- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2008

In today’s multimedia-hungry world, there’s a continuing question - how do you get the video or audio that you need onto a computer in digital format? Professional solutions abound, but these often have hefty price tags and steep learning curves.

Are there simpler options? Yes, and there are all sorts of ways. One is with built-in webcams found on many desktop and notebook computers. You can also get add-on products from Microsoft Corp., Logitech and, for Mac aficionados, MacAlly. Pricing ranges from about $30 to $130 or so.

You can also use many home-style video cameras, but these can cost several hundred dollars, are a bit bulky, and may be limited in terms of recording media. You need tapes or mini-discs or, well, something.

Into the fray steps Pure Digital Technologies of San Francisco, which offers the Flip video camera range. About the size of a small cell phone, the Flip cameras offer quick video shooting and a plug-and-play method of retrieval. Just pop out the built-in USB connector, hook up to a computer and your files start to transfer.

The Flip Mino, which I plan to purchase outright, lists for $180, is smaller than my Apple iPhone, and shoots very good full color video in an unobtrusive manner. It shoots 640-by-480-pixel video, up to one hour’s worth on its internal 2GB memory, which sadly isn’t expandable. The video is shot at a rate of 30 frames per second, which is equal to broadcast quality video. You won’t equal a studio television picture, but you will get highly usable results.

It’s the kind of device I’d like to have had when traveling overseas recently. It’s a good way to quickly capture a “live” scene of some stripe and share that with others. I could imagine college students using it to record key parts of lectures, as an adjunct to business meeting note-taking, and, for reporter types like me, a new electronic “notebook” that can put results on YouTube.

I couldn’t find much to fault in the Mino, which is smaller than earlier Flip products. It would be nice to have a SecureDigital (STET) or SD memory card slot, which might increase storage to two hours of recording. There’s also no external microphone jack, which might also be useful in some cases. But you can get an optional tripod and an “action mount” that would let you affix the Mino to your bike helmet, so you can record footage of your ride along the Appalachian Trail or some other path.

I’ve mentioned before that we’re in a visual age. The Flip Mino adds sound and motion to the visual, and does it in a stunning fashion. More information can be found at The Flip. I highly recommend this product.

Sometimes, you may not need a picture and all you want is sound. In those cases, clip the $49.95 iTalk Pro, from Griffin Technology (www.griffintechnology.com) onto your iPod (it doesn’t yet work with an iPhone) and you can record hours and hours of conversation or music using the stereo microphone. The device is simplicity itself, and the end result is a file that’s easy to listen to, share or edit for broadcast or podcast. I can’t say this is the equal of high-end audio recorders, but for many instances, it is more than sufficient.

By Mark Kellner