High definition or standard definition?
Since high definition camcorders still command a price premium over standard definition, the question arises: is it worth the extra money? If you're on a really tight budget, plan to view the video on a standard definition TV and don't think you'll care about the quality 10 years from now (when everything will look better), then standard definition is a fine choice. Otherwise, consider spending a little more for high definition. You can always shoot in standard definition if you're worried about compatibility, but you retain the option for higher quality video. Think of it as a bit of future proofing.
|MiniDV||Standard definition MiniDV is uncompressed, which makes it higher quality than its tapeless equivalent for standard definition shooting. When downloading it to your computer, you will have to choose a file and encoding format in which to save the digital stream. |
|HDV||High definition; in order to fit HD video on a MiniDV tape, HDV uses a variation of MPEG-2 compression, but compresses only within each frame, not across them. Thus, video quality make likely be better than when recorded without tape, but HDV does not deliver true uncompressed quality. When downloading it to your computer, you will have to choose a file and encoding format in which to save the digital stream. |
The HDV format specification supports both 720p and 1080i recording, but camcorders can generally record only one or the other--usually 1080i.
|MPEG-2||Standard definition. Common file extensions: MPG, M2T, VOB. Note that even though MPEG-2 is the same encoder used to DVDs that doesn't mean that the video captured and encoded by one of these camcorders will automatically be "DVD quality." For one thing, good MPEG-2 encoding requires powerful hardware and multiple compression iterations, which you don't get in a camcorder. |
|MPEG-2 TS||High definition; MPEG-2 Transport Stream. Common file extensions: TS, M2T, M2TS, TOD, MOD. |
|MPEG-4|| Standard definition, high definition; MPEG-2 with intraframe-only compression (MP@H-14). Common file extensions: TS, M2T, M2TS, TOD, MOD, AVI, MOV. Typically, generic MPEG-4 video from camcorders is usually encoded using the Baseline profile. |
|AVCHD||High definition; Advanced Visual Codec High Definition. File extension: MTS. An HD version of the MPEG-4 Advanced Visual Codec--not to be confused with MPEG HD--which uses the H.264 compression scheme. |
|Blu-ray||High definition; File extension: MTS. Blu-ray files are identical to AVCHD files, just marketed and licensed differently.|
AVCHD compatibility still a minefield
Living room playback: AVCHD is the video format used by Blu-ray, so Blu-ray players should have no problem playing the video.
Computer playback: Because AVCHD is a licensed codec--developers wishing to incorporate support into their applications have to pay a fee to Sony and Panasonic--it's not natively supported by operating system media players like Windows Media Player and QuickTime. And third-party media players tend to exclude the appropriate codec from the free or trial versions of their software for the same reasons. So, while you should be able to have a seamless playback experience on your computer, you may have to jump through a few upgrading and download hoops to get there. As such, AVCHD doesn't make a very good personal electronic distribution format, since most your friends and family probably won't know how to play the files.
Video editing: While we're finally past most of the file-format compatibility issues with video editing--Adobe was the last holdout for AVCHD--the final hurdle for high definition camcorders still remains the editing. AVCHD especially places huge requirements on your system, and even in these days when mainstream systems have multiple fast cores, 64-bit operating systems configured with several gigabytes of memory and fast hard disks, we frequently hit the wall when it comes to real time, high quality playback and edit. Many software programs, such as Apple's Final Cut Pro, solve this problem by first transcoding the files--uncompressing them and converting them into an internal format more efficient for editing--and users frequently recommend third-party transcoders for dealing with AVCHD files in less robust editing applications. Furthermore, many applications still won't recognize the individual AVCHD files without the full Blu-ray directory structure that includes the path \AVCHD\BDMV\STREAM and the ancillary files stored in other directories.