Joining the High-Def Club
While I was an early member of the high-def club -- I got my HD Sony tube TV almost five years ago -- I was a relative latecomer to HD camcorders, finally ponying up this summer for a Canon Vixia HF11 AVCHD recorder when the rewind button on my old tape-based MiniDV camera stopped working.
While I'm extremely happy with my choice, the selection process was not easy. First, you have to decide between two competing HD video formats: AVCHD and HDV. Then, you need to determine the camera with the best image quality and other features for your budget.
Up till recently, HDV camcorders, which record using the MPEG-2 video compression scheme (also used by DVDs and some commercial Blu-ray discs), were considered the quality leaders. AVCHD camcorders, even though they use the more efficient MPEG-4 compression scheme, typically recorded at bit rates of 13-15Mbps, well below the maximum 24Mbps.
Even though AVCHD has the supreme advantage of recording to flash cards or hard drives, rather than MiniDV tape like HDV, videophiles stuck with HDV for the superior quality. Hence my dilemma. Should I go with the older and less-convenient (and less space-efficient) HDV standard to ensure the best image quality? Or should I go with AVCHD for its flash memory and correspondingly easy file transfers?
Serendipitously, almost the same week I needed to make my choice, Canon introduced three new camcorders that record at a full 1920x1080 and 24Mbps: the flash-based HF11, and the hard disk-based HG20 and HG21. No more compromise between image quality and convenience! My choice was suddenly made simple.
Equally important, just a couple weeks later, Creator 2009 shipped with full support for importing, editing and burning AVCHD video. (Toast 9 for Mac already had this capability, when partnered with the HD/BD Plug-In.)
Now, after five long years, my HD circle is finally complete: I can record HD on my new camcorder, edit and burn it with Creator or Toast, and then view it on my HDTV through my Sony PlayStation 3 with Blu-ray drive. I don't even need a Blu-ray recorder, thanks to the ability of both Creator 2009 and Toast 9 to burn HD video onto standard DVDs.
For more on the tradeoffs between HDV and AVCHD camcorders, check out my article on Future-Proof Video for PC World.