Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Time to Move to HD Video Cameras

The sound of "Taps" you hear faintly emanating from your TV is for the end of the analog television era. It started with Herbert Hoover and ended with a giant thunk, as TV stations yanked the power supply breakers on their high power analog transmitters. Off to the recycler they go. With them should go the 4:3 video format. Yet, it eerily persists.

Flip MinoHD high definition personal video camera with elephant "skin". Click for details.If you watch TV throughout the day, you'll notice that many program still have the black windowpane bands on either side of the picture. That includes everything from network shows to local newscasts. Odd, isn't it? Analog transmission is gone, but the programming is still analog.

Actually, the programming itself may well be digital in nature as it comes from the distributor. All satellite TV and an increasing amount of Cable programming is digital. What is changing more slowly is a move from the analog 4:3 aspect ratio to the new digital 16:9 wideband aspect ratio. Nearly all TVs being sold have 16:9 screens. So do many laptop computers and desktop displays. At some point 16:9 screens will be all you can buy for any application.

The reason that 4:3 programming persists is that so many viewers still have their old TV sets connected to converter boxes, satellite receivers and Cable TV set-top converters. To them, it's like nothing has changed. But it will, as the number of people with HDTV and HD computer screens grows, while 4:3 programming is replaced by 16:9 programming. When people with the older sets start seeing a majority of their programs with black bands top and bottom, called letterboxing, and those with new sets see the side bands disappear, replaced by full screen programs, the tipping point will have been reached.

The same is true for video you make yourself. Camcorders have used the 4:3 aspect ratio to be compatible with standard TV sets and computer screens. Now that we're in a wholesale upgrade to digital TVs with their 16:9 screens, it's time to be considering HDTV for your next video camera. Fortunately, that doesn't have to mean spending a fortune just to get a clearer picture that fills the screen without having to stretch it one way or another.

Consider the Flip Video MinoHD solid state camcorder. This is a HDTV compatible camcorder that fits in your pocket or conceals in your hand at just under 4 x 2 inches, and a little over half and inch thick. It records up to 60 minutes of HD quality video on its internal 4 GB of memory. No hard disk, no CD ROMs, no tapes. Actually, nothing mechanical at all.

But is it really HD? Yes. The MinoHD has a resolution of HD 720p (1280 x 720, 16:9 widescreen) at 30 fps (constant frame-rate) using progressive scan, not interlaced. Flip out the USB connector and download your HD video to your editing software on a PC or a Mac. You can preview video directly on a TV, but it will be in standard composite video format, not HDTV.

The more sophisticated Flip UltraHD camera has a built-in HDMI connector that you can plug right into your HD television to watch HD video with no computer involved.

Of course, there is a wealth of high definition camcorder offerings that give you additional features such as optical zoom, 1080P HD video, longer recording times, image stabilization and larger viewing screens. It's a tradeoff of size, features and cost, much like anything else electronic.

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