Watch on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hsg_Vqad-Eo
2006’s Best Selling Camcorder - Pure Digital Flip Video Story, Unboxing, Test & Teardown
YouTube was a very different place back in 2006 - this user-created video sharing tech startup had only been around for a year and was making big waves, leading to its acquisition by Google. But what camera were people using in the pre-smartphone era? How did it come to be? Was it really disposable!?
In this video I take a look at the Pure Digital Flip Video, Amazon’s best selling camcorder of 2007. We’ll unbox it, hear the story behind it, see what the video and audio were like and even tear it down to see what’s inside.
This is what YouTube looked and sounded like in 2006.
How do I know that?
Well, not only because I was watching YouTube in 2006, but also because I’m recording this intro on Amazon’s best-selling camcorder from that year…
…the Pure Digital Flip Video - and in this video I’m going to unbox a brand new one, I’m going to talk a little bit about the history of this thing and how it came to be, and of course I’m going to take it apart.
So here it is: the Flip Video Ultra, or as I’m choosing to refer to it in this video: the O.G. YouTube camera, and the reason for that is because this was hugely popular on original early YouTube.
Of course, YouTube was founded in 2005 as a small Silicon Valley startup, rapidly grew to a pretty huge thing within the space of a year, and was actually acquired by Google in 2006 - and 2006 is when this particular model of this camera dates from - in fact I think this one’s actually a slightly later one just because it has a slightly higher capacity.
But the actual basic camera itself is the same - and I bought this brand new and sealed on ebay, and you’ll probably notice that the seal is actually broken but it is for all intents and purposes brand new because according to the seller this was actually opened purely so it could be branded with Warner Brothers branding for a Warner Brothers event that was obviously happening back in the day and evidently they didn’t give all of the cameras away or sell all of them or whatever the arrangement was - nobody seems to know exactly why these were created.
I bought two of them, they were $20 each on ebay - and obviously quite a bit more than that once you take shipping and stuff into account but still - very very cheap for what it is and I thought it would be fun to unbox it and take a look at it on video here.
First things first, I think we will take a look at the box.
So you’ve got the basic Flip Video branding on here, we’ve got the Warner Brothers tape - the seal around the outside - obviously that wasn’t original based on what I’ve just said so let’s see if we can remove that
just because it’s covering up some of the information on the box.
That’s obviously quite old and brittle now.
So I’ve just removed that ribbon there - like I say that’s not original - the actual cameras inside - I have opened the other one - and the camera inside has a logo silk screened onto it as well, which was obviously part of that branding exercise.
So if we take a look at this side, this is the feature that gives the Flip Video camera its name - and it is this flip out USB connector here.
So the actual USB connector is built into the camera itself, which is pretty clever!
Obviously no cables or-
Nowadays you’ve got to have Micro USB and Mini USB and USB-C and everything, if you do anything with cameras you need them all in your camera bag because of the various different types of cameras that use them.
But yeah, a built-in USB connector, which I think is incredibly clever and it’s probably a thing that modern camera manufacturers could investigate as a potential option, but there we go.
On the other side of the box we have the picture of the back of the camera itself - of course we’ll take a closer look at that once I’ve unboxed it - on the bottom it just says:
“White and silver camcorder, 1GB of memory, records 30 minutes”
…and I believe that this records in a DivX-based format, Xvid - in fact it actually says here:
“Digital format: MPEG-4 at 30 frames per second, VGA resolution: 640x480 pixels”
So not all that impressive by today’s standards, but of course back in 2006 there were phones with cameras built in at the time - very basic ones - I had a Motorola one, but they certainly weren’t commonly used for video.
They were basically intended for very, very grainy photos that were even worse than what this kind of thing puts out - so this was a very low cost pocket-sized digital video camera - a dedicated digital video camera - and it obviously kind of fueled the YouTube revolution very early on.
…and just on the back of the box - and I’ve been saving this for last because this is quite interesting - we’ve got the features. So we’ve got:
“The shoot and share camcorder”
“One touch recording
“2x digital zoom”
“Instant playback and delete”
It’s got “built-in software” which allows you to upload directly to AOL Video and YouTube, and interestingly enough there was Google Video at the time and I’ve actually come across in my research for this camera some documents - some internal documents from Google - and they’re talking about actually trying to acquire this company and the people high up at Google obviously took an interest in it and kind of decided that it was the future of online video, and ultimately in all the back and forth they basically declared that they were already looking into acquiring YouTube - and as we know, as history tells us, that’s exactly how it played out: Google did indeed acquire YouTube and the rest is history.
So just on the bottom of the box - I just skipped over this slightly before but obviously we’ve got the system requirements here - so it’s Intel Pentium 4, at least 512MB of RAM, Windows XP SP2 or Vista, and the USB port of course - and of course it also supports the Mac, and this has built-in USB flash storage which has the software on it all ready to go as well.
So very clever stuff.
Just another feature - it also has an AV output on it so you can connect it directly to a TV.
So I think it’s about time we open the box and have a look at what’s inside.
So as you’ve seen this one was still somewhat sealed - I bought two of these and I have opened the other one already so I do know what’s in here.
Some crustiness there, hopefully that’s not a bad sign!
So - “What will you see today?”
…and this is the camera itself.
Now, as you can see it’s still got the original film on the lens there, and it’s got that Warner Brothers logo which has been silk screened on - like I said before that wasn’t on there originally - and this is the Flip Ultra Video Camera.
You’ll have to pardon my sweaty fingers, it’s very hot today!
So we’ve got the AV output there that I just mentioned to connect it to a TV, we’ve got a standard 1/4” tripod mount on the bottom so you can actually use it with a tripod.
So that’s - I think that’s the power switch there.
We’ve got that flip out USB connector - let’s just check out that action again..
…and the way that this works is that the whole front comes off and it just takes two AA batteries, no SD card or anything to worry about - it has internal memory. So let’s put some batteries in it and take a look at what the software and stuff look like.
So will it pow- a bit dirty there- so will it power on after all these years sat in the box?
Yes it does, no problem at all!
…and it’s just switched straight back off again…
…and it’s done the same again.
OK, right, let’s move to camera number two!
I’m glad I got two of these anyway.
Right, so let’s pop these out…
…and let’s see if this one works.
Oh, that one actually beeped - and that’s straight on, OK.
So I did mention on the bottom of the box there was some kind of crusty residue or something. I’m not sure if perhaps something’s leaked internally - maybe a capacitor - I can’t see anything on the camera itself so I’ll take a look at that and hopefully I can get it repaired but ultimately at least it was only $20 and at least I have a spare.
So there we go.
Right, let us continue with the video.
So here is the camera - obviously flip out USB thingy that I’ve already showed you - so we’ll set the date and time, and the date and time is…
…so just trying to set the date here wondering what on earth is going on and it turns out that it won’t actually let me set a date above 2020 anyway, so there we go, evidently they weren’t expecting people to still be using these in 2022.
But whatever, that’s not too important.
So the screen display is very, very basic we’ve just got- it’s quite a good quality screen actually, that’s surprisingly good!
…and the controls are just very, very simple - we’ve just got record, we’ve got up and down - that’s the zoom.
Actually, considering that’s - I believe that’s a digital zoom - but it’s very smooth.
I tell you what, let’s record this.
“Camcorder empty” - yes, that’s true.
I’ll just record some test footage - just zooming in on the text on the bottom of the box so we can have a look at what this looks like.
Of course I will record some more footage with this shortly.
So that’s the zoom in action.
Let me stop recording…
I’ve noticed this touchpad and the controls are a bit unresponsive - I don’t know if that’s just because of stuff deteriorating due to age - oh, and I’ve also still got the film and some cat hair on the lens there.
I’ll just re-record this…
Now that looks a bit clearer.
So that’s the 2x zoom.
So we can go into playback I think…
…and we’ve got a volume control on there.
So a very basic camera.
This was actually responsible for 13% of the camcorder market in 2007, and was the best selling camera on Amazon at the time so that’s a pretty impressive achievement - and you can see why because they were relatively cheap - they were around £100.
I’ll put the prices up on screen as I speak so we can have a look at those in their historical context.
Of course you slip in your pocket, you know, if you’re out skateboarding or vlogging or, you know, whatever you’re doing out and about, it’s very easy and convenient to whip out of your pocket and just grab a couple of minutes of video footage, come home, download it and off you go and start again.
So those very early YouTubers people like Ashens and the like -
“Flip the flip on the flip, hear the blip, and you’re ready to record”
“Bob threw his grandmother down the stairs and they all grew up ugly and nobody cares”
“Although it’s bigger, heavier, blobbier, uglier, and yeah, a little bit smellier, the fact remains it takes better quality video. It’s good enough for YouTube really.”
So we’ll just take a look at the other stuff in the box just before we play with the camera a bit more - because obviously we have some accessories and things in here.
We’ve got the product registration and warranty card - Pure Digital Limited.
We’ve got the quick start guide - which I probably should have read before I started.
We’ve got instructions on- it’s obviously got a composite video output.
It explains how the software and the USB connector and stuff works, I’ll have a play with that later on.
How to put the batteries in, stuff like the website and everything.
Pure Digital Technologies Incorporated based in San Francisco, California - of course - and these were actually later acquired by Cisco in 2009, and I think they acquired them just for the camera technology and some of their patents and stuff, and sadly these cameras were actually discontinued in 2011 - I guess purely because of camera phones and they were kind of redundant which is quite sad.
But I believe Cisco do own the rights to all of the name - the brand name and everything still so potentially they could bring it back for nostalgia purposes. Who knows?
Also in the box here -
Oh, I see, I can see where the crustiness has come from…
So we have a nice matching branded storage pouch there, nice soft
whatever that is
..and two very leaky AA batteries.
So what’s this? That’s like a lanyard. I guess there’s a spot on the camera to connect that - oh yes, on the corner there so you can wrap that around your wrist and not lose it which is cool.
Quite popular with sports people, skateboarders and that kind of thing - so that would make a lot of sense.
So there is that very tasteful and fashionable wrist strap, and that’s got like a rubbery coating on it and that’s gone all sticky and horrible, so lovely.
…and yeah, AA batteries
with an expir- oh look at that, fantastic.
To be fair, they did expire nine years ago in 2013.
So yeah, lovely, and I’m guessing what’s happened is there must be something that’s leaked inside that other camera as well that’s caused it to fail which is which is a shame but we can rebuild and of course the obligatory TV cable of course in this day and age that would be HDMI but this is a lovely composite cable so you could hook it up to your CRT TV…
…and the actual story of how these came to be is:
Essentially this started as a single use disposable digital video camera.
So back in the day you used to be able to buy 35mm film cameras - from the chemist usually - take all of your photos on it, holiday photos, a wedding or whatever, and you would take the camera back to the chemist and pay a processing fee and that would be the last that you would see of it and they would give you a pack of photos.
…and essentially they must have decided:
“Hey, we should do a video version of this”
So they sold them at CVS stores in the US for $29.99 - this was in 2006 - and I remember being incredibly jealous at the time and reading about them on the internet and just thinking it was the coolest concept ever.
Basically you would buy your camera - you basically take it off the shelf, pay your $29.99 for it, record 20 minutes of video, and then you would take it back to CVS, pay them $12.99, they would take the camera off of you, download the video footage from it and burn that to a DVD, and then obviously you could do with that whatever you wanted.
So you could go and just stick it in a DVD player and watch it on TV, or you could import it into iMovie or Windows Movie Maker or whatever at the time, and kind of edit it up and make a proper video out of it.
Then I guess the camera would be refurbished and repackaged and put back on the shelf - obviously erased - for the next person, and at the time I remember reading guides on how to actually hack these cameras.
You could take them apart and there was like a serial interface inside that you could connect to, and you could actually do the kind of the download and the reset process yourself - and of course they were selling out absolutely everywhere because people were buying up these ridiculously cheap video cameras just so they could hack them and then have a really nice pocket video camera for a fraction of the price of what it would have cost brand new.
But there you go.
Initially when I started looking into this video that was actually what I was looking for - that very first original disposable version - but unfortunately they weren’t available.
So there we go, that’s the Pure Digital Flip Video Camera, I think I’ve waffled on enough now so let’s take it outside and get some test footage and see what that looks like.
So here I am outside and it seems the camera has a red LED on the front to show when it’s recording which is really handy, and I presume the microphone is also in that same grille part next to the LED, which if so, hopefully the audio should be pretty good because that’s in a pretty good location. But it sounds like I’ve just set the ducks off so let’s go and say hello to them!
…and here I am in the kitchen in less than ideal lighting conditions so we’ll see how that 640x480 VGA sensor holds up in here!
Of course YouTube wouldn’t be YouTube about some cat content.
…and if you’re wondering how well this works on a modernish Windows 10 machine let’s plug it in and take a look.
So there we go: it’s just a bog standard Mass Storage Device - we can go on here and browse the videos and - there we are - I have all of my test videos that I recorded.
They just open in VLC perfectly fine as expected, and we have the Flip Video software on here as well - so shall we see if that installs?
Let’s take a look.
[a few minutes later]
…and unfortunately it seems the software won’t install in Windows 10 - the installer just crashes at 1% - so I’ll have to dig out an XP PC and get that installed and up and running and maybe even put a little video together, because apparently it comes with something called “Muvee Video Mixing Software” which I guess is kind of a basic editor.
So that will be a lot of fun to play with, and I’ll probably do that over on the second channel as and when I do get that up and running.
So if you’re anything like me you’re probably wondering what’s inside this thing - I know I certainly am anyway - and as this one’s broken and I was going to take it apart to have a look to see if I could see anything obvious wrong with it - I thought why not take a look at it together?
So let’s do a little tear down and see how these things fit together.
So it looks like it’s just a few Phillips head screws…
That’s the membrane for the controls there, very nice.
Oh! It turns out that was actually stuck on with double-sided tape across the top there, so a very professional piece of hardware and - yeah, there we go, there’s two more screws so I’m glad I didn’t force that too much.
Let’s just get those out.
There we go, so that’s the back.
Even more Phillips screws - we’ve got that nice LCD screen in there.
I guess that is a Samsung flash memory chip by the looks of it just there.
…and it looks like we have some serial - like a JTAG-type connector or something like that there - which I guess in those early versions of these cameras is what people were using to reprogram them in a naughty way.
So that’s the control panel.
It’s got quite a fragile-looking ribbon cable for the screen in there.
So quite a nice little design here actually.
This is a very compact board.
We’ve got this - this is the power switch here.
We’ve got the camera module on there with a nice big lens on it.
Obviously the battery contacts, and what looks like some more flash memory, and I can’t see anything obviously damaged on this board, but still very interesting to see.
A really nice compact little unit this from 2006.
Obviously of course we’ve got two cables - and that one goes to the microphone and the LED on the front there - and this one goes to that flip out USB connector.
So let’s remove that.
So here’s that flip out mechanism - it’s very nice - and of course I’ve taken all of the screws out so now it’s going to self-destruct!
A smaller spring for the unlocking mechanism and a bigger spring to actually flick the thing out and that’s the USB connector.
A really nice design, this, I’m really quite impressed with how this all fits together.
…and the last part - I suppose I’ve made it this far so we may as well go the whole hog…
…is this front board which has got the microphone and you can just see a tiny surface mount LED next to that, and that’s actually quite a reasonable-sized microphone so hopefully the audio quality is quite good from that.
That’s the plastic casing.
A really nice, really well engineered thing, this, and really well put together so I’m quite impressed with that. It’s quite a quite a clever piece of engineering.
I don’t really think I have much chance of actually repairing it but hey - at least we got to see what was inside.
So there we go - everything you could possibly ever want to know and more about the Pure Digital Flip Video, 2006’s most popular YouTube camera.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this slightly different unscripted format!
Big thanks to my Patreon Supporters and Channel Members whose names you see on screen as I speak - they’re the ones that allow me to buy silly things like this and make silly little videos about them - but for now that’s all I have for you so thank you very much for watching and I’ll hopefully see you again next time.
Original Video Links
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The Verge Article: https://www.theverge.com/circuitbreaker/2020/7/30/21348492/google-flip-video-pure-digital-deal-antitrust-hearing-documents
Rees Rambles / Second Channel: https://www.youtube.com/reesrambles
Ashens Flip Video / Creative Vado Review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ds-SGrHTMg
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