Intro to Video Formats: Part 4 – High Definition or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace Digital

Within the past few years high definition has become more commonplace than ever before. HD televisions are constantly dropping in price as well as getting better in terms of image quality and design. The same is occuring within the consumer camcorder market.

The obvious advantage of a high definition camcorder is that it is able to record and display video at more than double the resolution of a standard definition camcorder – depending on the camcorder, of course. SD (standard definition) video displays 480 horizontal lines of resolution at any given time. HD video can display up to 1080 horizontal lines of resolution at any point.

Within the consumer camcorder market there are two types of resolution currently available – 720p and 1080i. 1080i sounds better, right? Not really. If we were talking still photo resolution that would be the case but with video it’s a different story. The “i” and “p” come into play when we start talking about motion. The “i” stands for interlaced. When recording or playing video that’s interlaced the display (or camcorder) assigns each alternating line of resolution into odds and evens. It first displays the odd lines and then the even lines – each line being refreshed 30 times per second. This is occuring so fast that the human eye is not able to percieve the lag time. If you pause interlaced video you’ll see what the video industry justly calls “jaggies”*.

The “p” stands for progressive. Progressive video refreshes the entire picture 30 times a second. This type of video will alway produce smoother motion.

Many of the newer LCD and plasma televisions will display at 1080p but, as of this writing, there aren’t many consumer camcorders on the market that can record at that resolution.

Now let’s get into the fun stuff. Depending on what type of high def camcorder you purchase there are different types or “formats” of video that it might record in. A HD MiniDV camcorder will record in a format called HDV. HDV is the eldest of the HD crowd and is widely compatible with different types of editing software.

AVCHD is the most popular of the compression formats and is used in almost all non-cassette format camcorders. Though AVCHD may be the future of high-def video there are still many improvements that need to be made. It is still very unfriendly when it comes to editing software and certain types of computer systems. Always double check your software and system specifications before investing in this type of high-def camcorder.

MPEG-2 Transport Stream is a format that is currently used exclusively in JVC camcorders. The image quality is somewhat poor comparted to it’s AVCHD competition.

AVC/H.264 MPEG-4 is only used in certain Samsung and Sanyo brand cameras. Image quality is decent but it records solely in 720p resolution. I wouldn’t be surprised if this format becomes obsolete when the popularity of 1080 resolution rises. I also can’t see marketing execs falling in love with it’s oh-so-catchy title.

High-def video is the way of the future. It’s actually more like “the way of the now” but who’s counting? Depending on what type of video you’re looking to record (and of course what you’re looking to do with it afterwards) going high-def will ensure your video future will not be behind the times.

* Yes, that’s a technical term – as is “jagginess”.

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