Digital Gear: Webcam, Handheld Video Camera Go HD

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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.

Tweet on the street

Want messages from Oprah and Ashton Kutcher at your fingertips? Peek is offering TwitterPeek, which the company called the first dedicated Twitter mobile messaging device. The lightweight, always-connected mobile gadget allows users to write, post and read messages on Twitter's Web site.

But if I have a smartphone with a Twitter-related app, why would I need such a device? There is "no need to own a smartphone, download a clunky app or pay for an expensive data plan," a company spokeswoman said. The $199.95 device connects to Twitter servers over a high-speed wireless data network in the U.S., and users never have to pay a fee for using the data network.

The device comes with a color screen, a QWERTY keyboard and a battery that can run for up to four days. It measures 2.7-by-0.4-by-4 inches (6.86-by-1.02-by-10.16 cms). TwitterPeek will be released on Nov. 3 and will be available on and on the TwitterPeek Web site.

The device works only in the U.S. for free, the company said. It is usable internationally, but "for a fee," the spokesman said, without providing specific details.

A Shure approach for the iPhone

Shure this month introduced the versatile SE115m+ earphones for iPhones, which can do a lot more beyond play music. A three-button panel located on the cable has buttons to adjust volume, change songs, or answer or end calls without having to remove the earphones. Users can listen to music and switch to a phone call with the click of a button.

The earphones work with the iPhone 3G S and certain iPod models, the company said. iPhones use proprietary headphone jacks, which is why Shure released the $120 earphones specifically for the mobile device.

The product will only be available this month through Apple's stores and on its Web site through the end of the year. Availability will expand to retailers outside Apple next year.

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