Comsumer HD Camcorders Not Quite Ready

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As I work with consumer level High Definition camcorders more regularly, I’m convinced they have a long way to go before people will really like the video result. MiniDV options for standard definition recording are at least refined to the point of consistent results, even if those results are often limited by the skill of the person shooting the video and editing the footage. Video output from the consumer HD cameras tends to have quirky results. Consumer HD editing solutions are somewhat limited and often don’t work consistently for all formats. Publishing options seem limited to either DVD or Blu-ray disks, with virtually nowhere to put HD content online.
Many of the HD camcorders have potential. I own both a Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD1a and the Sony HDR-SR1. I like features of both camcorders, but find many aspects of the entire consumer HD workflow frustrating. I love the portability provided with the Sanyo Xacti line. The same guys who headed up the Canon Digital Elph line of products are steering the future of the Xacti. The Sony HDR-SR1 takes better images than the Xacti and has potential to be a solid video solution in another generation.
The Xacti VPC-HD1a records MP4 files to an SD card, making it easy to shoot short movies and upload them. It’s biggest downside is a 400 ISO, which performs poorly in low light. The Sony HDR-SR1 is more too my liking for creating published content, although not without a few quirks. Sony did something brilliant in offering a Bluetooth wireless microphone, with incredible range and none of the noise you sometimes get from a traditional radio frequency wireless microphone. The CMOS image sensor in the Sony HDR-SR1 camera seems to have issues, making it frustrating to get consistently great video.
The big downside to the HDR-SR1 is the AVCHD format recorded by camera. It requires some convoluted editing at the moment, because Sony released the camera without a supported editing workflow. The camera was quite popular during the holiday buying season, at least in the San Francisco and Seattle areas where every store was completely sold out, so I can only assume there will be many frustrated camera owners trying to edit movies.
I remain hopeful consumer HD camcorders are on the verge of getting better imaging and improved support. Sanyo showed off an updated version of the Xacti at CES, with support for HDMI output, better low-light recording, and a handful of minor tweaks to the design. Panasonic is shipping a 3CCD camcorder with AVCHD support in March, which records to SD cards. And a number of software vendors will finally ship their AVCHD supported products, as well as supporting h.264 natively. Blu-ray support is a standard feature in most of the DVD authoring tools, which hopefully means HD-DVD isn’t too far behind.
Unless you have a real need to record in HD, or unless you have the budget to buy a camcorder in the $3000 and up range, I’m recommending that you stick with buying a 3CCD SD camcorder for the time being and wait a few more years for the consumer HD market to mature.

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