This high-definition digital video camera captures images onto a memory card.

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Comparing High-definition Digital Video Cameras

Like standard digital video cameras, high-definition digital video cameras (or camcorders) come in many sizes, price ranges and capabilities. One of the bigger differences you'll want to pay attention to is the camera's storage method. HD digital video cameras have four main storage formats:

  1. MiniDV tape is similar to other tape mediums. While it's more time-consuming to preview and transfer footage with the time-based tapes, they have the advantage of being their own self-contained storage mediums, and they're easy to transport.
  2. Because flash memory and memory cards are so small yet hold so much, they have enabled manufacturers to shrink HD digital video cameras and to speed up their operation. Memory cards come in a range of capacities, from 8 gigabytes to about 16 gigabytes.
  3. Internal hard disk drives (HDDs) are built into the camera body itself and can store a significant amount of data, depending on their size. However, the benefit of that extra storage capacity is partly offset by the camcorder's larger size.
  4. Recording directly to a DVD is appealing to many people because it's fast and easy; you're simply recording your footage directly to its final, playable storage medium.  

Some digital video cameras also allow you to choose between one of two storage formats: You can record either to the camera's internal flash drive or to a removable memory card. That's helpful in case you lose that little memory card and there's a family event that has to be recorded for posterity. This functionality is typically called dual flash memory. 

In addition to how you store footage, you'll want to think about how your video camera records it, right? Consumers depend on two main high-definition video formats: HDV, which was introduced in 2004, and AVCHD, which came out in mid-2006 and is still evolving.

HDV (high-definition video) records to miniDV tapes according to one or both of two HD standards: 720p (1,280 by 720 progressive) or 1080i (1,440 by 1,080 interlaced). The numbers refer to the resolution, while the terms progressive and interlaced refer to how the video is recorded: Progressive records video as an entire frame, whereas interlaced captures each frame as two fields. You can learn more about HD camcorder-related terminology in How HDTV Works and How Camcorders Work.

AVCHD (advanced video codec high definition) technology uses a different compression algorithm than HDV for capturing and shrinking the size of the data. It is much more efficient, so it requires significantly less storage space. The technology also allows you to transfer files from the camera to the computer up to 10 times faster than HDV and is easier to navigate than tape, which requires tedious rewinding and fast forwarding. Along with the two HD formats available to the HDV format, AVCHD can also record in full high definition, or 1,920 by 1,080 (for when you really need to see that angry red zit marking your high school graduation).

Perhaps because of such advantages, more manufacturers, such as Sony, Canon and Panasonic, are beginning to use AVCHD technology. HDV technology still has its benefits, though. For one thing, since AVCHD is relatively new, the image quality of HDV camcorders continues to surpass it. In addition, video editing software and other applications are just beginning to use the maximum potential of AVCHD.

Regardless of whether you choose the HDV or AVCHD format, your options abound. Check out some of the cool capabilities of HD digital video cameras on the next page.