Prices of high-definition camcorders have steadily been dropping as a result of competition and maturing of the technology. The competition is fierce as major electronic manufacturers such as Canon, Hitachi, JVC, Panasonic, Samsung, Sanyo and Sony are offering a variety of affordable high-definition camcorders.
Panasonic HDC-SD9 Camcorder
Selecting a model could have become a daunting task, but a casual browsing session over at the camcorder area in Costco turned out to be time well-spent as Panasonic's HDC-SD9 High-Definition model was available for $599.
Panasonic HDC-SD9 Camcorder
There was no question about buying this particular model when I learned that it was capable of recording video at the resolution of 1920x1080 and utilized SDHC memory as a storage medium.
The camcorder weighs a paltry 0.6 pounds and includes features like 10x variable speed zoom, a 2.7" wide LCD monitor (300,000 pixels), a Dolby Digital 5.1 channel microphone and still picture recording.
SDHC Flash Memory
Depending on the recording format, 8GB of SDHC memory provides the following video storage capability.
HA - 60 minutes - 17 Mbps/VBR/60i (highest quality)
HG - 80 minutes - 13 Mbps/VBR/24p
HX - 120 minutes - 9 Mbps/VBR/60i
HE - 180 minutes - 6 Mbps/VBR/60i (lowest quality)
Note that 16GB and 32GB SDHC memory cards are also out on the market.
The camera employs a Leica Dicomar lens and records in AVCHD format, which is a relatively new container format. Digital connections include High-Speed USB (2.0), Video Component and HDMI, which is useful for transferring audio and video directly to a high-definition TV. The HDMI connector is tucked away behind the battery compartment.
Accessories include an AC adapter, AC/DC cables, a Lithium-Ion battery pack, an infrared remote, assorted cables (with the exception of HDMI) and HD Writer 2.5E software.
Panasonic's HD Writer copies information on the camera's SDHC memory to the PC or other storage medium - like a a DVD. Note that under Window XP, HD Writer requires Service Pack 2. The software will not install under Service Pack 3, which we've already migrated to, so the program was installed under Windows Vista.
With the number of features this camcorder has, a causal review of the user manual was in order before we began recording. After a few trials, we were ready to put the camcorder to the test with an outdoor recording of a driving sequence using our "customized" 2003 Mustang.
The following screenshots are from various frames in the video clip, which is approximately 73 seconds long.
Video Clip Footage
Video Clip Footage
Panasonic's bundled HD Writer software offers a basic set of features although video output is limited to MPEG2 format, which is basically "DVD-quality".
Higher resolution outputs are possible by purchasing commerical video editing software. Although a trial version of Pinnalce's Studio Plus is bundled with the camcorder, we used TMPGEnc 4.0 XPress, which is recommended by nV News.
Pegasus recently announced a beta version of TMPGEnc 4.0 XPress that will utilitze NVIDIA's CUDA technology. With CUDA, video processing can be offloaded to the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), which can decrease the time it takes to encode a video clip when compared to a dual or quad-core processor.
The following video clips, encoded in various formats, were produced using the trial version of TMPGEnc 4.0 XPress.
MPEG1 is a widely accepted video format and is viewable with media player programs under Windows, Mac, and Linux. The native resolution of MPEG1 is 352x240. TMPGEnc 4.0 XPress allows higher resolutions to be encoded, which results in a progressive loss in quality as the resolution increases.
Beginning with 720x480, the video quality begins to degrade, although the the 720x480 clip is of higher quality than, of a camparison with the standard "YouTube" video clip.
At 720x480, MPEG2 targets a higher output resolution than MPEG1, which gave the entertainment industry a format to produce "DVD quality" video. The video clip encoded with the MPEG2 setting appears below. The 720x408 dimensions are in the same aspect ratio as the source video from the camcorder (1920/1080 = 1.777777778):
The Panasonic HDC-SD9 Camcorder is an ideal high-definition camcorder for the beginner video enthusiast as illustrated by the recordings we produced for this article. And we certainly qualify as beginners since this was the first camcoder that we have ever used!
One feature of the camera that need some work is the joystick, or the round button that is used for menu selections that are shown on the LCD screen. It makes menu navigation quite challenging.
As for the encoding results, the 720 formats look pretty good. The 1080 formats could be of better quality, which is an area that requires additional research. Another feature that needs to be tested is output directly to an HDTV as we are awaiting the arrival of an HDMI cable.
We've recorded a number of videos from NVIDIA's recent trade show NVISION 08, including a demonstration by The MythBusters. We plan to have them available for viewing soon! Check this forum thread out for some still shots.