Earlier versions of this story incorrectly said FlipShare would not allow users to crop movie clips. This version has been corrected.
Rob Pegoraro's Fast Forward: Do-It-Yourself HD Video
Getting a movie to watch in high definition on an HDTV can be an expensive proposition, between the cost of a Blu-ray player or a cable or satellite subscription.
But if you want to shoot that movie yourself, you need not spend more than $200. You won't get the finer points of a Hollywood production, but you will have your own (more or less) high-def footage, ready to play on a TV and, with a few extra steps, online.
That budget covers one of two new handheld HD video cameras: Pure Digital's Flip UltraHD, $199.99, and Kodak's Zx1, $149.99. (Sony makes a comparable model, the Webbie HD, but did not provide a sample unit.)
A week of testing showed offsetting strengths and weaknesses between the Kodak and the Flip that added up to one key difference: The former is made for people used to plugging cameras into computers, and the latter is not.
These rectangular devices look a great deal alike, each with a big red button to start and stop recording that falls naturally under your thumb. The slightly chunkier, heavier (6 oz.) Flip, however, surrounds its lens with a raised projection that makes it harder to mar the view with a stray finger.
Each stores footage on flash memory. The Flip has 8 gigabytes built in, which the company says will hold two hours of video. The Kodak includes only 128 megabytes, which you'll need to augment by popping your own SD card into the slot on its side.
These cameras record footage in a compressed format called "H.264." If you pan slowly over still objects in daylight, you should get video that is difficult to distinguish from regular HDTV. But if you shoot moving objects, the recording will probably look a little blurry (in part because of the lack of an image-stabilization feature). Shooting in low light doesn't help, either.
The Kodak yielded slightly smoother, finer footage. The Flip left colors over-saturated; in darker conditions, its backgrounds looked grainy and speckled.
You can watch your videos on nearly all HDTVs by connecting the camera to the set with an HDMI cable. These two cameras use rechargeable AA batteries. The pair included, with a charger, in Kodak's box expired way too quickly, but a second set did far better. Kodak says its camera should run for two hours on a charge. Flip, in turn, says the UltraHD should last about 2 1/2 hours on most AAs.
In either case, you should run out of storage before the batteries die. At that point, you'd have to plug the camera into a computer to offload recordings, which would also recharge it.
That's where the Flip takes the lead. Like other Pure Digital models, its USB connector flips out from the side to connect directly to a computer. The Kodak, meanwhile, requires you to plug in a separate, easily misplaced USB cable.
The Flip's built-in software runs on Windows XP or Vista and Mac OS X 10.4 or 10.5. It fires up when you plug in the camera, although Windows laptops had to be restarted once, while on a Mac laptop I had to enter my user account password.