Round Up: Pocket HD Camcorder Guide

by Reads (943)

With their low price, small size, ease of use, and ability to shoot high-definition video, pocket camcorders remain a hot item. Sometimes referred to as Flip cameras after Pure Digital’s (now Cisco’s) pioneering and industry-leading product line, pocket camcorders are ideal for those looking to shoot quick and simple videos, especially for YouTube and other sharing service. While many technology insiders predict doom and gloom for the devices due to competition from the iPhone and other connected smartphones with video cameras, the big names in digital imaging are still rolling out new models and cramming more features into pocket-sized cases.

Cisco Flip MinoHD and UltraHD:
There are three HD Flip models: the 120 minute (approximate recording time) MinoHD and UltraHD, and the 60 minute MinoHD. The differences between the Ultra and Mino 120-minute models are minimal; both shoot 1280×720 video (720p) at 30 fps, use the H.264 video compression scheme, and spit out MPEG-4. They only really differ in size (the UltraHD is a bit larger, but still pocket-sized), battery type (the UltraHD uses replaceable AAs to MinoHD’s internal lithium), and the UltraHD has a wider-angle lens coupled with a stereo on-board mic to the Mino’s mono offering. The 60-minute MinoHD shares the same features as the 120-minute version, though has the wider-angle lens, is a tiny bit smaller, and has a composite video out instead of HDMI.

Reviews suggest that the UltraHD shoots a slightly better video than the MinoHD, and for that matter, most of the competition in its class. Though, compared with other pocket camcorders, the Flip models do not feature expandable memory, which means that once you fill up the camera with footage, you must find a computer to unload it on before shooting any more.

Is the Flip for you? Flip is the device most pocket HD camcorders are judged against. The competition has steadily released devices with more features and higher resolutions, but don’t count the Flip out just yet. Cisco all but confirmed a Wi-Fi enabled Flip for early 2010, a necessary move to head off pending competition from the iPhone and other connected, mobile devices.

Sony bloggie
Sony unveiled their first pocket HD camcorder at CES 2009, calling it the Webbie. At CES 2010, they re-unveiled their pocket HD camcorder, adding a few features and rebranding it the “bloggie.” There are currently two bloggie models: the pistol-grip CM5 with its 5x optical zoom (a rare feature in pocket HD camcorders), and the PM5, a Flip look-a-like with a unique 270-degree swivel lens. Both shoot 1920×1080 HD video (1080p, H.264/MPEG-4), support SD/SDHC (the Webbie, like many Sony products, was Memory Stick exclusive), and take 5 megapixel stills.

The PM5 has a 2.4 inch LCD display and flip-out USB, there is no HDMI or dedicated TV out. Sony is offering it in a bundle package that ships with a 360-degree lens for panoramic shots.

The CM5 features a 2.5 inch flip-out LCD display, HDMI out, and a USB 2.0 port.

The bloggie isn’t expected to ship until late January 2010, so video quality remains a mystery. That said, there seemingly isn’t much difference between the new models and last year’ Webbie, sans a handful of new features. Critics lauded the Webbie for its ability to take stills, unique swivel lens, and expandable storage, but overall video quality wasn’t enough to distinguish it from the pack.

Memorex MyVideo
There are no real defining features or gimmicks that set the Memorex MyVideo apart from the competition. What you have is a simple Flip look-a-like HD pocket camcorder with the standard specs. That includes 720p video (1280×720) coupled with the ability to shoot 5 megapixel stills, 4GB of internal memory (not expandable), 2.0 inch LCD display, integrated USB connector, 2.5 hours of juice from an internal lithium battery and an HDMI port complete with cable.

Considering the Memorex MyVideo retails for a bit less than other pocket HD camcorders, one would think it’s the best deal of the bunch. Unfortunately, critics cited the MyVideo’s clunky 3x digital zoom and poor video quality at low lighting as major drawbacks to an otherwise comparable product.

Samsung HMX-U10
If the video specs were the only feature that mattered with pocket HD camcorders, the Samsung HMX-U10 would be tops. Thanks to its relatively larger CMOS sensor, the HM-U10 is able to snap 10-megapixel stills in addition to 1080 HD video at 30 fps. It looks similar to the Flip in its form factor and is approximately the same size, though is angled slightly upward around the lens.

Otherwise, it fits the bill of a pocket HD camcorder and could comfortably fit in just about any pouch or pocket. Other specs include a 2.0 inch LCD display, SDHC card support, H.264 video compression, 90 minutes of battery life per charge, and a USB 2.0 port. Compared with other models, it lacks HDMI support, zoom, internal memory, and image stabilization. Overall, its impressive video specs don’t make up for its lack of features, considering other manufacturers are catching up to Samsung with new models.

Kodak Zi8, Zi6, Zx1 and Playsport
Of Kodak’s four offerings, the Zi8 is the next-gen Zi6, while the Zx1 and Playsport are their sporty/rugged counterparts.

The Zi8 shoots 1080p video and 5.3 megapixel stills while the Zi6 tops out at 720p and 3 megapixels, respectively. Both support SDHC, have an internal USB connector, and are approximately the same size. The Zi8 has an internal battery, while the Zi6 can run on two AAs. Also the Zi8 has an HDMI port and a larger LCD display, 2.5 inches to the Zi6’s 2.4. lauded the Zi8 for its bells and whistles, including electronic image stabilization and an external mic jack. The reviews also claimed that, “the resolution of the video you can capture with the Zi8 is pretty much at the top of the heap as far as pocket camcorders go. However, you’ll still find that videos captured under certain conditions are plagued with noise, artifacts and several distortions.”

The Zx1 shoots video and stills comparable to the Zi6, but has a smaller form factor, 2-inch LCD display, HDMI port, and is weather resistant. The Playsport ups the ante by shooting 1080p, taking 5 megapixel stills, and being waterproof in up to 10 feet.

Kodak seems to have found a nice niche with its sporty Playsport and Zx1. There is certainly a market for low-cost, rugged HD video cameras. For now, Kodak remains the only game in town.

Creative Vado HD
Now in its third generation, the Creative Vado HD offers many of the same features as its form-factor rivals, the Flip and the Memorex MyVideo, including 720p video shooting at 30 fps, H.264 video compression, MPEG-4 encoding, 4GB of internal memory (there is an 8GB second generation model available) good for approximately two hours of HD video, internal USB connector, 2.0 inch LCD display, HDMI out complete with included cable, 2x digital zoom, multi-function jack (for an external mic), and the ability to shoot what Creative refers to as “HD quality stills.” There is also an internal battery capable of powering the Vado for up to two hours per charge.

What’s missing is expandable memory and any distinguishing features, like the bloggie’s swivel lens. Critics generally claim the video quality is comparable to other pocket HD camcorders that also lack optical zoom and image stabilization. That said, Creative did tout their third generation Vado as having “manual exposure adjustments” for shooting in low or bright lights.

Just like the Flip and and MyVideo, the Vado does little to distinguish itself from the competition. That said, Creative has released three generations of the product, each with incremental improvements and new features. No word from Creative on a new model, but given Creative’s history (second and third gen Vado were released two months apart), users may not have to wait long for a fourth-gen.

Sanyo Xacti VPC-CG10 and VPC-CS1
Of all the camcorders in Sanyo’s Xacti line, there are only two that could qualify as pocket HD models, the VPC-CG10 and what Sanyo claims is “this world’s smallest, lightest, and thinnest,” the VPC-CS1. Both models are pistol-grip-style “dual cameras,” a Sanyo branding term referring to the devices’ ability to take both video and stills.

The VPC-CG10, which will be available in February 2010, is feature loaded. It has 5x optical zoom, digital image stabilization, 3.0 inch flip-out LCD display, focus, ISO, and white balance controls, and the ability to snap 10.0 megapixel stills. Other specs are on par with the lot, however, including 720p video (MPEG-4/H.264) at 30 fps, no internal memory (SD and SDHC card up to 32GB only), HDMI support, and an internal lithium battery good for approximately 70 minutes of juice, which is actually less than many of the competitors’ offerings.

Few could argue with Sanyo’s claim that their VPC-CS1 is extremely thin, as it is approximately half the width of the CG-10 when viewed face on. Despite the small size, Sanyo still managed to cram in the features, including 1920×1080 pixel HD (1080p), MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 video, mini HDMI out, and SDXC support. It also includes a host of Sanyo-branded features, including Sound Zoom (three separate recording modes), 10x Advanced Zoom, Digital Image Stabilizer, Face Chaser Function, and Target a Color Function.

Comparison shopping
When deciding on a pocket HD camcorder, keep in mind the device’s limitations. These are not intended to be HD camcorder replacements, but rather simple devices for quick and dirty shooting. As such, there is very little that separates the wheat from the chaff. Many times, the buying decision is influenced by which device looks the sleekest or most fun. Cisco certainly understands this as they’ve released a number of design options, including NBA-branded and celebrity-inspired Flips.

That’s not to say that the video quality and features don’t vary by device or matter to users. For instance, if you intend to display your videos on an HDTV, an HDMI out is a necessity. And on a larger screen, the difference between 720p and 1080p is noticeable. With that in mind, this chart lays out the bare specs on the leading pocket HD camcorder devices.

Video Resolution Stills Zoom Image Stabilization Display Internal Memory Approx Battery Life (up to, in hours) TV Out Form Dimensions (H x W x D)
Cisco Flip MinoHD 120 min 1280 x 720 NA 2x digital NA 2-inch LCD 8GB 2 HDMI candy bar 3.94″ x 1.97″ x 0.66″
Cisco Flip MinoHD 60 min 1280 x 720 NA 2x digital NA 1.5-inch LCD 4GB 2 Composite candy bar 3.94″ x 1.97″ x 0.63″
Cisco Flip UltraHD 1280 x 720 NA 2x digital NA 2-inch LCD 8GB 2.5 HDMI candy bar 4.25″ x 2.19″ x 1.17″
Sony bloggie CM5 1920 x 1080 5MP 5x optical (20x digital) Yes 2.5-inch LCD NA 1.75 HDMI pistol grip 4″ x 2.75″ x 1.6″
Sony bloggie PM5 1920 x 1080 5MP 4x digital Yes 2.4-inch LCD NA (info not available) NA candy bar with 270-degree swivel top lens 4.38″ x 2.25″ x 0.75″
Memorex MyVideo 1280 x 720 5MP 3x digital NA 2-inch LCD 4GB 2.5 HDMI candy bar (info not available)
Samsung HMX-U10 1920 x 1080 10MP NA NA 2-inch LCD NA 1.5 Component candy bar with slightly angled lens area 4.06″ x 2.2″ x 0.61″
Kodak Zi8 1920 x 1080 5MP 4x digital Yes 2.5-inch LCD NA (info not available) HDMI candy bar 4.5″ 2.4″ 0.9″
Kodak Zi6 1280 x 720 3MP 2x digital NA 2.4-inch LCD NA (info not available) Component candy bar 4.5″ x 2.5″ x 0.9″
Kodak Zx1 1280 x 720 3MP 2x digital NA 2-inch LCD NA (info not available) HDMI candy bar 4.2″ 2″ x 0.8″
Kodak Playsport 1920 1080 5MP (info not available) Yes 2-inch LCD (info not available) (info not available) HDMI candy bar (info not available)
Creative Vado HD 1280 x 720 “HD Stills” 2x digital NA 2-inch LCD 4GB (3rd gen) 2 HDMI candy bar 3.9″ x 2.2″ x 0.6″
Sanyo Xacti VPC-CG10 1280 x 720 10MP 5x optical (12x digital) Yes 3-inch LCD NA 1.17 Composite pistol grip 4.4″ x 2.8″ x 1.5″
Sanyo Xacti VPC-CS1 1920 1080 8MP “10x Advanced Zoom” Yes (info not available) NA (info not available) HDMI pistol grip (info not available)
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