Digital Gear: Webcam, handheld video camera go HD

By , IDG News Service |  Personal Tech, gadgets, video camera

Store shelves will host cool gadgets that could be good buys as the holiday season rolls in. Some new cameras, including the Flip MinoHD from Cisco Systems and LifeCam Cinema from Microsoft, are lightweight devices that can shoot high-definition video. Another portable device, TwitterPeek, is a unique mobile messaging device exclusively for Twitter fans. For Apple's iPhone, Shure has released new earphones that can control video and music.

The Flip HD video camera

Cisco this month released an updated Flip MinoHD handheld digital camera, which has a larger screen and is smaller in overall size than its predecessors. A user can hold the device with one hand to shoot video, which can be played back on a 2-inch screen. This device fits easily in the pocket, giving it a size advantage over full-featured cameras, which could be difficult to carry.

The Flip device can record two hours of video at a resolution of 1280 by 720 pixels. A built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery provides up to two hours of run time. The battery can be recharged by plugging the device into a PC's USB port. An HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) output allows videos from the camera to be played directly on TV sets.

At US$229.99, the device may seem a bit expensive, but it is great for quick, in-the-moment videos seen on sites like YouTube. But video could be choppy if the hand shakes when shooting.

The Flip MinoHD provides an easy way to shoot quality video, but if you are looking for something more substantial, buy a more conventional video camera that can shoot stable video at higher resolutions.

Microsoft's LifeCam Cinema

Microsoft last month started shipping the widescreen LifeCam Cinema webcam, which includes a sensor to shoot high-definition video. Besides using it as a webcam for videoconferencing, you can use the device to shoot quality video for upload to sites like YouTube.

In tests, the webcam shot high-quality video -- in some cases as good as video shot by standard video cameras -- and did a good job capturing images in low-light conditions. The camera caught a wider angle of pictures than traditional webcams, while a microphone caught sounds from meters away.

However, the device often blurred video when I moved an object as it readjusted light. Despite software adjustments, I couldn't resolve the problem. That could be an issue for people seeking consistent picture quality. The webcam also had trouble fitting on top of a laptop because of a weak grip, so it needs to be placed on flat surfaces.

Nevertheless, the $79.95 webcam is more powerful than standard 1.3-megapixel webcams built into most laptops and netbooks today. This is a good device for online videoconferencing and basic video shoots, and software helps upload videos to video-sharing sites by clicking one button.

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