| It was a simple dream: the ability to record video to a disc, slide it in your DVD player to share, slip it in your PC to edit, and throw it in the mail to friends and relatives. But after several generations of camcorders--and disappointments--we're finally a bit closer to attaining it. |
By Denny Atkin and Lori Grunin (June 23, 2004; updated May 19, 2006)
| If there's a Holy Grail of technology, it has to be transparency: the seamless, idiotproof ability to do everything you want with the hardware at hand, without having to think about how--it just happens. For camcorders, transparency translates into recordings that you can play, edit, and share without needing to worry about media types, file formats, compression algorithms, hardware compatibility, and other geek esoterica. DVD disc technology initially lured us with its promise of delivering transparent joy. If current products are any indication, some bright spots have appeared in an otherwise disappointing market.
The boulevard of broken dreams
To be fair, some of our gripes with these products stem only partly from suboptimal execution by the manufacturers. For instance, the MPEG-2 compression used by these models seems to need the extra pixels provided by higher-resolution sensors. As a result, the cheap models deliver pretty poor video. All the models have faster bootup time, but you still have to finalize discs to play them in a deck. Finally, optical recording media has one critical flaw in a camcorder: if any data becomes damaged, the entire disc becomes unreadable. Little Johnny's soccer triumph is gone for good.
So for this generation of camcorders, our verdict on DVD changes only a bit: we're past the quality hurdles, but many issues still remain. Those issues will soon include yet another new encoding format backed by Panasonic and Sony, AVCHD, designed to fit HD video onto one of these discs, which will compress the video even more than the current devices.
| ||Mini DVD-RAM ||Mini DVD-R ||Mini DVD-RW ||Mini DVD+RW ||MiniDV tape |
| ||Sony DVD Handycam line || |
|Hitachi camcorders || || |
|Panasonic VDR series || |
|Approximate operating cost ||19 to 28 cents per minute ||2 to 4 cents per minute ||5 to 17 cents per minute ||3 to 8 cents per minute ||11 to 26 cents per minute |
|Performance ||Fair to good |
Moderately fast bootup; fast search for specific segments.
Fast bootup; slow search for specific locations.
|Media/hardware compatibility ||Poor |
Fewer stand-alone players and PCs as time goes on
Most stand-alone DVD players and PCs
Newer stand-alone players and PCs
Newer stand-alone players and PCs
Neither players nor PCs (only MiniDV decks)
|Video quality ||Poor to good |
Generally use proprietary MPEG-2 algorithms, which compress between and within frames. High-end models in the line generally have good quality, but the cheaper models don't.
|Fair to good |
Uses standard DV format, which compresses only within frames
|Software compatibility ||Fair |
The compressed video doesn't survive the editing process very well.
Format universally supported by video-editing software
|Main advantages ||Random video access and editing; higher capacity ||Cheapest; most compatible media ||Good value and efficient use of space ||Random video access and editing; good value and efficient use of space ||Highest quality; broadest software support |
|Main disadvantages ||Most expensive; least flexible ||Waste lots of media space, which inflates operating cost ||Requires temporary finalizing to play in some devices ||Hard to find the media; requires temporary finalizing to play in some devices ||Transfer to PC takes a long time |
Read the CNET editor's take