In the three years since its founding, YouTube has lodged itself so firmly in the culture that the video-sharing site even scored a starring role in the presidential primary debates. In other words, if you are not using online video in your marketing efforts, you are woefully behind. Fortunately, a new array of equipment and editing tools allows even the most neophyte users to channel their inner Steven Spielbergs. Whether you want to star in your YouTube marketing videos or just jazz up your website with animated presentations and product demos, these picks will help you reach customers with even the shortest of attention spans.
Best For: Recording High-Quality Video
What it is: A high-definition camcorder
What's cool: Sony's HDR-SR11 renders footage in full 1920 x 1080 resolution, a level of clarity that not even all HD televisions can handle. With a 60GB internal hard drive, this camera can capture more than seven hours of video in the highest definition possible. It has a large 3.2-inch LCD touchscreen, records surround sound, and uses a so-called zoom microphone that homes in on your subject's audio.
Drawbacks: The video files are large. Editing and archiving them will hog space on your computer's hard drive. Uploading videos to YouTube severely degrades the quality, but there are a few places on the Web to share HD video, including Vimeo.com and SmugMug.com.
Best For: Onscreen demos
What it is: Screen-recording software
What's cool: When you want to demonstrate how to use your website, explain numbers in an Excel spreadsheet, or record a PowerPoint presentation, you don't necessarily need a video camera. Camtasia Studio captures every frame of a step-by-step demo directly from your computer screen and records audio from your computer's microphone. The video automatically zooms in on the area of the screen where the cursor is most active. The software's easy-to-use interface includes basic editing functions and transitional effects.
Drawback: It's available only for Windows. And if all you want to do is convert PowerPoint presentations into videos, it's cheaper to use a free Web-based service like AuthorStream.
Best For: Simple edits
What it is: A drag-and-drop video-editing program
What's cool: The latest version of iMovie, which comes preinstalled on all new Macs, may have distilled the art of moviemaking down to a few simple mouse clicks, but that doesn't mean iMovie is dumbed down. The program contains vast libraries of titles and special effects, and it can handle the latest high-definition video formats. iMovie also lets you upload videos to YouTube directly from the program.
Drawback: It's available only for the Mac. Windows users will find many similar basic video-editing functions in Windows Movie Maker, which comes with Windows XP and Vista.
Price: $79 for a software bundle that also includes iDVD, GarageBand, iWeb, and iPhoto
Best For: Spontaneous filming
What it is: A pocket-size camcorder
What's cool: About the size of a standard iPod, this camera can record an hour of video. A panel on the back controls the camera's bare-bones functions -- record, zoom, pause, and a few others -- and a tiny 1.5-inch color monitor handles video playback. The camera, which houses a USB connector, plugs into any Mac or PC. The device's software handles rudimentary editing and helps upload videos to the Web. Image resolution is 640 x 480, so the quality is decent enough for YouTube. The Mino lasts four hours on a charge.
Drawbacks: Using the digital zoom lowers video quality, and there's no image stabilization, so footage can get shaky if you don't use a tripod.
Best For: Editing like a pro
What it is: Sophisticated video-editing software
What's cool: Adobe Premiere, which works on Windows and Mac operating systems, is one of the most advanced, feature-rich programs for editing video. With it, you can correct colors, create surround-sound audio, and tack on a wide range of effects. Finished videos can be exported to Blu-ray discs or video for mobile devices. Adobe Premiere even uses speech recognition to transcribe the spoken dialogue. Just type a word or phrase in the search box, and it will find the point in the video at which it was spoken.
Drawbacks: The price is high, and Premiere isn't easy to master without some formal training. To that end, Adobe offers live and online seminars.
Best For: Multimedia presentations
What it is: Software for creating and editing Web-ready presentations
What's cool: Flypaper incorporates video, audio, Flash animation, and a host of other media formats into a single piece of content that can be exported as an embedded Web element or a YouTube-ready video. The program also includes an array of templates geared toward do-it-yourselfers looking to add some sizzle to their websites and companies seeking more compelling ways to present their products. Flypaper even lets you insert interactive forms and quizzes as well as keep tabs on who is watching your content and how much time he or she is spending watching it.
Drawbacks: There's no Mac version. And the library of templates, videos, and other content loads slowly. The company says it is working to fix that problem.
Price: $195 per year