than complex menus, the Flip Ultra keeps things as easy to use as a point and shoot camera. Simplicity is evident in the design itself, from the integrated flip-out USB connector, used when uploading video to your computer with the Mino's preloaded one touch upload program, to the basic controls on the rear of the camera next to its clear 1.5” LCD.
The Flip Ultra comes preloaded with all the software you need, which means that this camera is ready to capture, upload, and edit video as soon as you pop in 2 AA batteries. The Flip Ultra is available in a variety of colors.
The Flip Video Mino takes simplicity to the next level. This ultra-slim puppy makes its already small predecessors look bulky. The Mino is actually 40% smaller than the Ultra, mostly due to its evolution from AA batteries to a built in lithium-ion battery.
With improved audio/video quality and sleek touch-sensitive controls, the Mino will appeal to gadget junkies and soccer moms alike. Unlike the Flip Ultra, the Mino has only 2 colors available: a slick black and regal white.
If its HD video you're seeking the MinoHD offers all the goodies of the Mino and renders beautiful 720p HD video content.
As a personal note, I mention the following. Although the built-in USB connector is very convenient, I wasn't comfortable with having the camera hang from the outside of my computer. However that is easily remedied by using a USB extension cable or a USB hub. These options allow you to lay the Flip on a surface that will support its weight. I like the more secure feeling I had with these options.
Sony Webbie (MHS-CM1):
Sony also offers a Shoot and Share camera they call the Webbie. This camera comes in 3 fun colors, silver, orange, and eggplant (purple).
The Webbie records to Memory Sticks rather than an internal memory system. This eliminates the limitations of the Flip series' built in memory; you can capture up to 8.5 hours of video on a 16GB Memory Stock and simply swap out the memory stick for another one if it gets full.
There are several areas in which the Webbie earns its bragging rights, most notably its ability to capture full HD resolution 1080p videos. The camera also has face recognition software which ensures that the faces in your videos are all clear and in focus. And if you are into self-recorded videos, the camera's LCD rotates an astounding 270 degrees, which makes taking videos from any angle a snap.
Sony also bundles the camera with a great cataloguing program that allows you to sort the clips not only by file name, but uses the face recognition software to allow you to creates libraries based on who is in the clips that you capture!
The Webbie also stays true to the traditional form factor of a camcorder, which some users find helpful. Although with its size and weight the form factor didn't affect my experience one way or another.
The Aiptek Action-HD GVS Camcorder offers many of the same features as the Webbie, such as full HD 1080p resolution and a 270 degree rotating LCD.
There are a few things that stand out with the Action-HD, from its impressive 3” screen to its hybrid recording capabilities. This allows it to capture directly to its built in 128MB flash drive as well as to SDHC memory cards. But it was the little things that Aiptek does that really made me stand up and take notice. You'll understand what I mean when you see the included remote control and tripod. It's these little extras that made my time with the Action-HD truly enjoyable.
One thing to consider; the Aiptek's bold form factor will be more comfortable for users with slightly larger hands.
If you are looking for a camcorder that will serve your needs both for web video, as well as for every day home movie making, then the Everio G GZ-MG630 Hard Disk Camcorder may be just the camera for you.
Featuring all the goodies of a Hard Disk Drive Camcorder, such as a larger sensor, 40x Dynamic Zoom, and higher quality video capture capabilities, the GZ-MG630 also has four one-touch upload options. There are one-touch upload options for video sharing sites such as YouTube, a one-touch DVD Creation option, a one-touch upload to iTunes selection, and a one-touch backup to your PC option.
These are just a few of the many camcorders that will allow you to share your video creations online. So whether you want to show your family some home movies, or pursue YouTube celebrity status, there should be a solution here that matches your particular budget and needs.