Not only does Sanyo's new HD1000 record true 1920 x 1080i HD video to high capacity SD cards but it offers a host of features that other manufacturers seem intent on dropping. Even Panasonic's SD5 AVCHD camera has ditched features such as a microphone input and headphone output that made the previous model, the SD1, such a good buy. What you do get is a cam with more features than you can shake a stick at and which gives a surprising level of manual control - even for a new user.
Given that we're now experiencing an explosion in the number of 'Full' HD camcorders entering the market (to the extent that we're witnessing the rapid decline of standard definition video in all its forms), it's clear that HD is where it's at.
It is also necessary to accept that, for many new users, there's a requirement for no-nonsense products that record images and audio that do justice to any HDTV display, even when working in fully auto mode. That's precisely the market at which the HD1000 is aimed.
As with all Xacti models, the HD1000 bears no similarity to any other brand of camcorder on the market, and perhaps that's why it's so distinctive. According to Sanyo, its pistol-grip design is based on extensive collaborative research with Japan's Chiba University, and its 'lens-to-grip' angle is optimised to minimise strain on those muscle groups used during recording and playing back. Does it succeed? We'll see.
With the exception of the mic input and headphone output, the DC power supply socket, USB, component digital/AV and all-important HDMI connections are on the docking station, which keeps the camcorder small while allowing unhindered access to the essential recording and playback controls, and enables all such connections to remain in situ when the camera is being used elsewhere.
Most of the HD1000's operating features are clustered around a main barrel that includes the 10x optical (100x digital) zoom at the font and main control cluster at the rear. A flash light and accessory shoe are concealed by plastic covers at the upper front and rear respectively, with the generous 2.7in widescreen LCD shutting flush into the hand-grip.
The HD1000 uses the increasingly popular MPEG4/AVC H.264 system to compress images and sound onto SD (and SDHC) storage media, but it's not the AVCHD standard as used by Sony, Panasonic and Canon, even if the codec looks the same - and it doesn't handle in the same way either, as we'll find out.
In operational terms, the control button cluster at the rear of the camera gives access to all its movie and stills recording and playback capabilities. You're given a Simple mode in which you're offered a minimal range of options: Full Auto or manual operation of picture size (HD or SD), Focus and White Balance, and a Normal mode, which provides a comprehensive set of manual overrides. The Menu button is the gateway to a range of options, with a joystick providing navigation and item selection.
It's easy to take control of focus, exposure, white balance and shutter speeds, in addition to things like manual audio control and even a modest but useful set of video filters. Users are given the option of manually linking exposure to shutter speed (Aperture Priority) or vice-versa (Shutter Priority) in addition to independent manual control of either, with an onscreen graphic display showing settings as changes are made.
In addition to the usual full set of Program AE settings - ranging from Sports and Portrait right through to Fireworks and Lamp settings, you're also given several white balance presets, such as Sunny, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent and One Push. In all cases, the menu is easy to navigate and make selections from - even while recording.
Insert a high capacity SD card (SDHC Class 6, preferably) into the slot at the rear of the handgrip, put the cam into Auto mode, record a few video clips in good light outdoors and play them back via HDMI (cable not supplied) or component digital (cable supplied) on a High Definition TV display and you'll be knocked out by the quality.
Shooting outdoors in optimum light the four megapixel (stills) CMOS image device produces an HD movie resolution of 3.56MP - and 2.18MP in standard definition movie mode. Although 1080 line frames use interlacing, there's minimal evidence of this even on fast movement, such is the ability of the CMOS chip.
It should be noted that no SD card is supplied with the product, but you can expect to save up to 85 minutes of Full HD (1920 x 1080i) movie clips onto a single 8GB SDHC card - and bear in mind that 16GB cards are now available too.
Even in darkish corners indoors, the single CMOS chip turns in quite respectable quality images, though the autofocus evidently struggles on occasion. Although Sanyo claims an effective macro capability with this 10x optical zoom lens, it's not nearly as good as that of its nearest competitor - and that's the Panasonic HDC-SD5.
Overall the image resolution, colour control and contrast ratio are all extremely good, and particularly so when you are recording under manual control. Without a doubt, playback via HDMI is excellent, and marginally better than the SD5.
Long battery life
Manipulating the controls with the right thumb and forefinger while recording is clunky and impedes stability when recording, which calls into question the research we referred to previously, but it's a neat device, especially when used in conjunction with the docking station. The supplied battery provided over two hours recording in Full HD mode, and offers the capability of 275 minutes in playback mode.
Supplied with the camcorder is a collection of software that incorporates Ulead DVD MovieFactory 5SE and Nero 7 Essentials. Despite supposedly successful installations, we couldn't get past the, 'No capture driver is available in the system' pop-up on two different Windows PCs when attempting to import and compile video clips via USB.
On a new Intel iMac (one that quite happily works with AVCHD files in iMovie '08) all the imported MPEG4 files were faulty - even though they played back perfectly on a
direct HDMI connection to an HDTV display. Could this be related to the fact that the HD1000 records at 60Hz and not the 50Hz we require in the UK? An editing program set for 25fps PAL will not edit clips with a frame rate of 29.97fps. And they're hoping that complete newcomers will use this?
Import, editing and DVD creation issues apart, it's a great camcorder that does everything it says on the box. HD pictures are fabulous and the feature set will undoubtedly put some competitors on the defensive. It's just a pity they've made a pig's ear of the software bundled with it.