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Camcorder Formats Made Easy

Aug 19, 2007
MiniDV: Since its launch in 1966 miniDV has become the standard format for consumer and semi-professional camcorder users and is still the standard that other formats are judged by. The tape format produces the best picture quality and PCM stereo sound of CD quality and can record 60 minutes at the best quality.

MiniDV camcorders use tapes roughly the same size as a box of matches. This has enabled camcorder manufacturers, over the years, to reduce the size of the camcorders to their present 'pocket size'.

Recorded footage can be transferred from the miniDV camcorders by one of three different ways. Firstly as an composite analogue signal using composite AV leads, secondly as an S-video analogue signal and finally as a DV signal.

The DV signal is transferred using the DV-out port also known as a Firewire port, or IEEE1394 and also as i.Link and connected to your computer by a Firewire cable. When transferring your footage by this method there is no loss of quality in the picture and audio and this is what makes this format so popular.

Almost all miniDV camcorders have a DV-out port and better quality ones will have a DV-in port for transferring edited footage back to your camcorder. Although other formats are gaining in popularity miniDV still has plenty of life ahead of it yet and the camcorders are good value for money.

DVD: DVD is increasing in popularity and claiming a bigger slice of the market since its introduction in mid 2001. The main advantage of DVD camcorders is convenience. Record your footage to the disc, remove it and play it in your DVD player without the need for cables or connections.

DVD camcorders use 8cm discs in a variety of recordable formats. DVD-R is a single use disc, compatible with all DVD players and used by all camcorder manufacturers. DVD-RAM is a rewritable disc that offers in camera editing and supported by Hitachi and Panasonic. DVD-/+RW is another rewriteable format and is supported by Sony.

Originally there were disc compatibility issues with DVD players but most DVD players will now play a variety of discs and some camcorders offer multi format capability making them more flexible.

DVD camcorder performance has improved tremendously since its introduction but still has disadvantages. Discs can only record 18 minutes of best quality video and editing is not as easy as miniDV but for easy of use DVD format is a fine choice.

HDD: Hard disk drive is the latest format to be used in camcorders. Originally introduced by JVC but now promoted by other manufacturers. Hard drives are currently as large as 30GB and can store 35 hours in standard recording mode and up to seven hours in best quality mode.

HDD camcorders are yet to match the quality of miniDV camcorders but their performance is still impressive and no doubt will get better still. With virtually no moving parts HDD camcorders are very compact and could well replace miniDV as the main format.

One obvious failing with HDD camcorders is once the hard disk is full the footage must be downloaded or over written. This may not be a big problem unless you are on vacation for some time and away from your computer.

Memory Card: Camcorder manufacturers have been providing a digital stills function with their camcorders for some time now. The stills are recorded on a memory card of one sort or another which fit into a card slot in the camcorder. Cameras are now being offered that record video footage to memory cards

Memory cards are normally only 1GB so quickly fill up even though the video is stored in highly compressed MPEG4 format. A good supply of cards are required for any long recording. However this format is convenient for posting to the internet or sending via email. Due to the compression the picture quality is inferior to other formats.

As the video is stored to card or memory stick the memory card camcorders are generally the smallest type on the market and are suitable as a pocket camcorder. Ongoing developement has already lead to MPEG2 video format as used by DVD and HDD camcorders. The SDHC card has recently been developed offering sizes up to 32MB.
About the Author
Bruce Walls writes about using video on your website to increase traffic. You can read this article and more at WebsiteVideoGuide
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