May 1, 2007 4:00 AM PDT
Digital camera tries video sharing for dummies
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Much like the way easy photo-sharing applications like iPhoto, Flickr and Picasa offer simple editing controls and take some of the pain out of uploading and sharing digital photos, the video camera set to hit stores Tuesday is packaged with editing software that will upload video clips to video-sharing sites YouTube and Grouper.
The popularity of user-generated video, particularly on sites like YouTube, is well documented. But the introduction of a device that does all the work of editing and uploading could open the Web 2.0 video experience to a whole new demographic--average users.
Consumers in the Digital Age often expect instant gratification with new gadgets. With Flip Video, consumers can plug the tiny camera--which takes up as much room as a deck of cards--directly into a computer, and with little or no video editing or transcoding skills, share the video with the world on YouTube or with select people on Grouper.
"Nobody is really addressing getting that (video) up instantly between when you take a video and when it gets posted," said Samir Bhavnani of Current Analysis.
Flip Video is a new brand from Pure Digital, a 5-year-old company whose business until last fall had been making one-time-use digital cameras and video cameras. The company's typical customers have mainly been technophobes who still want to document "casual moments" on video for posterity--the so-called soccer mom set. A preliminary version of the Flip Video camera was released last fall, but it didn't have the same software or hardware features as the gadget coming out this week.
Being able to put a smattering of video clips on the Web for public consumption isn't new, of course, but a camera that does it cheaply and easily is. The Flip Video comes in two memory capacities: a 30-minute version and a 60-minute version. The memory is not removable and requires two AA batteries. The smaller version will retail at $119 and the larger at $149.
A small USB arm flips out from the side of the camera and plugs directly into a Mac or PC. The video-uploading software, contained on the camera itself, launches and gives the option of editing clips of video you've taken, selecting clips to share with others, or sending video to YouTube.
The YouTube option automatically transcodes the video from its original MPEG-4 file format and converts it to WMV. Choosing to share clips with friends also transcodes and uploads the file right away. Recipients receive a private e-mail link to Grouper, a video-sharing site owned by Sony, instead of a bulky video file.
While the video quality won't get the attention of any hardcore videophiles, it's at least "acceptable," and a dramatic improvement from Pure Digital's disposable cameras, according to Ross Rubin, analyst with The NPD Group.
Plus, the price seems to be right. "Anything priced in the sub-$200 range is something that has a good chance of being adopted by consumers," said Bhavnani of Current Analysis.
A price floor like that could turn even the most unlikely demographic--average, non-tech consumers--into avid video bloggers, but is there a demand? As several analysts point out, it's not as if YouTube is lacking for users: about 100,000 videos are uploaded to YouTube every day. "Most services such as YouTube have not suffered for lack of content up until now with most of the sources being digital cameras, camera phones that capture video, and camcorders," Rubin said.
Though 100,000 a day sounds like a lot, data collected by Jupiter Research shows that only a very small group of users are uploading video to the Web. In a survey conducted last September, 3.7 percent of online consumers said they upload videos from their computer to an online video site. That's compared with 27 percent who said they read comments posted to blogs and Web sites, and 21 percent who said they use the Web to listen to Internet radio.
A limitation to wide-scale video uploading could be that few people possess the know-how or patience to upload video to content sites. That basic lack of skills could turn some consumers toward the Flip Video, Bhavnani said.
"One big issue with YouTube is if you take regular videos from your digital camera, there's not an easy way to get them up there," he said.
At least one other hardware company is also looking to make it easier to post digital videos directly from camera to Web site. Last year, Logitech released a Web camera called the QuickCam that enables direct uploads to Grouper.
A service like Flip Video or something that comes after it could take video uploading into the mainstream. "It's been a struggle for camcorder manufacturers, when compared with the services and integration of services that have sprung up around digital cameras," said Rubin, citing Shutterfly, Kodak's online gallery, and Flickr. "We haven't seen something emerge for mainstream (video) sharing with friends and family."
Still, other analysts cast doubt on this type of hardware having any sort of impact on the user-generated content market.
"I don't think it will move the needle in a significant way," said Todd Chanko, an analyst with Jupiter Research. Though it could appeal to users without technical expertise, "I think it's a unit that's been developed in response to an overall phenomenon of individuals taking images and inexplicably wanting to share them with millions of strangers across the planet."
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