A Little Blu - By and large, it seems that consumers are still very much on the fence regarding the next generation of high-definition video disc formats. Not the manufacturers, however. They have already picked their sides and are busy building those products...
A Little Blu
By and large, it seems that consumers are still very much on the fence regarding the next generation of high-definition video disc formats. Not the manufacturers, however. They have already picked their sides and are busy building those products, hoping to entice consumers down off the fence and onto their team.
In that spirit, Hitachi has released the world's first Blu-ray Disc camcorder, the DZ-BD7HA. This is Hitachi's flagship consumer camcorder and is actually a hybrid that also sports a 30-gig hard drive. Hybrid camcorders give you the best of both worlds, allowing you to shoot a long time onto the hard drive, and then, with random access capability, burn your best takes onto removable media, in this case 8cm Blu-ray Discs for archiving and storage. So what does the addition of Blu-ray Disc bring to the table?
Shooting with the Camera
This model is aimed at the high end of home video hobbyists. You likely won't be making any feature films with the BD7HA - it's designed for those wanting to shoot birthday parties, kids' soccer games and other personal video. So, with that in mind, we took the BD7HA out into the field and put it through its paces.
The imager is a single 1/2.8 CMOS sensor. It shoots Full HD at 1920x1080 pixels in MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 format, to the hard drive or to a staggering array of removable media, including 8cm Blu-ray Disc (BD-RE, BD-R) and 8cm standard-definition DVD discs (DVD-RAM, DVD-RW, DVD-R).
It has some nice manual features, including human control of the focus, exposure and white balance, which come in handy in overriding the circuitry in difficult shooting conditions. For example, I took the camera out into the park to shoot some landscapes. Underneath the canopy of trees, the picture looked a bit blue on the auto-white balance. Using a white piece of paper to re-balance cleared the shot up nicely. The BD7HA Blu-ray Disc camcorder also has a full complement of automatic controls, as one would expect. They work pretty well, with the exception of the auto-focus in low-light conditions, which had serious hunting problems. In these conditions, you'll want to take control yourself.
In a rather strange decision, the BD7HA has a microphone input jack, but no headphone jack. So, while you can use an external microphone to get much better audio (an addition we always support), you have no way of monitoring that audio. This seems to be a poor design decision, because, if users are going to go through the trouble of using an external microphone, they're most likely going to want to hear what it sounds like.
The included battery lasts for about 45 minutes in real-life use and includes a separate external battery charger. This time-saving feature lets you put one battery on charge and then keep shooting with an additional battery (should you choose to purchase an additional battery) instead of tying up your camcorder as a very expensive charging station.
In practical conditions, shooting with the BDH7A Blu-ray Disc camcorder was a fairly simple process, and our default mode was shooting directly to the hard drive.
Shooting at the highest-quality setting, you can record about 4 hours' worth of footage to the hard drive or one hour of footage to an 8cm Blu-ray Disc.
As camcorders get ever more complex, shooting to different formats and media, it can be quite tricky to keep track of all the various modes and acronyms involved. The BD7HA comes with a handy guide button, which is kind of like an electronic cheat sheet that shows up in the viewfinder. It asks you simple questions, and, based on your answers, suggests the proper mode and medium for the use you intend. It's a very nice feature that we can see coming in handy often - it's like having a mini manual right in your camcorder.
Managing and Distributing Your Video Media
Capturing your footage is just one part of the equation. You'll need to be able to show your clips as well, and, in today's HD/SD crossover world, there are many variables involved in what should be a simple operation.
The BD7HA Blu-ray Disc camcorder has a very impressive format transfer capability. It's pretty much a one-man dubbing rack. The BD7HA has various output ports, including USB 2.0 to connect to the computer and HDMI to connect to high-definition television sets, as well as the typical analog connections. The camcorder can transfer your HD footage to a computer via USB and Blu-ray Disc internally in the camera. It can also downconvert your HD footage to record SD onto typical 8cm DVDs internally as well. So you're pretty well covered if your final product is to deliver a series of clips on a DVD.
This can all be done using the easy to navigate menu settings on the camcorder's LCD screen. Every clip on the hard-drive or Blu-ray Disc is represented by a small icon denoting the first frame of that video. By navigating around using the joystick control on the LCD panel to select individual clips, you can specify which clips get transferred to different media and which ones remain on your device.
Importing your video to your computer is done through an included utility called Image Mixer 3 HD Edition. This application is for Windows users only, so Mac people are out of luck. Image Mixer 3 HD allows you to build and organize a library of clips, but little more than that; there are no real editing capabilities to speak of. If you want to edit the footage, it becomes a bit trickier, as you can output only raw MPEG streams to the computer. You will have to convert these clips into some other format before you will be able to edit them.
So what does the Blu-ray Disc get you? Time. The capacity of a mini Blu-ray Disc is 7.5 gigabytes, compared to 1.4 gigabytes for a regular mini DVD-R. This allows you to record far more high-definition footage to one disc. It also allows you drop-in support with consumer Blu-ray Disc players that are starting to make inroads into the living rooms of America. So, if you need an easy and portable way to deliver HD video, this is currently the way to go.
Hitachi's DZ-BD7HA Blu-ray Disc/HDD format provides the most flexible shooting and distribution options for the consumer. With the addition of Blu-ray Disc to the lineup, it simply takes this great format and expands on it, to give you more recording time and more disc format options for delivery.
Format: MPEG-4 AVC/H.264
Image Sensor: 1/2.8 CMOS
Effective Video Pixels: 2,070,000
HDD Capacity: 30GB
Recording Times: HDD (HX 4 hrs, HF 5.3 hrs, HS 8 hrs), BD (HX 1 hr, HF 1.3 hrs, HS 2 hrs), DVD (SX 20 min, SF 30 min)
Lens: F 1.8-3.0
Focal Length: 47-470mm
Filter Size: 43mm
Focusing System: Auto/manual
Focus Assist: None
Programmed AE: Portrait, spotlight, sand & snow, low light
Manual White Balance: Yes
Image Stabilization: Electronic
Viewfinder: .02-inch color (200,000 pixels)
LCD Screen: 2.7-inch color TFT (211,200 pixels)
Recording Media: Hard disk drive 30GB, 8cm Blu-ray Discs (BD-RE, BD-R), 8cm DVD (DVD-RAM, DVD-RW, DVD-R)
Audio: 2-channel Dolby Digital
Dimensions: (WxHxD) 3-2/5" x 3-1/5" x 6-1/2" (excluding hand strap)
Optical Zoom: 10x
Digital Zoom: 500x
Video Out: HDMI, Component, Composite
Microphone Input: Yes
Manual Audio Levels: No
Headphone Jack: No
External Battery Charger: Yes
Accessory Shoe: Yes, cold
- Blu-ray support
- Impressive internal transfer capabilities
- Decent manual controls
- Poor low-light performance
- No headphone jack
- Hard to edit HD footage
This is a convenient high-definition camcorder with a longevity pending the end of a format war.
John Burkhart is Videomaker's Editor-in-Chief.
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