Mini DVD or Blu-ray discs, plus built-in hard drives and removable Flash memory, are fast taking over from humble tape – making image capture and playback more accessible than ever. And, with more of us investing in the latest High Definition screens, many of today’s camcorders are also offering 16:9 widescreen movie format, plus 5.1 surround sound as a complement to the popularity of home cinema set-ups. So it makes sense to examine what the manufacturers are offering in the way of HD camcorders offering the ultimate in video capture quality.
HD video is composed of 1,080 horizontal lines, more than twice the number of horizontal lines and about four times the number of pixels in standard definition TV broadcasts. In layman’s terms, imagine the difference between the picture quality of VHS video and DVD and you won’t be far off.
A new technology for HD camcorders this year is AVCHD, an MPEG4 code designed to compress high-definition video so it will play back on most Blu-ray devices and PlayStation 3.
The knock-on effect of all this is that Mac users will need iMovie ’08’s support for AVCHD and an Intel-based machine. Those looking for broadcast-comparable images at a consumer level should also check out the three CCD array in the latest Panasonic and JVC models.
Resolution aside, when choosing a camcorder it’s wise to make sure all the other key components are in order, too. As most models offer optical zooms with a range far in excess of the average stills camera – some up to 40x – a form of built-in image stabilisation is one of the most important boxes to tick. There’s no point achieving razor-sharp quality if the resulting picture is jerky at maximum zoom and causes motion sickness in your viewer.
In this multimedia age, convergence is key, meaning that aside from offering a variety of capture formats and storage media, most digital camcorders also record high-resolution stills at the press of a button. While usually no match for the lens quality and features of a dedicated stills camera, it’s a useful extra to have for that once-in-a-lifetime moment.
With that in mind, let’s see what the latest line-up of cutting-edge HD camcorders offer in terms of features, performance and value.