JVC Everio G Hard-Disk Camcorder

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Just when MiniDV digital-tape camcorders are becoming fairly commonplace, the terrain changes again. You probably know a little about DVD camcorders, but did you know some manufacturers have decided to do away with discs and tapes altogether? Last year JVC introduced the first Everio hard-disk camcorder. Expensive and holding a paltry 4GB hard disk, the first Everio wasn't much of a threat to the mainstream. This year, the price went down and the size of the hard drive shot through the roof.

The allure is that you don't have to spend money on discs and tapes, and that you now automatically have plenty of recording time built right into the camcorder. With a 20GB drive, you can record 4.5 hours at DVD quality, 9 hours at "TV" quality, and up to 37 hours in "Eco" mode. The 30GB disk holds between 7 and 37 hours of footage.

The Everio G series has many great features. If you drop a hard disk while it's spinning, there's a chance it'll go kaput. That's why JVC built a drop sensor into the camcorder. Whenever it senses itself plummeting downward, it shuts down completely, and in the blink of an eye. JVC's "Data Battery" relays information to the camcorder, so when you push the Info button, a screen comes up telling you how much hard drive space is left; push the button again and you learn exactly how much longer the battery will last. There's also a sensor to tell you when the lens cap has been left on.

Of the four models with 20GB and 30GB drives, I tested the mid-level 30GB GX-MG30. It has a 25X optical zoom lens, but only 680,000-pixel CCD for capturing video and still images. Video quality wasn't bad, but at times, especially in indoors in low light, I noticed far too much video noise—the dots that swirl like gnats inside solid colors. In addition to the MG30 and the 20GB MG20, there are the MG40 and MG50, which sport larger imaging sensors (1.33 megapixels) and are therefore set up to deliver better video quality. The MG40 and MG50 also have 20GB and 30GB hard drives, respectively, but only have 15X optical zoom.

The biggest problem with the system is that this lack of removable media means that there's no getting around uploading your video to a PC for storage and burning DVDs. The good part is that it forces you to get into the worthwhile pastime of video editing. On the other hand, even JVC's "simple" approach to burning a DVD is fairly elaborate: attaching the camcorder, saving the video files, locating them, loading them into a video editing program, shuffling that to a DVD burning program and then waiting until the disc is ready. Hey JVC—how about a one-click straight-to-DVD program? Then the move from MiniDV to tapeless digital camcorder would have some merit.