Magazine Article


Video Camcorders Flash Forward

In the beginning, selling video camcorders was a no-brainer.

"Hi, I'd like to buy a video camcorder."

"Very good. Will that be a VHS or a Betamax?" And that, pretty much, was that.

Once VHS ousted its rival, the process became half a no-brainer, and things got pretty laid-back for a few years. Then video started its tap-dance.

A smaller 8mm format came out, and VHS responded with a smaller cassette called VHS-C. Soon enough Hi8 was touting the superiority of "highband" recording, their rivals touting similarly for S-VHS. After years of dormancy, camcorders were becoming subjects for discussion, debate, knowing-things-about again.

And they were all still analog. VHSC-format camcorders to this day are offered by JVC, among others. Sony's recent models include Digital8 models that are compatible with Hi8 tapes.

But it's been 11 years since the mini-DV videotape cassette took the spotlight, bringing the advantages of digital recording to consumer-friendly cassetized streaming media. The mini-DV cassette was a hit and left a trail of successes, from models for the kids all the way to eight-thousand-dollar humdingers made for the pro. It continues satisfying supporters today, including HD fans who use it for 1440x1080 Sony Handycams like the HDR-FX1.

Still, the past several years have seen the arrival of other recording media in video camcorders-hard-disk drives, minidisks, DVD, and flash memory like we use in digital still cameras. We used to debate recording format, now we get to debate recording medium as well.

The Alternate Universe

Not unexpectedly, the internet developed a taste for video. It took a few years, because bandwidth doesn't simply grow on trees. There could possibly be digital file formats more internet-friendly than the ones we'd been using. Like the .gif file format developed for still photos, new video formats might leave something lacking, compared to the best used previously. But what they brought was pretty good, and easier to pump through cyberspace.

With its populist guise, the internet was preordained to create phenomena like U-tube. It's not home movies anymore, folks, it's citizen-journalism, among other things-full-motion graffiti, a promotional cause, the next Citizen Kane. It's how the citizen enters the broadcasting process. It's as serious as blogging, and there's big money behind it.

And it's one of the forces directing video camcorder sales evermore.

Other related forces provide entirely different issues to ponder, including a new law of the land. Next year, broadcast goes digital. A new official infrastructure arrives with a new frame format-16:9.

So that which is in upheaval will continue to upheave, with no settling-down for awhile. Probably the first to shake-out will be the vast array of recording-media, for reasons that are simple enough: a machine that has no moving parts takes less power to run, and has less that can get broken. A camcorder that writes to a memory card dispenses with lots of moving parts, the power required to move them, and the space to put them in.

The Solid State of Video

There's nothing new about RAM recording in video. It was standard practice among sportscasters we knew in the late 1970s, perfect for instant replays-unlike videotape, it didn't have to be rewound, so the replay could be truly instant. But RAM was enormously expensive at the time, and video gobbles it up. Only short bursts could be planned for at those prices. Today's RAM recorder, sometimes referred to as the flash recorder, still costs more overall. But the price has come way down in twenty years, and the arguments in favor are persuasive.

It's been only a couple of months since Panasonic announced their first 32GB SDHC card. How much video it can hold depends on the recording format and how greatly it is compressed, but you could safely figure something around seven hours. The list price of the card initially was $699, bringing the cost of "recording media" to about $100/hr. That's the equivalent of spending $100 per cassette for mini-DV tape. Most people would probably consider that ten times the price that video recording ought to cost.

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