CLARKSDALE, Miss.--As I've worked my way through the South on Road Trip 2008 throughout June, I've been a one-man multimedia production team. That means that I've been writing stories, taking pictures, Twittering, shooting video, and even doing a little podcasting.
Since I'm on my own, and can only carry a backpack with me as I move from story to story, carrying a notebook, a digital SLR, and several lenses--since text and photos are the major part of this project--it's crucial that for video I have something small and light, yet flexible and somewhat powerful.
And most important of all, it's got to be easy to take video and then easily embed it in blogs.
That's what led me to Qik's streaming video service and to Flip Video's Mino.
These are entirely different products, the former a software package that runs on a series of smart phones and the latter a small, low-fi, but low-cost camcorder.
With Qik, the special sauce is its ability to take video and stream it instantly--when there's a 3G cellular or accessible Wi-Fi signal available--and live, onto a Web-based Qik channel and, if you set one up, to an embedded video player that can be put on almost any site.
Even better, if you're using it to stream live, viewers can send you instant messages that appear in your viewfinder while you're shooting. That makes the service ideal for things like one-on-one interviews, since it means that viewers can effectively interact with you while you're working, sending you questions to pass on to the interviewee.
If you happen to find yourself shooting when there's no available signal, the Qik software on the phone--in my case, a Nokia N95--archives the video until you're back in range, then sends it. That means no interactivity, but the video still posts automatically on the Internet, on your Qik channel.
So how useful is Qik?
During the first couple of weeks of Road Trip 2008, I used it frequently. I found it to be a great way to quickly grab a little piece of video from, say, a demonstration of a prototype heat shield for the Orion crew exploration vehicle at the Kennedy Space Center (see video below) or when watching Corvettes come off the end of their assembly line.
And once you've shot your video, embedding it is as easy as going to your Qik page, grabbing the embed code and pasting that into a blog entry. For a generation weaned on putting YouTube videos in their blogs, this is second nature.
Is it perfect? Absolutely not. The sound quality is far from ideal, and if you move the smart phone around much, there's an audible whooshing sound as a result. Further, you have to be sure of what you're shooting before you hit record because the very first frame is what viewers see when they visit your Qik page. So if the camera's pointing at the ground, that's what they'll see in the still frame preview. That's not a very compelling image, believe me.
But all in all, Qik is great. The camera is small and light, and the service is extremely easy to use, requiring just a few intuitive button pushes to get going.
And again and again, as I explained to people what it was, that I had just streamed live to the Internet, I'd hear people say, "that's awesome."
Not only that, but Qik is still only in alpha. So when it launches properly, I suspect it will be even better.
Many more people, meanwhile, are familiar with Flip Video and its line of small, dedicated camcorders. And just before I left on this trip, a package arrived with the just-off-the-production-line Flip Mino.
Like its predecessors, this little device plugs into your computer via USB, but it's smaller, and instead of using AA batteries, it powers up via that USB connection. It's also more streamlined and just a little niftier.
And does it work?
Well, as with Qik, it's very easy to use, perhaps even easier. You turn it on, and it's ready to go. It shoots up to 60 minutes of video and has a tool for simply zooming in and out.
And as with Qik, I was able, several times, to keep the camera in my shirt pocket when visiting someplace, pull it out and easily shoot video of, say, UPS' gigantic Worldport air-distribution center in Louisville (see video below) or of space shuttle training at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Uploading the video is a fairly simple matter of plugging the camera in, running the Flip software, and then sending it to your chosen online video-sharing site, which in my case was YouTube. Then, embedding the video in a blog is done using the same process as Qik, simply copying the embed code into a post.
But it's got problems, too. When you're shooting the video, it looks really crisp on the camera's viewfinder. But on playback, the quality is far lower, particularly the sound. Several times, I found that I had real trouble hearing what someone standing right next to the camera was saying.
Perhaps the bigger problem, though, is how long it takes to upload. It is very slow, especially when you're on the road, dealing with less than ideal Internet connections. I would say that a 3-minute video would take more than 30 or 40 minutes to upload.
And that is truly frustrating, watching the upload progress status bar inching along, moving extremely slow, particularly when you're in a hurry.
And I think, ultimately, that's why, if I had to choose between Qik and Flip, I would take the former: There's literally no waiting. If you've got a signal, Qik video posts immediately. If not, it posts as soon as you're back in range. With Flip, you have to manually upload the video and as I said above, it's slow.
Still, either is a good choice for easy video, despite their problems.
To be sure, neither of these products is very high-fidelity. This is not professional video. But if what you need is a way to grab video on the run, in my case, sometimes literally, I think you would do fine with either of these.