Buyer's Guide 2008: Hi-Def Camcorders

Record your life in pro resolution at a comsumer price

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With a number of high-definition digital camcorders now on the market, it’s time to get up to speed on what to look for. Here, you’ll find a selection of what’s being offered, plus tips on how to get the best out of your purchase. High definition isn’t just limited to HDTV, Blu-ray or HD DVD. Manufacturers are now designing camcorders aimed at consumers that will digitally capture video in HD resolution. It’s not just for the pros anymore.

High definition refers to any video system of higher resolution than standard definition (SD). This is usually measured in the number of horizontal lines in the image. HD on camcorders today is either 720p (720 lines of resolution) or 1080i (1080 lines of resolution). Each format delivers a pleasing 16:9 “widescreen” aspect ratio.

There’s much nit-picking over which format is better. As you may have noticed, 1080 has an “i” attached to it, meaning the image captured is interlaced. Basically, each frame that you see in this format is split into two half-frames of 540 lines that flash an instant before the next 540 lines are seen. This is all done so quickly (usually at 1⁄60 of a second for each half-frame) that the human eye doesn’t notice the two fields.

The “p” in 720p refers to progressive frames. This is the exact opposite scenario, where every frame contains all the information at once. In essence, both formats deliver crisp, sharp detail, and you’ll be hard pressed to see any difference between the two.

Choosing the right recording medium may come down to the most economical choice. DVD is popular because of its ease and efficiency. You can instantly play back and access specific scenes. Camcorder DVDs are smaller than regular DVDs and fit in the body of the camcorder (around 3 1⁄4 inches in diameter). Recording times range from 20 to 60 minutes, depending on the recording quality that you choose.

Camcorders with hard drives are the latest and the most versatile units available today. These flexible solid-state units have no moving parts like those of tape or disc-based systems. Usually a noiseless medium, these camcorders come with large memories on board, usually around 40 GB.

Flash-based HD camcorders are also beginning to gain ground, recording video to flash memory cards that hold up to 8 GB of storage. These cards are plentiful and cheap to purchase.

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