HD camcorders reviewed

Introduction

The high-definition revolution is truly underway in the UK with flat-panel TVs, games consoles and even TV broadcasts getting in on the act. The Mac has also undergone a high-def transformation, beginning with iMovie HD in 2005 (Steve Jobs proclaimed it the year of high definition), and arriving last year at iMovie ’08, which has high definition support at its core.

The same revolution has hit movie making, of course, with MiniDV and DVD-based camcorders slowly making way for their HD successors. For consumer movie cameras that, of course, means AVCHD – a controversial video format that enables you to record high-definition footage on hard drives, flash memory cards and even Blu-ray discs in today’s camcorders.

AVCHD is controversial in three key respects. The first is quality. Most AVCHD camcorders available today produce 1,920 x 1,080 interlaced video footage, which, as any home cinema enthusiast will tell you, isn’t up to the same level of picture quality as the 1080p full HD standard featured in many modern TVs – despite camcorder maker claims to the contrary.

Second is that AVCHD – which is partly based on the same MPEG-4/H.264 adopted by Apple for QuickTime, iTunes and the iPod requires a lot more processor horsepower to convert it so you can view, edit and use it on your Mac. That effectively prevents older PowerPC-based Macs handling AVCHD at all. AVCHD camcorders are also doing a good job of sidelining FireWire; USB 2.0 is its transfer connection of choice. Apple’s decision to drop FireWire support for the latest MacBook in October is a symptom of the way that all things video are heading.

The third problem lies with iMovie ’08. In theory, any HD camcorder should work with it, but less than 50 PAL camcorder models are officially Apple-supported – and even then that support often has caveats attached. Your best bet may be to go to the iMovie ’08 camcorder support page (http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1014#1), to see how the camcorder you’re thinking of buying will fare.

HD camcorders remain wonderfully impressive objects. They deliver a radical upgrade in picture and sound resolution for the majority of us who use camcorders to capture special events like family gatherings and holidays. In many respects, HD camcorders finally offer the quality to live up to the memories of an event that you have in your head – and that has to be welcomed, surely?

So let’s move right along and see how our choice of £600-£800 HD camcorders fare...

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