Friday, April 3, 2009
Buyer's Guide 2009: HD Camcorders
What to know when shopping for an HD camcorder
Speaking of still images, most HD camcorders let you take still photos, too. Some will let you do it on the fly, as you’re recording video. Others require you to switch recording modes. Both are convenient if you don’t want to carry two cameras. However, you won’t get the massive megapixel counts you’re probably used to by now from still cameras. So, if you’re looking for stills that can be used for big prints, you may want to bring your SLR along after all.
Newer HD camcorders use some variety of MPEG4/H.264 compression. This industry-standard codec was developed to provide maximum picture quality while reducing file size, making it friendlier for streaming over the web and other applications where bandwidth and storage constraints are a concern. AVCHD is a particular flavor of MPEG4/H.264. Digging in to the technical details of this technology would require an article unto itself and be a pretty dry read. Suffice it to say that your next HD camcorder should use some variety of this codec for compressing video. All of the cameras in this article do.
Once you have your footage, you’ll want to play and share it. Digital connections are the best way to display HD content, so you’ll want a camcorder with HDMI output. The HDMI interface looks like a wider, thinner USB and offers the same plug-and-play convenience. It also carries sound in addition to video—just connect your camcorder to your HDTV and you’re ready for playback. To connect to older, standard-definition screens and devices, many camcorders also offer composite and/or component video output, but this isn’t generally recommended, as you won’t be taking full advantage of your HD content.
For the best results from your digital video, you’ll also want to do some editing with software. The good news is that today’s video-editing applications couldn’t be easier to use. With software like Apple iMovie or Adobe Premiere Elements, you can go from raw footage to a polished final cut on a Sunday afternoon. To get the footage from your camcorder to your computer, you’ll likely use a standard USB 2.0 connection. All current consumer HD camcorder models include this connection.
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