Magazine Article


Video Camcorders Flash Forward

Disregarding the fact that the price of memory keeps getting lower, there are other factors that make the price of flash video less formidable. One is that although it's technically possible to erase and reuse a videotape, most people don't. The custom in video is to leave the original tapes intact-they don't cost very much to replace, remember?-and, should editing be required, download from tape to a computer for the purpose.

The custom with flash memory, in the photography arena anyway, is to download the memory card to the computer, back it up, then reformat the card and put it back in the camera. We see no reason why this tradition should not carry over to video. And when that's the case, the same memory card keeps getting reused-so whatever the price paid for "recording media" is paid only once for flash video. Depending upon how much a given customer shoots, he breaks-even on the price of media sooner or later, then the savings begin.

So, although there's presently a big difference in the up-front cost of recording media, comparing flash to videotape, a couple of different factors are liable to conspire to reduce that difference over a period of time. Once that happens, you're left with the all-plus features of lower power consumption and reduced physical vulnerability that a solid-state device brings with it. Outline that to your customer, and flash video won't look so pricey.

Legacy Video

Canon expects flash to be the dominant video recording medium by 2010, according to Mitchell Glick, manager, product marketing, Canon Video Division. Besides a decline in price, Glick foresees a swell in camera-card capacity. The arpeggio of numbers he presented to us ended at 500GB for SDHC cards, but only because we gasped.

"That's the one big feature HDD has over the other media alternatives," says Glick, whose line includes camcorders that write to flash, to HDD, to DVD, and to mini-DV. "You can get 60, 80, 120-gigabyte drives" which could keep most people shooting for a week. Compared to streaming tape, HDD systems permit nonlinear playback and editing (you still have to fast-forward or rewind on tape), a virtue shared by flash.

Quite a few camcorders from various makers are defined as "hybrid," able to record on both HDD and SDHC. These may be among the most lasting values on today's market, carrying the customer through the crossover point where flash capacity meets or exceeds HDD, while price continues downward. Future models may be able to record HD video to flash-you'll find hybrids on today's market that can do HD on HDD, but only standard definition on SDHC.

Camcorders writing directly to DVD have the advantage of immediate playback in the nearest DVD player. This probably relegates it to the immediate-gratification, let's-have-a-party set whose home theater isn't far from the pool. There's a place for it, though in HD sales industrywide, it's been reported that DVD camcorders represent less than 2% of camcorders.

What Is A Format?

One of the reasons so much AVCHD video can be recorded on a given expanse of media is how it's compressed. Like the MPEG-4 at its foundation, the format produces something other than complete frames in the recording, obviating the ability to do frame-accurate editing. A co-development of Sony and Panasonic, AVCHD might be expected to appear in a lot of places. It is, at the moment, one of the enablers of HD movie-making in consumer camcorders.

Since broadcast TV is a different creature than home video, the laws mandating widescreens don't apply to private camcorders. The industry expects the whole video (and computer) world to go 16:9 eventually, but not overnight. We're in transition, and there's a certain amount of wiggle-room to accommodate it.

It's tempting to think of AVCHD as "a format," but it's really more of a process. It can be applied to pictures of various sizes, and a quick scan of the literature finds frames measuring 1080x720, 1440x1080, and 1920x1080 pixels all termed "AVCHD." Be prepared for the customer who's heard of one or two, but not all, and be prepared to clarify.

Though AVCHD is ubiquitous, other video formats are offered as well-JVC bestows MPEG-2 upon a number of HDD models. This is a more of a frame-accurate editing medium, better suited to carefully crafted productions.

Canon's Glick foresees evolution in AVCHD that will make it equally editable, but for now it's for users for whom frame-accuracy is unnecessary.

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-C or a Digital8 or a mini-DV or a DVD or an HDD or an SDHC? In AVCHD or MPEG-2? For editing or not, for the internet or not, widescreen or standard?" And that, pretty much, is it nowadays. The first step to closing the sale is finding exactly what the customer wants to buy, and there's so much now to choose from.