A Beginner's Guide to HD Camcorders

What you need to know about high definition camcorders before you buy.

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High definition (HD) camcorders are a natural fit for the growing number of HDTVs in living rooms across the country. Prices on HD camcorders continue to drop, while more and more camcorder manufacturers are expanding the number of HD models they carry.

Want to know which HD camcorders top our list? Click here.

What's the Difference Between Standard Definition and HD Camcorders?

Much like televisions, the difference between standard definition and HD camcorders is the video resolution.

The video you see on your television or computer screen is made up of hundreds of different lines. Standard definition video will have 480 horizontal lines of resolution whereas high-definition video can have up to 1,080. The more lines of resolution you have, the sharper your video will look.

There are three main resolutions of HD video available: 1080p, 1080i, and 720p. Most HD camcorders on the market record in either 720p or 1080i resolution.

What's the Difference Between 1080i, 1080p, and 720p Video?

The main difference between the three is how way they record video. The “p” at the end of 1080p and 720p stands for "progressive scan." The “i” at the end of 1080i stands for interlaced.

Interlaced Video: Typical standard definition video is interlaced video, as is 1080i. In interlaced video, your camcorder will record every other line of resolution. It would start by showing lines one, three and five and then follow later with lines two, four, and six.

Progressive Scan Video: Progressive scan video records each line of video in order without skipping any lines. So it would start first with line one and work its way all the way to line 1080. Progressive scan video typically looks better than its interlaced counterpart with fast-motion video (like sports).

What is “Full HD”?

Full HD is a marketing term that refers to camcorders that record in 1920 x 1080 resolution. In general, you’ll get sharper video from camcorders that record at 1920 x 1080 than you would from a 720p model.

What is AVCHD?

AVCHD refers to high definition video format used by Sony, Panasonic and Canon, among others. It's a way to compress and save high definition video onto digital storage media like hard disk drives and flash memory cards. For more information on the AVCHD format, please see this Guide to the AVCHD Format.

What Kinds of HD Camcorders are Available?

HD camcorders come in all shapes, sizes and price points from all of the major camcorder manufacturers. You can find low cost, “pocket” models for under $200 and fully-featured, advanced camcorders for $1,500, and everything in between. In fact, a lot of today's smartphones are recording in 1080p (that is, Full HD). Currently there are consumer high-definition camcorders available that record video onto MiniDV tapes, mini-DVDs, hard disk drives, flash memory and Blu-ray discs.

Any Downsides to HD Camcorders?

While the higher quality video is definitely a plus, it also presents a few challenges. The biggest is where to store it.

HD video files are much larger than standard definition video files. That means your camcorder mediaSDHC card, hard disk drive, tape, DVD, etc. – will fill up faster with an HD camcorder.

See this Guide to Camcorder Memory Formats for more details on the various camcorder memory types.

Because you’re dealing with larger video file sizes, HD video will also put greater demands on your computer. Some older computers with less processing power won’t be able to display HD video. Others will play it back, but slowly and with plenty of frustrating pauses.