About a year and a half ago I went to make a fairly simple video production and failed miserably. It would have helped if I hadn't waited until the last minute, but I didn't expect my software to put up so much of a fight, especially with syncing sound to video.
So lately I've been reading good things about the Flip Video device and thought I might check it out. Then when I happened upon them in stock at a Sam's Club for $140 when I had some money burning a hole in my pocket, I bit.
Wow, it couldn't get much simpler or easier.
It was a bit of a PITA the first time I used a particular computer with it because it needed to load a codec, and the first time I used it at all I had to sit through a firmware upgrade. But since then it's been a real trouper with both XP and Vista.
It's about as self-contained as you can get. You don't need to install any software with DVDs or downloads - everything you need is already loaded on the device. Plug it in to an available USB port, wait for the system to recognize the device and go!
Likewise there are no cables to lose on the run. The USB male connector is built in rigidly - you just extend it from the case, plug it in, let the system recognize it and you're in business. I did have trouble trying to plug it into the USB ports on a couple of different machines because of funny geometry in one case and an EVDO card in another. But for most it will work fine, and for the rest there's A-A USB extension cords (which shouldn't cost more than $10 no matter what Radio Shack or Best Buy say).
So when someone of longish tenure left the company recently, I wound up going around shooting quickie goodbye videos. The picture and sound quality were far better than I expected, and loading the videos onto the PCs was more or less idiot simple. So with nothing but miserable past experience, no talent, a device I'd had for 2 days, and a newish Vista laptop with a DVD burner, I produced some tolerable output from a bunch of people in no more than a couple of hours, and most of that time was probably data transfer time while I multitasked.
It's not perfect, and it certainly doesn't have advanced features. But it's $140, for crying out loud. It's self-contained, small, runs on AA batteries so there's no wall wart (I don't want to know how many of those blasted things I have), and the learning curve is nearly nonexistent (with the caveat that I'm a gadget geek with an engineering background). It's roughly the size of a candy bar, so it can go anywhere. You can take still pictures. The model I bought at Sam's has 2GB of RAM which allegedly will hold an hour's worth of video (haven't really challenged it yet). And I've only had it since Sunday, so I probably don't know a lot of things it can do yet.
Bottom line - I'll be buying more of them.