Camcorder formats explained

We give the lowdown on all the video jargon and buzzwords: from HD to HDD

Camcorder formats explained

Keeping up with the camcorder industry can be a pretty harrowing experience. It seems like a new video codec leaps out of the woodwork to confuse and frighten us on a bi-weekly basis. SD or HD? DV or DVD? HDV or AVCHD? If you're a first-time buyer, the choices can often be overwhelming. In an attempt to simplify matters, the following article will explain the major camcorder formats on the market, with links to our top-rated products in each category.

Standard-def camcorders

Camcorder formats explained

Despite what technology doomsayers say, standard-def camcorders are still going strong, and currently own the lion's share of the market. According to GfK Australia, their total market share as of March 2008 was 93 per cent. (In other words, there's no need to feel obsolete just yet!)

While they lack the crystal-clear resolution of high-definition, the best models offer DVD-quality video, which is all that many of us will need. Bear in mind though, that noise (i.e. grainy footage) will typically be more noticeable in dim environments.

The main benefit of the standard-def format is undoubtedly its plummeting price. Plus, standard-def video takes up less storage space (which means you save on recordable media), and is also easier to edit with.

There are standard-definition versions of all of the video formats covered in this article (MiniDV, HDD, DVD and removable flash memory).

High-def camcorders

Camcorder formats explained

High Definition (HD) captures images at a resolution of 1080 interlaced lines or 720 progressive lines. What this means is that your video will have much more vibrant colours and crystal-clear image quality. (For comparison, an analog television has a resolution of just 525 lines, so the increase is quite significant.) Some of the latest high-def cams offer a 1080p mode, otherwise known as 'full' HD.

While previously very expensive, it is now possible to own an entry-level HD camcorder for around $1000. Some models, such as the Samsung VP-HMX10 (XSA), are actually cheaper than top-of-the-range standard-def models. However, you'll also need a high-def television and a Blu-ray player to get the most out of these products.

HD cameras currently come in two different recording formats — HDV and AVCHD. AVCHD is an advanced video codec that is more efficient at storing HD video thanks to higher compression rates. HDV, on the other hand, typically offers a superior picture.

There are HD versions of all of the video formats covered in this article — MiniDV, HDD, DVD and removable flash memory.

Camcorder formats explained

HD camcorders offering 1080p resolution will have a 'full HD' sticker on the box.

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Chris Jager

Good Gear Guide

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