HOME Technology Nov 2006
Digital video format shift
Hard disk and DVD dominate
There’s a major format shift going on in the video camera market as manufacturers ease away from MiniDV-based recording to hard disk, memory card and direct to DVD.

A further shift to the ‘high definition’ standard is imminent as TV manufacturers and now video camera vendors, push high definition product in preparation for new digital broadcasting standards.

Meanwhile, DVD-based cameras are moving to the forefront of the market once dominated by magnetic tape, with Sony and Panasonic leading the fray. Consumers don’t seem to mind the additional investment. An entry level single chip DV camera can be purchased for around $600 while the equivalent DVD-based or hard disk cameras can be $800 – $1500.

DVD-based cameras enable you to record direct to disk and then play back immediately on your home DVD player. You can name each segment of film rather than having to rewind and fast forward to find your footage. The same applies to hard disk based cameras now available from several major brand names including Sony, Panasonic and JVC with 30Gb to 60Gb (7-14 hours recording time) for between $1500 – $2500.

The quality of the image you are capturing has a lot to do with the CCD (charge coupled device) or computer chip that manages and processes colour separation. Single chip cameras have to sort out red, green and blue through one filter while three chip (3CCD) cameras have dedicated processors.

Single chip cameras are fine for casual and home movie use. Higher definition is required if you want more defined colour and sufficient pixels to rival professional TV footage.

MiniDV tapes still offer higher quality than 8cm DVD-based media which cost about $20 each for 2.4Gb capacity. In fact ‘broadcast quality’ 3CCD MiniDV cameras still make up around 45 percent of sales and sell for $1800 – $3000.

The best buying advice is to start with brands that have a proven reputation including Sony, Panasonic, Canon, JVC, Toshiba and Sharp. The camera must sit comfortably and steadily in your hand so it’s easy for you to operate all the controls. Most modern cameras will give you 12 x or up to 32 x optical zoom which gives you actual magnification as opposed to digital zoom which only accentuates available pixels.

Some video cameras double as a still camera but you’ll need at least 4Mpixels for a quality photograph. A memory card slot is fairly standard for downloading still photos to your computer, and with a high enough capacity you can shoot film on this as well.

A back-up memory card (512Mb minimum), like extra film, will ensure you have enough space to shoot heaps of photos. A back up battery will give you extra shooting time if the event you’re covering takes longer than expected. A pivoting LCD screen is also helpful, allowing you to clearly view what you’re filming even at strange angles and to play back what you’ve shot. You might also like to check if the camera is capable of filming in the new widescreen 16.9 format.

Most cameras come with a basic editing package and drivers to connect your camera to a PC or laptop. For serious film editing you will need to ensure your camera has a FireWire or USB2 (universal serial bus) port for speedy download.

Just as new flat screen TVs are starting to push the boundaries out to high definition, so the latest generation of video cameras is gearing for the new quality output standard. For example Panasonic and Sony have both launched HDTV cameras that film at extremely high resolution, starting at around $2700.

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