Hey! You should know that Pure Digital has released a newer version of this product: the Flip UltraHD 8GB 3rd Generation.
The Pure Digital Flip UltraHD is very likely the last one of its kind. It represents the final permutation of the basic Flip design; that, coupled with Pure Digital's acquisition by Cisco, signals that the next incarnation of the Flip, a 2nd generation Flip camcorder, will be something very different.
The Flip UltraHD combines elements of both the original, standard-definition Flip Ultra, which started Pure Digital's ascent in the camcorder market, and the more recent Flip MinoHD. Take the body of the original Ultra, and fill it with the technological innards of the MinoHD, and you have the UltraHD, a camcorder that is new, and yet, very familiar.
Earlier, I used the word permutation. I think that's a more accurate description of the UltraHD than "upgrade" would be. Though there are some expanded features on the UltraHD, it really doesn't feel like much of an upgrade. The core functionality remains unchanged, as does the overall aesthetic of the camcorder. As such, this review will not be substantially different from our review of the MinoHD.
The conclusion is, ultimately, the same, as well. The Flip still rules the pocket camcorder market; but the pocket camcorder market still hasn't matured. Hopefully the 2nd generation Flip camcorders will introduce some of the features that the 1st generation stubbornly resisted.
What's New: Bigger LCD, Greater Recording Capacity
The "major" changes on the UltraHD are nice, but not very substantial. The nicest expansion is that of the LCD display. Previous Flip models featured a puny 1-inch LCD display. Seeing as how that was the only way of interacting with the camcorder to shoot and preview video, it could be very frustrating. The Ultra HD features a more comfortable 2-inch LCD display, a step in the right direction.
The UltraHD also has a recording capacity of two hours, double the previous Flip models thanks to an internal memory upgrade from 4GB to 8GB. I wonder about the need for so much space on a camcorder that is, ostensibly, intended to take short, shareable, Web-ready video clips. No one is going to use a Flip camcorder to record a graduation or some other long, event that demands full documentation. An hour seemed generous on the earlier Flips. Two hours might be overkill.
Perhaps Pure Digital should have committed that extra memory to improving image quality rather than expanding recording capacity, as they did when they jumped from the standard-definition models to the MinoHD, from 2GB to 4GB. An 8GB UltraHD that could record an hour of video, like the MinoHD, but at a higher bit rate, seems like a better use of such resources. In any case, what consumers end up with here is the same video quality as the MinoHD, with double the recording time.
What's Still Wrong: No Image Stabilization
Click through to Vimeo to see the video in full HD resolution
Unfortunately, Pure Digital punted on the one improvement on the Flip that could have actually meant something: image stabilization. The UltraHD has no image stabilization whatsoever, and accordingly the video quality suffers, as it did on all the other Flip models to this point. The Flip camcorders are so lightweight and small that they are very susceptible to jitters and shaking from the hands. Even subtle jolts can show up on video as great jostles. This is a problem that seriously hampers the UltraHD's abilities, and it's a problem that should be fixed by now.
As you can see in the video to the left, attempting to move with the UltraHD, whether it be walking, panning, or any other action that changes the position of the camera, results in garbled, hard-to-watch video. Even standing still, small hand shakes make getting crisp video a challenge. Image stabilization, a feature found on just about every digital camera and camcorder, would have helped. To not have it present on the UltraHD is maddening.
Generally speaking, the resolution and detail found in the UltraHD's video is high. Were it not for the shakiness, it'd be quite satisfying.
Conclusion: Time For Big Changes
It's time for Pure Digital (and their new overseers at Cisco) to shake up the Flip Video line with something as profoundly revolutionary as the original Flip camera. The UltraHD, while still the best pocket HD camcorder on the market, is not quite perfect yet, and faces stiff competition from digital cameras with high-definition movie modes, like the Panasonic ZS3, cameras that are small, yet have optical zoom lenses and image stabilization, among other useful features.
The ZS3 records HD video using the AVCHD Lite format, a variant of the recording codec found in high-end digital camcorders. It features a 12x image stabilized optical zoom and is capable of capturing 12-megapixel still images. It's part of a growing trend in digital cameras toward hybrid functions, blurring the line between digital cameras and camcorders. Someday, such a line may no longer exist.
If you absolutely must have one of these Flip cameras right now, I'd recommend going with the slimmer MinoHD over the UltraHD. They are essentially the same camcorder, and the incremental updates on the UltraHD aren't so amazing that they warrant overlooking the aesthetic superiority and slimness of the MinoHD. If you can wait, then wait for the next generation of the Flip, which will undoubtedly feature some sort of Internet connectivity and hopefully will utilize some much needed image stabilization. The Flip UltraHD is not the ultimate pocket camcorder, but merely a rest stop on the way to bigger and better gadgets.