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Roll credits: Advances in the high-definition camcorder market

By The Vann’s Editorial Team
Last revised October 12th, 2009

Everybody has fond memories — spilling fruit punch down the front of Aunt Betty’s white silk taffeta dress on your fifth birthday, cruising the drag in your dad’s cherry ‘67 Camaro, or those four months you spent as a ski bum in Europe — but as time moves on, those memories tend to fade. And once they’re gone, you can’t just hit rewind and play them over again. Well, it used to be that way. Welcome to the 21st century. Now not only can you capture those memories, you can capture them in high-definition.

As digital high-definition camcorder technology hits the mainstream, consumer options are more plentiful — and more affordable — than ever. You may ask, “What will high-definition offer me that the standard-definition technology doesn’t?” Well, high-definition is the wave of the future. With over five times the resolution of an analog television and twice the resolution of standard-definition television, high-definition provides an amazingly crisp, detailed image on any high-definition television, but especially on the new HDTV/home-theater oriented, wide-screen plasma, LCD, and DLP televisions. Would you want to watch your memories on anything less? Yet the best thing about high-definition is that it’s backward-compatible, which means investing in the technology now doesn’t mean you have limited capabilities.

It’s a bull market for high-definition

Sure you can play it safe and invest in a standard-definition miniDV or disc-based camcorder and keep your old tube TV for another decade, but by next year you’ll be wishing you’d gone with high definition. How can we be so sure? Look at how far the technology has come since 2004: the first high-definition, miniDV camcorder cost $3700 — almost completely out of the price range of the home videographer. But today, thanks to an increase of available products on the high-definition market and the realization of high-definition as the new broadcasting and movie standard, the high-def dream is far more affordable. Now consumers can find Full HD cameras for well under $1000. This means you don’t have to wait any longer to experience the “wow” factor of this pure-digital experience.

Giving us the cutting-edge goods

So what else is camcorder technology ponying up besides high-def and hard drives? Well, Sony was the first camcorder company to utilize MPEG-4 Advanced Video Codec High Definition (AVCHD). With its efficient, storage-reducing compression scheme, better video quality, true random access, 5.1 AC-3 or 7.1 linear PCM audio encoding capabilities (that’s surround-sound to us lay-people), and Blu-ray Disc compatibility, it’s only a matter of time before AVCHD leaves the current HDV MPEG-2 standard of video compression in the dust.

Right now, Sony is the only camcorder manufacturer offering the all-digital, plug-and-play High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI). Its uncompressed, digital format transports high-definition video and multi-channel audio without signal degradation. By delivering signals in an uncompressed format, HDMI enables the support of user interfaces in electronic program guides and interactive features for high-definition television, all of which make your viewing experience more entertaining and more convenient. The best part of HDMI is that it forgoes the need of multiple analog cables for video and audio by providing one small, user-friendly interconnecting cable for digital devices such as set-top boxes, DVD players, camcorders, and televisions — the whole nine yards. This alone should be cause for jubilant cries from every person who’s tired of crawling around on the floor trying to remember which cable goes into which jack. Best yet, with the proper adaptor, HDMI cables can still transport the Digital Visual Interface (DVI) signal-the current video interface standard.

Sony really has gone crazy with their camcorder technology: in January of 2006 they rolled out the red carpet for their new, larger photo sensor, the ClearVID 1/3” CMOS. Developed with an arrangement of octagon-shaped photo diodes arranged in a honeycomb-shaped grid, Sony has placed the photo sensors at 45° angles and increased the number of green sensors from the standard of two for every red and blue sensor to six for every red and blue sensor, so you get more pixels in a smaller package. What exactly does this mean to you? You get resolution similar to that of a four-megapixel camera in a two-megapixel package. The ClearVID CMOS Sensor, with 1,990 effective pixels, provides up to 1080 lines of horizontal resolution in high-definition and 530 lines of horizontal resolution in standard-definition. This ClearVID technology enhances your digital video and digital still photography performance, giving you more vivid colors, precise image detail, improved low-light capabilities, and improved dynamic range.

What’s all the hype over Blu-ray?

More consumers are making the switch to high-definition television to enjoy the substantially increased video and audio quality. With Blu-ray Disc technology, you can record your high-definition television broadcasts in the original quality offered by the broadcaster, you can utilize your high-definition, AVCHD camcorder to capture video, then use your personal computer to edit and burn your high-definition video to Blu-ray discs, and you can sit back and enjoy all of this amazing technology on your high-definition television using your Blu-ray player (including Sony’s PlayStation 3).

With over 170 consumer electronics (including Canon, Dolby, Fuji, Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony) and PC companies (including Apple, Dell, and HP) supporting Blu-ray technology, it really is the next generation of optical disc formatting. Using a blue-violet laser as opposed to the current standard red laser used with DVDs, Blu-ray technology allows more data to be stored in the same amount of space that a DVD requires. To give you an idea of how monumental this leap forward is, a 50GB Blu-ray Disc will hold up to nine hours of high-definition video and 23 hours of standard-definition video. Right now, a standard 4.7GB DVD disc will only hold about two hours of standard-definition (and only standard-definition) video.

Yet you should be happy to know that just because Blu-ray players and burners use blue laser technology, there’s no need to turn your current DVD collection into a set of coffee table coasters. Blu-ray products will be backwards compatible with your collection of CDs and DVDs thanks to a BD/DVD/CD compatible optical pickup unit.

HD and Blu-ray: Here for the long haul

High-definition isn’t just a flash in the pan: the U.S. has already begun HDTV broadcasting, movie studios are already producing movies in Blu-ray format, and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission now mandates that all TVs include digital tuners. At this point, there’s no need to hold out. Start making and enjoying your memories with the spectacular (and they are s-p-e-c-t-a-c-u-l-a-r) visual benefits of high-definition, Blu-ray, and HDTV right now.

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