Skip to main content

Sanyo Xacti HD1 review

Could this be the blueprint for future camcorders?

TechRadar Verdict

A potentially ground-breaking camcorder, the HD is severely compromised by its mediocre performance

Pros

  • +

    HD ready

    External sound devices

    Features

    Handling

    Design

Cons

  • -

    Poor video

    Performance

Two developments will influence the future development of camcorders. The first will be solid-state memory, which will eventually replace tapes and discs. The second is high-definition video. We've seen tape-based HD cams from Sony, and their visuals are little short of amazing when viewed on a HD-Ready TV. What a shame they're so bulky and expensive.

Enter the compact Xacti HD from Sanyo, a company that doesn't automatically make you think camcorders. Looking more like an electric shaver - and just as comfortable to handle - the HD combines memory-card storage (a 2GB SD card is supplied) with the ability to shoot video at a progressively-scanned 280x720 (720p). There's also the ability to shoot standard-def video (640x480 in this case) or JPEG still images.

Video and photos alike can be viewed on a flip-out 2.2in organic LED screen that also acts as a viewfinder. Supplied with the HD is a docking station, which can be plugged into an HD-Ready TV's component-video input for big-screen viewing. A second cable is provided for standard video. As an alternative, the docking station can be connected to a PC via a USB port.

The HD may be small, but the all-important 5.-megapixel CCD image-sensor benefits from a 0x optical zoom. This is operated with a slider control on the back of the unit. Buttons to the left and right of this snap photos or start/stop video recording. Underneath this is a slider that switches between recording and playback.

A joypad-like device intuitively selects content for playback, and operates the sensibly-designed menu system that configures the unit. Among the options on offer are exposure and shutter-speed selection, white-balance adjustment, six AE presets, an electronic image-stabiliser, manual-focus, macro, ND filter, sequential still-photography, self-timer and flash modes.

A button on the side of the HD switches between HD and SD ('normal') shooting modes. In the menus, users can set the quality for each. Two HD options are provided: 9Mbps and 6Mbps, both of which capture in 6:9 and employ a refresh rate of 30fps. Using higher bitrates should result in better quality, at the expense of storage capacity.

Perfect picture

In the 9Mbps setting, a minute of video will consume around 65MB. All HD-Ready TVs can deal with this video. Then there are the four SD presets. For digital stills the HD is furnished with a choice of six image resolutions. Audiowise, the HD captures 28kbps stereo sound with microphone capsules built into the back of the LCD screen - which faces the scene when the screen is flipped out.

To reduce handling and wind- noise, a filter can be engaged. Interestingly, Sanyo has made provision for an external microphone. Audio-only recording is also suitably supported. We were impressed with the design and usability of the HD, and with the exception of Sanyo's choice of video refresh-rates there's plenty in the cam's favour as far as features and functionality are concerned.

The HD is also capable of taking decent-quality photos under good lighting conditions. Unfortunately, the video quality lets it all down. Unless there's plenty of light, camera-grain throws the MPEG4 encoding process into a digital fizz - regardless of whether you're using the 6Mbps or 9Mbps mode. Such artefacting masks the enhanced detail that is the whole point of HD.

And that's with a fairly static shot; pans are so noisy and juddery that they're nearly useless. All of the elements of a forward-thinking camcorder are there, but it seems that the Sanyo Xacti HD is just too ahead of its time. This is a real shame, because a resilient and pocket-sized HD-capable device would appeal to many. Were Sanyo to address the video, it could have a world-beater on its hands. But as it stands, the HD is little more than an expensive toy with no or little serious filmmaking potential.

Tech.co.uk was the former name of TechRadar.com. Its staff were at the forefront of the digital publishing revolution, and spearheaded the move to bring consumer technology journalism to its natural home – online. Many of the current TechRadar staff started life a Tech.co.uk staff writer, covering everything from the emerging smartphone market to the evolving market of personal computers. Think of it as the building blocks of the TechRadar you love today.