Viewfinder Camcorders Galore

Recently I had the privilege of attending three trade shows in Hong Kong and in China. I was amazed at the number of camcorders I saw at these shows. There were literally hundreds of camcorders, but they were distinctly different from the camcorders I am accustomed to seeing at trade shows in the United States.

All were tapeless. At U.S. trade shows solid-state camcorders are in the minority, and most use DV or HDV tape. It seemed unusual to walk a trade show floor and never see a DV camcorder.

The second unusual thing was the lack of recognizable brand names. I did not see one camcorder from Canon, JVC, Panasonic or Sony. In fact, most camcorders I saw had no brand name at all. The intention of the exhibitors is to offer camcorders for other companies to brand with their own names. I visited the booths of many Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs). All of these companies were Chinese, and they are anxious to have U.S. brand names appear on their products.

For example, Sears could source these OEM camcorders and sell them in Sears stores with the Sears logo on them. Kmart, Costco and Target are recognizable brand names of retailers that may want to offer a camcorder that appears to be “their” brand. This has been a common practice. In fact, Sears did offer a VHS camcorder many years ago. What is interesting is that some exhibitors were hoping to attract the new highly-successful brand names like Blockbuster, Dell or even Starbucks.

I find it interesting that camcorder manufacturing technology is now less mysterious or coveted. There are indeed many powerful features offered in the camcorders made by the traditional manufacturers. Companies have invested tens of thousands of engineering man-hours in proprietary technology for image stabilization.

The lenses and image sensors on these camcorders featured on traditional camcorders are usually far superior. However, just a few years ago, it was unimaginable that Chinese manufacturers would be offering dozens of non-traditional camcorders. This is something that the Chinese people can be very proud of.

The tape transport mechanism used in VHS, 8mm and DV camcorders is one of the key issues. The intellectual property for the tape transports is more tightly controlled. Non-traditional manufacturers do not easily get licenses. However, many types of devices use solid-state media like Secure Digital SD cards. SD is offered via a simplified version of the specification under a less-restrictive license. Mobile phones, digital still cameras, portable media players and personal computers all utilize these Flash memory solutions.

This has made way for many new manufacturers to get into solid-state camcorders. It is unclear what long-term impact this will have on making video. Competition will drive down prices for low-end camcorders.

Matthew York isVideomaker‘s Publisher/Editor.

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