Flip Video launches HD camcorder in the US - European launch next year

The Flip camcorder, whose pint-sized frame, no frills approach and small price tag made it a huge hit with consumers, is stepping up to the more rarefied world of high-definition.

The new Flip Mino HD was released on Wednesday in the US by Pure Digital. The company has become something of an overnight sensation with the success of the Flip.

But the consumer environment has changed considerably over the past few months. Number one electronics retailer Best Buy Co said on Wednesday “seismic changes in consumer behaviour have created the most difficult climate we’ve ever seen.”

With recession-fearing shoppers holding tight to their purse strings, much of the electronics industry is approaching the holiday season with more than a touch of trepidation.

In addition, the market for small, inexpensive camcorders has become extremely crowded since the original Flip debuted in May 2007, including offerings from big names such as Sony and RCA.

But Jonathan Kaplan, Pure Digital’s chief executive, says the Flip, which appeals to the budget-minded, has yet to feel the effects. And he expects the HD Flip, which he calls the world’s smallest HD camcorder, to be popular with teens and early adopters.

He said the HD Flip stays true to the company’s mantra of easy and affordable. Always concerned about so-called “feature-creep,” Kaplan emphasized that the company was not interested in adding lots of bells and whistles.

“NOBODY CARES”

“Saying that ‘my camcorder is 1080p and has larger hard drive and its got a larger screen’ - nobody cares about that. What they care about it capturing the everyday moments in their life.”

Like its standard-definition cousin, the Flip HD is about the size of a wallet and weighs 3.3 ounces. It can record up to 60 minutes of video. A USB connector allows users to upload video to their computers and to sites like YouTube and MySpace. It can also be connected directly to a TV.

The new Flip HD will sell for $230 in the US, making it a bit pricier than the standard-definition version that sells for $180.

The Flip has been wildly popular, selling 1.5 million units worldwide. Pure Digital, with only 90 employees, holds a 24 percent share of the camcorder market.

While the pocket camera is popular in its niche, the new model’s higher prices may make it buyers think twice when they compare it to a host of traditional stand-alone and video camera competitors.

For instance consumers may opt to pay a lower price for digital cameras with standard video capabilities by the likes of Canon, Nikon and Eastman.

Or they could pay a little more for a full featured video camera, by Samsung Electronics or Sony.

Kaplan won’t release financial data for his privately held San Francisco-based company, but said annual sales are in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

He dismissed the competition as imitators rather than innovators. “It’s flattering in some ways but also a bit surprising to see other companies coming out with products that are essentially the Flip.”

The Flip Mino HD will be launched in the UK in the second half of next, E&T has learned.

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