A look at the Flip Camcorder and adventures with Kino
The Flip is an attempt to produce a simple to use video camera and last weekend my friend Amanda D'Silva and I took a borrowed Flip (thanks Will!) for a test drive and recorded a short video review of it (while sitting in the pub - so apologies for the background noise). It's not really a device for the hard core geek, but is very simple to use and fun. The whole package is designed to be friendly to those less confident with technology with technical information consigned to the bottom of the box! The device will record sixty minutes of video and to record you just press a big red button on the back and point it at what you want to film. You can see how we found it by watching our video.
You'll notice that the video quality varies, this is because the video was filmed partly on the Flip and partly on a mobile phone (which has a lower resolution). The Flip records with a resolution of 640x480 which is not as good as DVD, but still better than VHS. You can plug the unit directly into your TV, and the results were pretty good. Pressing a catch on the side of the unit makes a USB connector pop out. The software for the device is installed from the camera itself, but unfortunately it only came in Windows and Mac versions, being an Ubuntu user this meant I could not test it, so it isn't included in this review. However, you can get to the video files directly on the device as it shows up in Ubuntu like any other USB mass storage device, you'll find the files under /media/FLIPVIDEO/DCIM/100VIDEO. To edit the video together I used the Kino Video Editor which is available in the Ubuntu repositories and installed by default on Ubuntu Studio, the version of Ubuntu aimed at creative types.
This turned out to be a little bit more difficult that I at first hoped. There were a few technical problems to sort out first and then it was on to the actual process of editing a video, which I am new to. The first problem was that Kino didn't seem to have any sound when it ran. A bit of digging around in the Ubuntu Forums revealed that the fix for this is to run Kino with the command "padsp kino" to make it use the right sound system. Hopefully this bug will disappear in the next version of Ubuntu, due for release on 30th October. The second problem was with the video files from the Flip. The video files from my mobile phone (in MP4 format) were imported without any problems, but when I tried to import the videos from the flip the synchronisation between the pictures and the sound was left. The video clips now looked like a badly dubbed foreign movie. Fortunately it was possible to fix this problem using the wonderful FFMPEG which can do all sorts of processing on audio and video files. I'm using the version of FFMPEG from the Medibuntu repository and found that by converting the AVI files from the Flip into MP4 this meant I could then import them into Kino and preserve the lipsync, to do this I used the command:
ffmpeg -i VID00001.AVI -b 2662k VID00001.mp4
So a couple of issues there, but solvable and hopefully these will get sorted as Linux evolves into being a good option for a creative platform. The actual editing was a lot of fun, Kino has a lot of features and I only really used the basic functions. It has a storyboard along the left hand side where you will see each of the video clips that you have imported. You can split these clips up to make "scenes" using simple controls on the top bar, you can also join scenes up if you don't want them to appear as seperate items. You can then just drag the scenes up and down into the order you want them to appear in the final video, a methodology that is very friendly to a novice video editor like myself. There are also lots of options for more fine grained control over the clips and also lots of functions for effects between scene changes. You can also overlay titles and graphics onto your video.
Kino and the Flip were both a lot of fun to use and a good option for video production as the web becomes the natural home for video. It is a shame there is no version of the Flip software for Linux, especially with the number of cheap Linux netbooks, like the Asus EEE PC around, but it is very possible to get around this using the software available in a distribution like Ubuntu.