I bought a Flip Video Ultra Series Camcorder for the kids to use. I've jotted down some initial impressions below.
- It feels flimsier and cheaper than the original model a friend of mine has. I'm surprised by this. I'd recommend buying the older model, which is now sold at a discount.
- There's no CD in the box, the software is delivered in the camera's memory store. Cute, and it works.
- Videos are in "AVI" format -- that's a metadata wrapper around a codec. In this case coded is 3ivx MPEG-4. iMovie HD (old version) can import these files after the 3ivx codec is installed, but iMovie '08 (current version) cannot (more below).
- Amazon had Jan 2007 firmware update. I downloaded and installed it but my camera was up to date anyway.
- The bundled software for OS X video editing is universally derided. I did not install it.
Videos are found in FLIPVIDEO:DCIM:100VIDEO.
Since iMovie '08 only imports DV, MPEG-4 and .mov files I used Mike Ash's QTAmateur to translate the AVI files to DV files and imported these into iMovie. QuickTime Pro would also work but costs $30 -- and Apple makes users repurchase a license with every significant update.
The need to translate prior to import into iMovie '08 is very irritating. I'm working on something better, or I could just use iMovie HD. I've left feedback for Apple requesting support in iMovie '08 for importing AVI files when codecs (such as 3ivx) are installed. I'll also contact some Mac gurus I know.
I'll have more on the camera later once I figure out a good import workflow. Apple definitely deserves multiple hard blows for the lack of file import support in Movie '08 vs. iMovie HD.
 3ivx is hoping you'll buy the full version from them. The current version is a small fix ahead of what Flip Video is shipping:
3ivx Technologies Pty. Ltd., the MPEG-4 Video & Audio specialist, announces the immediate availability of version 5.0.2 of the 3ivx MPEG-4 compression suite for Windows, Mac OS X & Linux....Version 5.0.2 fortifies the 3ivx MPEG-4 Filter suite against software exploitation from maliciously crafted video files.... improved Vista compatibility and additional QuickTime 7.3 compatibility...The 3ivx site has some interesting configuration information, but the decode page for OS X is blank. The 3ivx site references iMovie HD (they call it simply "iMovie"), but not the problematic iMovie '08.
 Apple's iMovie was probably cutting into Final Cut Express sales, so Apple tossed it out and gave us 'iClip' instead.
Update 3/23/2008: I started a thread on Apple's Discussion list . It's gotten at least one helpful response that suggested MPEG Streamclip.
Update 3/23/2008: If you don't have it, you can download iMovie HD from Apple. I don't know if it really checks for iMovie '08, most everyone with a Mac will have one or the other though.
Update 3/30/2008: I found an AppleScript that should do what I need. It tells QuickTime Player to open multiple AVI files, process them to DV stream, then delete the originals. Unfortunately, it's giving me cryptic error messages.
Update 3/31/2008: I'm beginning to think Apple quietly disabled AppleScript driven conversion in QT Player. Nobody seems to know anything about it.
MPEG Streamclip is a free video converter and editor that will work with the 3ivx encoded AVI files FLIP Video produces. QuickTime Pro ($30) won't do batch conversion, but it will directly edit the AVI files -- and it may be much simpler to use than iMovie. Perian doesn't help with conversion, but some feel it's a better solution than the 3ivx supplied codecs. VisualHub does batch conversion and is well regarded, but it costs $23 and the "trial version" is very limited. Mike Ash's QTAmateur also does batch conversion and it's free.
I considered the possibility of a script solution that would automate the flow into iMovie, but neither iMovie '08 or iMovie HD are scriptable . So the best one could do would be to flow into iPhoto and collect from there.
I like the idea of a simple editing solution the kids can use on their video clips, without a translation step. iMovie HD doesn't require the translation step, but it's too much for now. I think I'll try MPEG Streamclip first, then, if that doesn't work, I'll spring for QuickTime Pro. If that fails then I'll fall back to iMovie HD. I'm going to leave iMovie '08 out of the picture for now, it just aggravates me.
Update 3/31/2008b: MPEG Streamclip
I'm back from my MPEG Streamclip. It's very impressive as a free app, but it's pretty rough. I came across a lot of odd behaviors, and it's a very industrial interface. There was no budget for eye candy! I came up with some interesting numbers in testing a small video:
- initial size (AVI file, 3ivx coded): 12 MB
- convert to DV using QT Amateur or iMovie HD import: 84MB file, exquisitely slow.
- MPEG Streamclip: painless quick trimming, but can't save as AVI (no encoder). Oddly enough, none of the 'Save As' options worked. Export worked though ...
- Conversion to mp4 H.264: small clip took minutes (2.5MB)
- Conversion to QuickTime Motion JPEG A: very fast but 17MB file
- Conversion to Apple MPEG 4: very fast and the file is only 2.2 MB (quality probably less than H264)
If it was just me I'd go with MPEG Streamclip, do initial trimming with it, export as Apple MPEG4 then drop the clip in iMovie. I think Streamclip is too rough for the kids though. So on to QuickTime Pro.
Update 3/31/08c: QuickTime Pro
Well, we have a winner. QuickTime Pro is a very nice tool for trimming video then saving it.
Just as with Streamclip, I experimented with various video formats. QT Pro will open the original AVI file and save it as an MOV file, but that doesn't help. It's simply changed the wrappers.
I tried exporting a QuickTime movie using H.264 compression, but it was unbearably slow on my G5 iMac. MPEG-4 Improved had very tolerable speed and image size and quality, but it was not compatible with iMovie '08. Until I turned "streaming" off, then it worked.
So I think I'll teach the kids to use this workflow:
- Copy videos to a shared folder.
- Trim and save using QuickTime Pro.
- If they want to assemble the clips into a movie we can use iMovie '08 or iMovie HD.
Update 6/5/08: Flip's owners, rebranded as Pure Digital, have finally acknowledged there's a problem with iMovie. In the meantime, Apple's QuickTime 7.4.5 broke the 3ivx codec used by the Flip camera on OS X 10.4 (but not 10.5). My costly version of QuickTime Pro is now of no use. Neither Apple nor PureDigital has acknowledged the problem, but the Apple and 3ivx support forums have lots of complaints.
Update 7/3/08: The FLIP 3ivx videos are now directly importable and editable in iMovie '08 7.1.2 with the default FLIP provided 3ivx codec, OS 10.5.4, Intel processor, and QuickTime 7.5.
I've been using Perian on my PPC iMac since QT 7.4.5 broke 3ivx audio
With that codec and QT 7.5 & iMovie 7.1.2 & 10.4.11 FLIP video import attempts don't produce any error message, but they don't work. I need to reinstall the 3ivx codec and try again.
Update 12/12/08: Apple has even provided official documentation on import from new FLIP camcorders.
 Scriptability is a great way to test when Apple software is polished and ready for use. Apple commonly releases poor quality products then tunes them up over many iterations (ex: iPhoto). Applescript support seems to require a mature product with a healthy code base and good design, so the lack of Applescript support in iMovie HD, iMovie '08 and (really) Aperture 2.1 are all bad signs.