The camcorder world is moving into the high-def column of the video ledger. At the January Consumer Electronics Show, a flotilla of high-def models were launched and they’re slowly coming to the proverbial store near you—including the new JVC GZ-HD6. This $1,399 USD camcorder is a far cry from the crappy MPEG-4 video makers readily available for a 100 clams. Although barely good enough for a YouTube opus, people buy them because they’re cheap—what a shock! However, if you’re in any way serious about saving memories with a modicum of quality, high definition is the way to go although it will definitely put a dent in your wallet. I’ve used many HD camcorders and still get a thrill when playing back footage on a wide screen HDTV (what can I say? I need a life!) That confession on the table, I was happy to receive the 2008 JVC Everio and watch recordings on my new Panasonic 50-inch 1080p plasma HDTV. How did they look? Have patience, friends and click on the next page…
Features and Design
The new JVC Everio GZ-HD6 looks similar to the –HD7 and –HD3, two models reviewed last year. The camcorders have a very stealthy black-bodied look and fit comfortably in your hand. The reason they’re so small is the fact they record to hard disk drives (HDD) so there’s no bulky tape or DVD disc mechanism to deal with. HDD camcorders are wildly popular for the same reason the iPod obliterated all the competing music players—massive storage and the ability to hop from track to track, in this case from scene to scene. One of the key trends readily apparent at CES was the slow fade of tape- and disc-based camcorders with HDD and flash memory models replacing them (sound familiar?). I’m all for it as long as the quality is there.
In the case of the new HD6 you’ll find a massive 120GB HDD that stores up to 10 hours of Full HD video (1920 x 1080i). This amount is incredible and blows away competing high-def formats using tape or DVDs—even flash memory cards since they currently max out at 32GB. The new $1,199 USD JVC GZ-HD5 has a 60GB HDD and it “only” records five hours of Full HD video. These camcorders are perfect for a vacation simply because you really don’t have to worry too much about running out of media unless you’re the second coming of David Lean. Batteries are another story altogether—you’ll definitely need spares.
The HD6 measures 3.1 x 2.87 x 5.4 (WHD, in inches) and weighs 17 ounces without the battery; 21 with. It’s hardly a featherweight but the camcorder rests nicely in your palm. When you adjust the strap, your hand is in position for the zoom, snapshot and record keys, typically the most important and used controls. As you’d imagine for such a small camcorder, the lens takes up most of the front. Here you get an f/1.8 Fujinon 10x optical zoom that can be boosted to 200x but we strongly recommend disabling the digital zoom as quality deteriorates. The aperture on this one is very low, meaning in theory it can record in low light without too much noise (that’s the theory at least; more in the Performance section). The HD6 is supplied with a cool-looking lens hood and has a built-in cover that opens/closes automatically when you power on/off. Earlier high-def Everios had a manual switch to perform this chore. Also on the front are a compartment for the iLink (FireWire) connection and a sensor for the supplied remote control.
On the top, which has a piano black gloss finish, is the wide/tele toggle switch, a snapshot button for recording 1920 x 1080 pixel stills (a puny 2MP), the stereo mic and a cold accessory shoe (for this price it should’ve been a hot one).
Image Courtesy of JVC
The right side has the adjustable strap and is the location of the 120GB HDD. There are a few logos on it that are fairly understated, in keeping with the overall impression of this 2008 camcorder. The left side features the flip-out 2.8-inch LCD screen with its 16:9 shape; it turns 270-degrees making it very flexible. The monitor is rated 207K pixels and works well in most situations but I had trouble with bright sunshine at the beach. Unfortunately there’s no quick access to change the monitor brightness. Flipping open or closing the LCD turns the camcorder on or shuts it off, a nice convenience. On the left side of the monitor are three controls. One lets you check battery life and the amount of space available on the HDD. A small but accurate joystick is available for moving through the menus, making manual adjustments such as focus as well as accessing the limited number of five scene modes. Press it in and it “sets” the change. The Function key walks you through the many adjustments available in manual mode (brightness, shutter speed, aperture priority, white balance, special effects and so on).
With the LCD open, you’ll find several controls on the main body as well as the built-in speaker and vents to dissipate heat build-up. The keys lets you switch between Auto/Manual shooting, Play/Record, gives access to the Menus, another is Focus Assist when you’re in manual mode and a dedicated Direct Backup key for burning discs with the supplied software.
On the rear you’ll find the record key and two compartments with flimsy doors filled with various ports along with the lithium-ion battery. Unfortunately this sticks out a bit, making it look like an afterthought. JVC engineers should look at some competing models that incorporate the battery into the housing more elegantly. Still it’s not a disaster like the Panasonic HDC-SX5. JVC gives you plenty of connection options including the iLink on the front—USB, full-size HDMI (not mini), component video, an A/V connector along with the DC-in for charging the battery, a mic-in and a headphone jack. Definitely enough to keep the tweaks happy.
On the bottom of the HD6 is a slot for a microSD card—another darn memory format to buy!—and a metal tripod mount.
JVC supplies a good bundle with this Everio (other than the card and an HDMI cable) including component video cables. The CD-ROM has Digital Photo Navigator Ver. 1.5 for handling stills and CyberLink PowerCinema NE for Everio, PowerProducer 4 NE and PowerDirector 6 NE (all Windows) for dealing with video. Mac users only get QuickTime. This sophisticated camcorder only has a 44-page (in English) Instruction Manual (French and Spanish are also included). To get into the nitty gritty, you have to read the 66-page Guide Book on the CD-ROM. Canon definitely wins the prize here with its in-depth printed manuals.
Once the battery was charged, a microSD card loaded it was time to start shooting some video.
Image Courtesy of JVC
Performance and Use
Initially the camcorder was set to straight Auto, with the digital zoom turned off and the optical image stabilization engaged. As noted earlier, this high-def camcorder records 1920 x 1080i video, a big step up from the 1440 x 1080i of earlier HD camcorders. JVC uses the MPEG-2 TS system instead of the AVCHD format of Canon, Panasonic and Sony. New for 2008 are AVCHD models that also record 1920 x 1080 which is great to see. In fact, we’ll be getting a new Canon Vixia HF10 that does just that soon along with the much anticipated Sony HDR-SR12, a close competitor to the HD6 since both cost $1,399 USD and have 120GB HDDs. Stay tuned for those reviews but let’s get back to this JVC…
The GZ-HD6 uses three 1/5th-inch 570K CCDs for recording and each handles a specific color (Red, Green, Blue) for more accurate results (in theory, of course). Of note is the fact this camcorder records at 26.6 Mbps in Full HD meaning quality should be top-notch (in theory again). JVC states this camcorder records 1080p (progressive) video but this is saved as 1080i on the hard drive. When you connect it to your display with a HDMI 1.3 input, it gets upconverted to 1080p. Naturally you need a 1080p display and HDMI cable to take advantage of this quality.
Since it was the beginning of Spring, I took a drive down to the beach to clear some winter blahs and see how the HD6 handles loads of blue sky and sand. I also tried to find as much color as possible to see how they were rendered. Snapshots were taken along the way. I also took a load of footage indoors as well. For the most part, the HD6 was in Auto or in Program AE scene modes. I also moved in Manual which lets you make adjustments for videos and stills. The menu system and controls makes this a very simple process. An excellent feature is the Focus Assist key that adds a shadow to your subjects so you can make sure focus is tack sharp.
Even after shooting awhile I barely made a dent in the hard drive, although I definitely wore down the battery; spares are a must buy—especially if you’re going on vacation. The battery is rated for 80 minutes but it’ll be less if you zoom a lot—as I do and I’m sure other budding directors do as well (an hour was more like it).
Once home the GZ-HD6 was connected via HDMI to a Panasonic 50-inch 750 series plasma (1080p). After switching inputs it was time to review the footage. Moving through the various outdoor scenes I came away very impressed by the quality—I found it to be superior to the HD3 and HD7. There was very little smearing, color was spot on with very little digital noise. Simply put: it was terrific. Some footage of an American flag flapping in the breeze would’ve even stirred the heart of Hugo Chavez. This was some of the best quality I’ve seen in a camcorder. And the Optical Image Stabilization did a very nice job smoothing out my shaky hands; this is one feature any high-def camcorder must have.
All is not paradise with the GZ-HD6 though. The mic had a difficult time dealing with wind noise and my walk on the beach sounded like I was on a airport runway—and this was with the Wind Cut feature engaged. And at all times if you quickly snap the zoom toggle, the mic picks the sound up–a light touch is definitely required. Indoor footage had a bit of noise but nothing too terrible—and it was much superior to the HD3/HD7. Still this $1,399 USD camcorder could use a video light or a hot shoe for an add-on. And a flash would be nice to help with the stills. However, I was pleasantly surprised as the 2MP images held up well on the 50-inch screen.
I’m glad to see the Class of 2008 high-def camcorders has kicked off with a bang. This 1080p model is a winner especially when shooting outdoors and it’s not too shabby in available light. Quality is very impressive, menus are easy to navigate and adjust, the ergonomics are just dandy. There’s my usual caveat—you have to hold it yourself and make that decision since everyone’s hands are different. That said, if it fits your hand, definitely put it on the short list.
• Excellent 1080p video
• Optical image stabilization
• Attractive, compact design
• Mic picks up noise—wind and zoom toggle
• Should have a flash and/or video light
• No hot shoe