A Guide to the Different Types of HD Camcorders

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

Canon VIXIA HF R72 HD camcorder with 32X optical zoom

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

Below is a short guide on HD camcorders, with the difference between standard and high definition quality camcorders, the video resolutions supported by camcorders, and more.

SD vs HD Camcorders

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

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

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

1080i vs 1080p vs 720p Video

The main difference between the three is how they record video. The “p” at the end of 1080p and 720p stands for "progressive scan." The “i” following 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 starts by showing lines one, three, and five and then later follows 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 when it comes to fast-motion video (like with sports).

What is Full HD and AVCHD?

Full HD is a marketing term that refers to camcorders that record in 1920x1080 resolution. In general, you’ll get sharper video from camcorders that record at this resolution than you would with a 720p model.

AVCHD (Advanced Video Codec High Definition) refers to a 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.

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 full-featured, advanced camcorders for $1,500, and everything in between.

In fact, a lot of today's smartphones are recording in 1080p. This eliminates the need to even have a dedicated camcorder, especially if you don't need to record video for anything other than this or that event, or for fun.

Currently, there are consumer high-definition camcorders available that record video onto MiniDV tapes, mini-DVDs, hard drives, flash memory, and Blu-ray discs.

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 media (SDHC card, HDD, tape, DVD, and other memory formats) will fill up faster with an HD camcorder.

Because you’re dealing with larger video file sizes, HD video will also put greater demands on your computer. Some older systems 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.

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