After pioneering the pocket camcorder market with its popular Flip camcorders, Pure Digital wants to take home videos a step further by making them easy to stream to your television. The FlipShare TV ($149), announced today, does just that. It’s a small set-top box that connects to your television via either an HDMI cable or composite cables, depending on the resolution of your TV. Coupled with a USB dongle, it beams all of the clips you’ve taken with your Flip from your Mac or PC onto your TV. It sounds easy– and it is– but I question whether a $149 device that does one thing (stream Flip videos) can compete with cheaper set-top boxes that do more. Design The FlipShare TV’s design is simple, like all Flip products, but doesn’t seem sleek enough to plant in your living room. It has a white plastic build with blue details, which lends it a cheerful, somewhat childish look. The only openings are for an AC adapter, an HDMI port, and composite ports. There’s also a color-coded LED light indicating the strength of the Wi-Fi signal. The included USB dongle and television remote also have a white plastic design. The dongle is fairly large– it juts three inches out of the computer. The remote’s button layout, meanwhile, is simple, intuitive: there’s a five-way navigational pad (the center button doubles as a select and pause/play button), as well as buttons for moving backward through menus and accessing the main menu. The remote runs on twin AAA batteries, which are included. Installation As with any Flip camcorder, the FlipShare TV comes with the software loaded onto the hardware– in this case, the USB dongle. Just plug it in and you’ll get a prompt to install the FlipShare software. The clean interface lists all of the menus along the left-hand side, including all of the media folders you’ve created on your computer. The folder called Flip Channels allows you to see Flip videos that other people have shared with your e-mail address. Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing someone has shared a video with you– unless, of course, they use some other form of communication to tell you. The best part about the installation: the wireless connection takes care of itself. You won’t have to select a network or enter any passwords. Once the dongle is plugged into your computer and the set-top box is on, they will communicate with each other, at a range of up to 200 feet. Importing Videos It’s not enough to just plug in your Flip camcorder and expect to see the movies available on your TV. The software pulls in clips saved to your computer, so make sure you do that first. And here’s the rub: you can only play videos shot with a Flip camcorder. Although Flip claims the software can import files with the following restrictions, when I tried to import such a clip, from the File menu, I received a dialogue box saying this was not possible..
However, I was able to import still photos we took with other devices (none of the Flip camcorders take stills). Playback and Wireless Range Once you’ve set up the FlipShare TV, you’ll find that the onscreen (on your TV, that is) interface is simple: it takes all the folders on your computer, and represents them as tabs that you can switch between using the remote. As soon as you add a Flip video to a folder on your computer, it will immediately appear on the folders on your TV screen. The video played smoothly at 50 feet. However, at close range the wireless signal sometimes dropped, and I had to unplug and re-plug the AC connection to regain that signal. One disappointing thing about the playback experience was that you can’t start slideshows: you have to play a video and then select another when you’re finished. Ditto for still photos. This seems rudimentary: even wireless digital photo frames let you create slideshows on the spot. Early Thoughts I fear that the FlipShare TV could be like the TwitterPeek, a single-function device that costs as much or more than competing devices that can do more. For instance, the Roku players (starting at $99.99 for HD models) all let users play their own videos, but also stream content from Netflix, Pandora, and other content channels. The FlipShare TV doesn’t have channel partners. Heck, it can’t even stream videos not taken with a Flip camcorder. I think that kind of hubris is likely to backfire. Sure, FlipShare TV will appeal to Flip devotees, and it might intimidate less tech-savvy users less than a product like the Roku players, but in general, I think that simplicity isn’t worth the higher price and sacrifice of some pretty basic features.