Home Camcorder Digital Recording Formats

Hard drive and flash memory storage are starting to be seen more and more. Originally it was just the JVC, but now Sony and others are entering the field.

Sony is also about to introduce a full size 3” DVD-R/RW +R/RW unit that records HD in a proprietary format that can be viewed on Blu-ray players!

While these are exciting things, there are lots of drawbacks to these exotic formats that you don’t face with the traditional tape based storage of either the Mini DV-C or Sony Digital 8 mediums!

First things first, tapes cost $4-6 each and store 1 hour or more of either SD or HD camcorder full motion video. This means you can have a collection of tapes that will last for a good 3 – 10 years before they start curling and falling apart. By then we will see HD DVD and Blu-Ray set top and computer burners priced at $200! Right now these recording gems are closer to $3,000 and really designed for a commercial duplication company.

Right now the best price you can find on a 1 GB SD card is the PNY priced at around $40. Generally Lexar and Toshiba/San Disk cards are bit more at $50 to $60. The 2 GB cards are close to $90. That means you’re not going to have a collection of videos on little chips, not unless your rich!

SD cards generally hold between 20 and 40 minutes of SD or HD video per GB.

This means the price per minute $1 on a flash card versus 1 cent on tape!

Now, hard drive cameras are a nice idea, especially in SD format. Most can also record on flash memory cards (Sony is probably going to use their own Duo card, which costs almost twice the price of a PNY SD card which the JVC uses). You generally get 4 – 6 hours of super high quality or close to 10 hours of lower quality recording on these units, but you need to be able to off load them to other mediums, such as DVD R disks on a computer or set top recorder. Since DVD recorders are limited to 480 or possibly 500 lines of resolution this method is only practical for SD camcorders, as HD camcorders have a far larger picture area and greater theoretical resolution.

Your big, beautiful HD videos made in a hard drive camcorder when transferred to a standard DVD recorder, becomes a small SD image!

In order to put them on a computer in HD your need a very fast computer with very expensive software and there is still not method of burning an HD disk for less than $3,000 in the current era! So you get your 30 GB of HD movies off your 30 GB fixed hard drive camcorder and use up 30 GB of PC space so you can watch the movies on your 21” desk top or 19” lap top!

Kind of a waist for HD video!

Sony is planning to offer a 3” DVD (not a 2” mini one as found in most DVD camcorders) that uses all the plus and minus formats of DVD R/RW disks, however it is recorded in a special format that is only compatible with special DVD players (and Blu-Ray players will be compatible).

This format becomes ideal if you are or have bought into Blu-Ray technology.

There is, however, no way to edit such movies as the disk will probably not play in your home computer, unless it is Blu-Ray compatible and none currently meet this standard!

You can, however, probably transfer from the camcorder or Blu-Ray player to a PC with a capture card or I Link, if it is supported by the Blu-Ray or DVD Camcorder. Then you can edit and probably transfer back to the DVD camcorder, if it supports FireWire.

Some camcorders are using MPEG4, which is a very incompatible standard and not all capture or editing software supports MPEG4, unless the camcorder turns it (by conversion) into a more standard format like AVI.

This means, for example, those with Sanyo HD camcorders may face some problems.

Some software, such as the current version of Studio DeLuxe, do support MPEG 4.

I recently saw someone with one of those little $100 Aiptek units and they can’t view the videos on either their DVD player or computer, because it is in MPEG 4 format. You can, however, find some Codecs that will let some playback software view MP4 files.

So, MP4 is a drawback.

Most DVD camcorders use the more popular MP2 format, but still most capture and editing software likes AVI files, which are what DV-Mini tape based camcorders provide as an output.

It would be nice of these hard disk camcorders became “removable” instead of “fixed” disk units. While this might get expensive, paying $120 for 4 to 9 hours of video is far less in cost than paying $40 for 20 minutes of video with a flash card!

This is more like 25 to 50 cents per minute instead of $1 per minute.

At 1 cent per minute, tape based systems are still your best value.

You can save your tapes for the day with set top HD DVD or Blu-Ray burners become available. You can burn them to regular DVDs now, even though the size and quality drops. You can upload them to most fast computers now and work in HD for editing then send the image back to the camcorder for storage on a fresh $5 tape.

As of this writing in this era none of these recording systems offers anything totally fantastic and all have drawbacks. Tape can eventually have drop outs, be erased accidentally, plus it becomes brittle and shrinks with age.

The cost of the other media is just way too expensive!

Hard disks are prone to failure, bad sectors and can also be erased.

DVD disks can be scratched and the HD disks don’t play on all home units and currently they don’t play on any computer. By next year this may change if you buy a Sony based system.

Like it or not, tape is still the most economical and best format for storing digital videos!

This will certainly change in the next 4 to 5 years, but today it is reality.



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