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Cisco's digital camcorder carries clean design

Posted: 06 Jul 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:digital camcorder? design HD camcorder? teardown Cisco camera?

Figure 1: On the outside, the Flip UltraHD looks like its predecessor. Photo courtesy of a PR spec sheet.

After being bought by Cisco Systems for $590 million in what the New York Times called a head scratcher of an acquisition, Pure Digital unveiled the Flip HD, the latest chapter in its runaway digital camcorder success story. Of course, I just had to tear it apart.

The NYT blogger wasn't the only one left scratching their heads. It turns out that both Cisco and Pure Digital may also be wondering where the synergies may lie. Clearly, Cisco is making inroads into consumer electronics and likes anything that pumps video over IP networks. But does it really need to own a company that enables that? Might it not be better off partnering with all the video-acquisition/sharing options now emerging to compete with Pure Digital to get video over its networking equipment, where its bread is truly buttered?

While the Pure Digital deal has now closed, Cisco was itself wondering up until recently what to do with the acquisition. Its Cisco Mobile blogs have solicited ideas from the "community" on what to do with the Flip. Its promotion videos on the acquisition discuss the clear value of Flip video technology, but not what Cisco can do to augment it: The company has yet to state what it can do in that regard. Wi-Fi connectivity comes to mind, of course, given Cisco's acquisitions over the years (Radiata, then Linksys, Airespace, and more recently, an investment in Celano).

For its part, Pure Digital clearly comes out a winner in the deal. According to Scott Kabat, director of marketing for Pure Digital, Cisco has scale and technology that "will help us get bigger and expand our markets and technology." At a time when Sony, Kodak and other consumer giants are hot on Pure Digital's video tail, Cisco's interest comes at a good time.

So, with $590 million on the table, it still seems odd that, when I spoke with Kabat at the end of April, the two companies "are only beginning to explore areas of collaboration."

End of biz talk. On to the insides.

Figure 2: The brains of the Flip HD reside in the Zoran Coach 10 processor on left, while for imaging buffs, the heart of the system is the Micron image sensor on the right. That's 512Mbits of Samsung DDR2 SDRAM memory next to the Zoran chip. (Click to view full image)

Design simplicity
The Flip HD's main features are: 8Gbytes of memory for 2hrs of HD video (vs. 1 hour for the minoHD) at 1,280 x 720 resolution; a 2-inch screen; a rechargeable battery pack; a mini-HDMI output and selling price of $199. The full list of specs is available here. Basically, for the same price as the Flip Ultra, which I tore down over a year, you get 4x the memory, 2x the resolution (vs. VGA), a larger screen, rechargeable battery and the HDMI interface instead of NTSC.

As with the Ultra, I'm again taken by the simplicity of the design and its ease of use, though it's getting harder to differentiate it from the competition, such as Kodak's Zi6. This fact adds to the mystery of why Cisco would buyat such a high costa company with a product that is very easy to emulate, at least at face value (USB snap-out interface, easy video sharing, point and shoot etc.).

But remember, Pure Digital's secret sauce lies in its video processing algorithms, particularly with respect to exposure control.

So, without side-to-side A/B tests of the competitors' products, it's hard to say how much of a difference there may be that's discernible to the average user.

According to Kabat, the difference is sufficient to keep the company at number one in its market, and in total, as it approaches its second birthday, it has sold over 2 million cameras.

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