HD Streaming for the Masses

Both Webbie cams record through a 1/2.5" CMOS sensor onto Memory Stick PRO Duo media (with a 16GB card, recording time is 510 minutes at 720/30p or 6,000 still images), and include stereo audio recording and A/V and USB connectors (cables included). Both also feature five scene selection modes, embedded Windows-only Picture Motion Browser software, and built-in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.

The CM1 (available now) looks like a miniaturized traditional camcorder. Its larger size (7 oz) allows Sony to include a 2.5" flip-out LCD screen that rotates 270º and automatically powers on the camera when opened. With more robust optics (5x optical, 20x digital zoom) and relatively large sensor, the CM1 is focusing on image quality. The beefier CM1 also includes an LED video light.

The smaller (4.2 oz with battery), vertically designed PM1 (available in March) looks more like other HD pocket camcorders. It sports a 1.8" LCD display, swiveling lens (up to 270º), and 4x digital zoom. Unlike most in the category, the MHS-PM1 features a helpful automatic lens cap.

Both Webbie cams include Sony’s SteadyShot image stabilization, which comes in handy given the difficulty of holding such small cameras steady.

Creative Labs’ Vado ($230)
Released in December 2008, Creative Labs’ Vado HD camcorder features a 2" LCD display, 2x digital zoom, and flip-out USB plug. The Vado includes 8GB of internal memory providing 120 minutes of recording time, and lacks a memory expansion slot. The Vado records H.264 AVI at 720/30p, but upconverts output to 1080i. It also records in VGA mode. Connections include standard composite A/V and HDMI (HDMI cable included) for direct viewing of raw footage on HDTVs. A removable, rechargeable lithium-ion battery powers the Vado. Windows-only software enables one-touch uploading to YouTube, Photobucket and Box.net. Mac users can drag and drop files from the Vado to the desktop via USB.

RCA "Small Wonder" EZ300HD ($140) and EZ209HD ($120)
Audiovox’s RCA entered the pocket HD camcorder market in September 2008 with the release of its EZ300HD. The RCA unit features a 2.4" flip-out LCD display, flip-out lens, and 4x digital zoom. The EZ300HD records 720/30p and VGA video and 5MP stills. The 2GB of internal memory delivers 60 minutes of recording time in HD mode, and an expansion slot accepts up to 16GB of additional memory. The EZ300HD also includes an HDMI connection.

RCA ups the quality and lowers the price of its pocket HD line with the anticipated introduction the Spring of the EZ209HD. The new model will feature a smaller 2" LCD display, but will offer 8MP still photo resolution and 720/60p sports mode recording.

Smaller, Better, Cheaper
Each new entry into the pocket HD camcorder category offers higher image and display quality, smaller size, more features or a lower price, and sometimes all four. Soon, we are likely to see smartphones incorporating GPS, music players, and high-quality HD recording and streaming capabilities.

While it is certainly nifty to find sophisticated HD video recording in such small devices, there are trade offs. For example, it is very difficult to capture steady images while holding a tiny device in one’s hand. (All of the camcorders mentioned above include tripod mounts.) And none of the aforementioned devices includes headphone or external microphone jacks.

So, while we all look forward to the spread of HD on YouTube and other streaming sites, prepare to be flooded with lots of shaky and inaudible high-resolution video. In the case of HD video camcorders, maybe size (or lack thereof) does matter.

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