Film / TV



New DVD camcorders make filming easier

May 20, 2004

BERLIN — For some people, parties and barbecues are synonymous with pulling out the video camera. Following the success of analogue formats like Super 8 and VHS, home video enthusiasts now have several options in using a digital format to film friends and relatives for posterity.

DVD camcorders can write directly to eight-centimetre diameter blank DVDs. The advantage of these systems: the films are immediately archived onto DVD and can be viewed on a standard DVD player hooked up to a television.

"Anyone looking to pick up a camcorder nowadays should definitely choose a digital device," advises Markus Bautsch, project leader for entertainment electronics at the German consumer testing organisation Stiftung Warentest.

"The quality is significantly better than for analogue models," he adds.

There are a variety of systems from which to choose. In addition to DVD devices, there are also digital camcorders that record onto digital video cassettes (DV), mini-DVs and micro-MVs, or onto storage cards.

The most widely available devices are those using mini-DVs. DVD camcorders are currently offered only from three manufacturers: Sony, Panasonic and Hitachi.

The major advantage of the DVD devices is direct access to the recordings, Bautsch indicates.

"You can simply insert the DVD disc into a player or computer." When working with other systems, the signal must be transmitted from camera to the computer or television via a cable or Bluetooth connection.

Additionally, viewing and editing a film is done directly on the appropriate part of the DVD. "There's no need to erase the tape," Bautsch says.

"This means that there is almost no degradation or loss of quality," confirms Carsten Landshoeft, product and marketing manager at Hitachi.

Hitachi has brought two new models onto the market this year: the DZ-MV550E and the DZ-MV580E.

Both cameras allow amateur filmmakers to swap faceplates for a different look, as with cell phones, and are distinguishable from one another largely through the built-in video chips that convert the images into digital signals.

The 580E model offers a million pixels, the 550E only 800,000.

The cameras from Sony and Panasonic offer roughly this same resolution.

As with DVD recorders, different cameras offer different writing formats. The camcorders from Hitachi and Panasonic record in RAM- and in -R-format, while the devices from Sony use the -r- and -RW- standard. RAM-and -RW- DVDs can be rerecorded several times, unlike the -R- blanks.

"The advantage of DVD-RAM is its 'fragmental recording," says Landshoeft. This means that new recordings are put onto free space on the DVD as if onto a hard drive.

"Long recordings can be cut into pieces without creating problems when playing them back later," he says. This means that there is more space on the blank.

"The relatively short recording times are a big knock on DVD camcorders," says Warentest's Bautsch.

"After 15 or 20 minutes, the DVD has to be turned over or swapped out." Those willing to record at a low quality can achieve as much as 60 minutes from most of the cameras.

The recordings can be edited directly on the camera. This doesn't necessarily mean that the original is changed.

"As a general rule, you are creating play lists," says Philipp Heintzenberg, product manager for Panasonic.

The manufacturer's VDR-M50EG-S and VDR-M70EG-S models, due to hit the market in June, represent the second generation of DVD camcorder. The play list is used to establish the order of scenes during playback.

"Scenes can also be split up, moved around, or deleted," says Heintzenberg. This means that one full capture of a family event can be converted into dozens of different personalised films.

For the Sony machines, this means that amateur filmmakers must decide before starting the recording whether they will want to edit the film right there on the camera.

"This only works with the video recording mode and a -RW- DVD," says Sony's Markus Nierhaus. Sony is introducing three new models: DCR-DVD91, DCR-DVD101, and DCR-DVD201.

Among the expected improvements is an increased picture quality on the monitor: "The images will be visible even in strong sunlight, and there is an additional recording button on the display."

As with current DVD camcorders from other manufacturers, the Sony models can be connected to a computer using a speedy USB 2.0 port.

The films can then be further edited using software that comes with the camera.

"This is much more comfortable than editing right on the camera," says Warentest's Bautsch.

"If the DVD camcorder is connected to a computer, it can also serve as an external DVD drive and burner," says Heintzenberg.

Other data from the computer can be stored alongside edited films on the DVD blanks.

All DVD camcorders can take snapshots alongside the moving pictures. The Sony models allow them to be recorded on DVD, while the Hitachi and Panasonic machines record them onto SD storage cards.

The quality of pictures taken using a camcorder are not comparable to those from a digital camera, indicates Warentest's Bautsch. They are a big step up from cell-phone pictures, though.

For a first purchase, Bautsch recommends that newcomers check out mini DV cameras. However, they have one major disadvantage compared to DVD camcorders: The cassettes can only be played on the camera, and then transferred to a television or computer. –Sapa-DPA

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