Why would a company best known for laptops, HDTVs, and industrial products get into the camcorder biz? In a word: opportunity. That's exactly what Toshiba saw when it decided to bring its successful and relatively inexpensive European Camileo line of HD camcorders stateside.
"We really studied the market, studied a lot of trends, and we asked, ‘What are people buying? What do they want?' What we realized was that people wanted a 1080p product, but they didn't want to pay more than $500 for it," said Brad Johnson, a Toshiba product manager.
"So we kind of waited and waited, felt our way around," he said. "Finally we got to the point where we could come out with a camcorder that can do 1080p, exactly what the customer is looking for, and bring it in below that $400 price point."
The Camileo line
As a result, Toshiba's new Camileo X100, H30 and S20, will be available for preorder in the US begining Tuesday, April 6 and in stores April 19. The X100, H30 and S20 HD camcorders will cost $400, $250 and $180 at launch, respectively. With the exception of the S20, the Camileo series camcorders aren't Flip-like pocket gadgets. Toshiba is touting the X100 and H30 as full-fledged HD camcorders, which typically cost $600 to $1,000 from other manufacturers.
All three Camileos shoot 1080/30fps h.264 AVI footage, take stills, support SD and SDHC up to 32GB, and sport a 3-inch LCD touchscreen, dedicated YouTube upload button, and an HDMI output. The H30 and X100 also feature a 10 megapixel CMOS sensor and 5x and 10x optical zoom lenses, respectively, while the S20 has a 5 megapixel CMOS sensor with 4x digital zoom.
I got my hands on the $250 Camileo H30 before the announcement, the device Toshiba described as its "entry-level" HD camcorder, and have been testing it out. While I'm not ready to give it a full review, it did leave a few initial impressions.
What's in the box?
First and foremost, the H30 comes with an HDMI cable in the box. This almost makes me giddy. I've been annoyed by manufacturers that market their camcorders as HD capable, only to short-change consumers when it comes to the very connection that makes viewing high-definition footage possible. Kudos to Toshiba for including it. Also in the box are a USB adapter, AC adapter and carrying pouch. These are minor additions, but worth pointing out since I knocked Sony for not including an AC adapter in my bloggie review.
For an inexpensive device, the H30 doesn't feel cheap. It has a traditional camcorder shape with a glossy metallic gray and black finish that, despite being prone to smudges and fingerprints, gives the H30 respectable look of a serious digital camcorder. It's also quite sturdy and maintains an effective balance in my hand.
HD camcorder operations
All camera controls can be accessed and managed through the 3-inch touchscreen LCD display. I've found it to be responsive, intuitive, and simple to navigate and operate, despite its surprisingly deep control offerings. The H30 offers four shooting modes (1080p/30fps, 720p/30fps, WVGA/60fps, VGA/30fps) image stabilization, controls for scene conditions, white balance, along with a host of other settings. For stills, the H30 offers many of the same controls, but adds ISO (auto, 800, 1600) and resolution options for 16, 10, and 3 megapixel stills. Toshiba says the H30 sports a 10 megapixel CMOS sensor, so I'm guessing some interpolation is going on with the 16 megapixel stills.
Still, touchscreens alone don't a great camcorder make - great video is key. Early indications suggest the H30 might be up to the task. In ideal light, the footage is sharp and the colors pop, especially reds and greens, almost to the point of over-saturation. That might not sit well with some stricter videophiles big on color accuracy, but I think the Camileo's target consumers will enjoy the vibrant reds and greens.
The auto focus is also extremely quick; it's almost a challenge to lose focus when zooming. I did notice a small amount of trailing when I blew up some test footage on my 47" HDTV, mostly from fast moving objects (cars passing by), which wasn't severe or unexpected. Though I worry that any high-speed action shot at 1080p/30fps, like a kids' soccer game for example, may appear choppy or jittery. The Camileo does offer a WVGA resolution at 60 fps, but footage shot at that resolution is far from HD quality.
Stay tuned for a full review
I'll keep an eye on these issues when testing the Camileo H30 for my full review, as well as its low light performance, stills and audio quality. At any rate, so far I'm impressed Toshiba offered so much in a $250 device.