1. The death of MiniDV
It’s been with us for over a decade, and revolutionised video by making it digital. But the MiniDV format’s end is nearly nigh. Manufacturers are already ramping down their MiniDV ranges considerably, with just a few models left. Now that the alternative recording formats are coming of age, the reasons to choose MiniDV in 2008 are fast disappearing.
2. HD becomes the norm
Sony brought high definition to consumers back in 2005, and continued to lead the way for the next couple of years. But Canon, Panasonic, JVC and others have well and truly caught up now. The MPEG-4 AVC H.264-based AVCHD format predominates, but as usual JVC likes to be different, and is soldiering on with its own MPEG-2 format.
With all this competition, prices are dropping fast and a few models are now available for under £600, or even under £500 in a couple of cases. So just as non-HDTVs are starting to become a false economy, HD camcorders have become very affordable and look likely to dominate by the end of the year.
3. HD gets the Full Monty
The first HD camcorders used the HDV2 format, which records at a resolution of 1,440 x 1,080 to reduce the data rate. With the more efficient AVCHD, however, frame size is less of an issue. So manufacturers are starting to offer Full HD instead, with a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080. However, not all flavours of Full HD are created the same. Most versions are actually still using interlaced fields, although a few true progressive camcorder models are starting to filter through, such as Panasonic’s HDC-SD9 and HS9.
Some manufacturers are even using the term when only the sensor offers a 1,920 x 1,080 resolution, while the recording format remains at 1,440 x 1,080. Watch out for the Full HD label on the latest camcorders, but be sure to read the details to find out what this really means.
4. The DVD camcorder spins off
It sounded like a good idea. Simply take the media straight out of your camcorder, stick it in your DVD player, and watch. But with DVD camcorders offering less than half an hour of footage on a single disc at their top quality settings, one convenience is outweighed by another, greater inconvenience. We don’t want to carry around a bagful of media anymore, and the DVD camcorder still makes you do that. Hard disk and Flash Memory models win hands down here.
With the high definition versions, you don’t even get the convenience of being able to slip the discs into your set-top player, as most of them don’t support AVCHD. So although DVD camcorders are now very affordable, they’re not as convenient as they first appear. In 2008, alternative formats will be holding more of the cards.
5. The format wars hot up
It never seemed like a good idea to stick a hard disk in something you carry around in your hands, or wear dangling round your neck. But hard disk-based camcorders have shown what digital camcorders have been offering for some years now: the chance to say goodbye to that bag full of tapes (or film rolls, in the case of cameras). A few hours of video storage is enough for most people’s holidays, and the capacity of most hard disk camcorders is more than sufficient for that.
But now an 8GB SDHC card costs around £25, and Panasonic will be bringing out a 32GB version in April. MemoryStick is still more expensive than SDHC, but not extortionately so. With Flash Memory formats offering much smaller, lighter camcorders, and approaching the capacity of hard disks, the gloves will be out between Flash and hard disk recording formats in 2008.
6. More electronic wizardry
Alongside the format wars, a new conflict is brewing. First Sony announced it was bringing its Face Detection system to new 2008 models such as the HDR-SR12. Now Panasonic has launched models with similar technology, the HDC-SD9 and HS9. Shooting video is quite a bit more complicated than snapping photos, and many of us need all the help we can get to do it properly.
Panasonic has also added an Intelligent Shooting Guide, which provides advice as you shoot. Expect other manufacturers to offer similarly helpful functions in an attempt to make camcorders less frightening for the novice.