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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Cool Gear: Palm-Sized HD Video

Sanyo’s Xacti VPC-HD1 is a glimpse into the future of Hi-Def video capture for consumers

 


High definition is a catchall term that refers to practically any video standard with higher resolution than traditional formats like NTSC. And when we talk about HDTV, there are really two different formats that are both referred to as HD, but aren't the same. One is 720p and the other is 1080i-720p has a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels with progressive scan encoding; 1080i is an interlaced format, with a higher resolution of 1920 x 1080. When shopping for an HDTV-ready television, you'll be confronted with these designations, and it's helpful to know that the latter, 1080i, is the better way to go for the ultimate HDTV experience.

The Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD1 is a 720p device. As a point of reference, standard video resolution is 720 x 480, so this is a considerable step up in resolution. The Xacti VPC-HD1 captures 30 frames per second in the expansive 16 x 9 HD aspect ratio and encodes on the fly using MPEG-4, which helps keep file sizes small and quality relatively high. The camera uses SD media for storage, and you can record approximately 40 minutes of video on a 2 GB card.

As a video camera, even apart from the HD resolution, the Xacti VPC-HD1 gets high marks. It features a 10x optical zoom, and up to 100x digital zoom beyond that, though quality is compromised whenever you use digital zoom. Built-in image stabilization ensures that your inadvertent movements don't translate to shaky footage, keeping the action nice and smooth. Digital stereo sound rounds out the camcorder package.

You can capture 5-megapixel stills anytime, even simultaneously when recording video. While limited compared to today's quite sophisticated enthusiast digital cameras, as a still camera you have a lot of flexibility with manual focus capability, selectable apertures and shutter speeds, and exposure compensation.

When it's time to download your video, you'll find that using a tapeless, memory card-based approach like the Xacti VPC-HD1's MPEG-4 encoding is really convenient. Drop the VPC-HD1 into the included dock, which also serves as a charging station, and you're ready to go. Because video is already encoded as a digital file, you can simply drag and drop video clips from the camera to your computer. Note that not all video-editing software can handle MPEG encoding, however, so be sure the software you choose can work with these files.

I'm not typically a big fan of converged, do-it-all devices. I like my phone to be a phone, my camera to shoot photos and my camcorder to do video. I have to admit, though, that this handy camera has softened my position. It's hard to argue against a pocket-sized device that can record 5-megapixel still images and video in high definition, all for under $1,000.

Contact: Sanyo, (800) 421-5013, www.sanyodigital.com.



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