There’s no doubt that high-definition (HD) is the future format to be used in camcorders, and with greater availability and lower prices than ever, HD camcorders are growing immensely popular amongst consumers. So what makes an HD camcorder so great? Well, the HD format enables you to shoot crystal-clear video with vibrant colors and sharp, detailed imagery – far better than the traditional standard-definition format of most camcorders.
HD Format Explained
HD camcorders currently come in three different flavors:
720p – good quality
1080i – great quality
1080p – best quality
The numbers represent lines of resolution, or picture clarity, that your camcorder uses when shooting video. In general, the higher the number, the better the resolution. The lowercase letter following the number represents either “progressive” or “interlaced.” Here’s a quick explanation of both:
If your camcorder is either a 720p or 1080p, it uses progressive scan technology to record each line of resolution in order. To put it simply, this means you get a great quality picture that is especially built for fast-moving video, such as sports or action movies.
If your camcorder is of the 1080i variety, it utilizes interlaced video technology to record every other line of resolution and display it consecutively (i.e., lines 1,3,5 followed by lines 2,4,6). Standard-definition video, such as most televisions, use interlaced technology. Don’t get confused though; 1080i is a much higher resolution than standard definition, but it’s not quite as effective as progressive scan is when watching fast-moving videos (sports, action movies, etc.).
Types of HD Camcorders
Today’s HD camcorders record onto a variety of media types, including tapes, DVDs, Blu-ray discs, hard drives, or flash media. The most popular type of HD camcorder right now is HDV.
HDV camcorders are the most widely-available and popular HD camcorders on the market right now. Consumer models are available in both 720p and 1080i, and they use regular old miniDV tapes, or HD miniDV tapes, to record high-definition video. You can transfer video from your HDV camcorder to your computer, and it’s easily editable using your favorite video editing software on your computer. Or if you like, you can watch video directly from your camcorder on your high-definition television (HDTV) using an HDMI cable for the best performance.
Another type of HD camcorder is the AVCHD (audio and video compression for high definition) format which, unlike HDV camcorders, doesn’t use miniDV tapes to record video.
This format is relatively new for 2009, and so it’s currently not as popular as HDV. It’s also not supported by as many video editing programs, so editing AVCHD video on your computer is a bit more limited than it is for HDV. This type of camcorder can record video directly onto DVDs, memory cards, or in a built-in hard disk drive (HDD) – all depending upon the camcorder model. The potential advantage of HDD camcorders is that you can record many hours of HD video due to their huge memory capacities, whereas most miniDV tapes will only record an hour or less of HD content.
Do You Need an HDTV to View HD Videos?
The short answer to this question is “No”. Even if you don’t have an HDTV yet, you can still watch your HD videos from your HD camcorder on your standard-definition television. There’s a catch though: Viewing HD content on your standard-definition TV won’t take advantage of the HD resolution – in other words, you won’t actually be watching HD content. Furthermore, when watching videos taken with your HD camcorder on a standard-definition TV, you’ll notice black bars on the top and bottom of the picture which is due to the difference in aspect ratios (widescreen video vs. square television screen). Some camcorders will allow you to adjust the aspect ratio settings to avoid the black bars.
Getting the Right HD Camcorder for Your HDTV
If you already have an HDTV or plan on purchasing one in the future, try to match up your HD camcorder purchase with your HDTV. In other words, if you have a 720p HDTV, buy a 720p HD camcorder; if you have a 1080i HDTV, buy a 1080i HD camcorder…make sense?
The reason for this is simple: It allows you to take full advantage of your HD videos by watching them on an HDTV at the highest resolution levels possible. For example, if you have a 1080p HDTV and you decide to watch video taken with a 720p HD camcorder, the actual resolution that you’ll be watching on the HDTV is 720p – much lower resolution than the HDTV can handle. In this example, you’d be better off shopping for a 1080p HD camcorder in order to take advantage of your HDTV’s full resolution capabilities.
It’s by no means necessary to match up your HDTV and HD camcorder, but I recommend it. Pairing a 720p HD camcorder with a 1080p HTDV for example, will still allow you to watch HD-quality videos – it’s just that you’ll be viewing them in 720p instead of a possible 1080p.