Sanyo HD1 Digital Media Camera

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In our March What's Next special, I presented Sanyoís HD1 digital pocket camcorder, the first to record high-definition video directly to an SD memory card. Now that itís available, I took it for a spin.

Weighing just over 8 oz. with battery and SD card, it fits nicely in the hand. Its organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screen is bright and easy on the eyes. I preferred not to use the talking menus, but liked the overall user interface.

Most importantly, the high-definition video — 720p for you home-theater nerds — was surprisingly watchable. In the bright lighting of my kitchen, or the sunlit living room, video turned out well. I didnít compare it with other recorded video, but I did view plenty of it on a 42-inch high-definition plasma TV. Not only were the colors vibrant and accurate, but the action was crisp and easy to watch. However, the picture did not turn out so well in dim lighting, even when I messed with the low-light settings. In those instances, the camcorderís focus was off, too.

Ditto for shooting still images. In a well lit room, the focus would be fine and the shot would turn out but, flash or no flash, I couldnít get a clear shot in low light. Not that I was surprised — most devices that major in video and minor in still photography donít get good grades in both.

Tapeless video recording is great, but has drawbacks. At the highest quality setting, you only get about 15 minutes of video per gigabyte of storage, so itís advisable to buy a 2GB SD card, the highest capacity. (At least most have finally come down below the $100 mark.) The good news is that you can squeeze two hours of standard-definition video on the same card.

The real surprise was the HD1ís file compatibility. After my experience last year with JVCís Everio hard-disk camcorder, Iíve been skeptical of downloading files to the computer to burn to DVD. But Sanyo includes Uleadís DVD MovieFactory, a rudimentary program for cutting film together quickly and dumping it to DVD. It even has a direct-to-disc feature that lets you burn straight from camcorder to DVD. Of course, the requirement is that your PC has a DVD burner. Also, you will lose the high-definition video resolution when you burn to DVD, but at least youíll be starting with a very nice 1280x720 pixel picture.

Mac users will be happy to know that the HD1ís MPEG-4 video files are compatible with the latest version of iMovie HD. I copied the files to my Macís hard drive then dragged them into iMovie, whereupon the software would automatically import them into the clip window. This is exceptionally good news, since last I checked iMovie rejects older MPEG-2 video files.

One question remains: since DVDs arenít high-def, how do you enjoy the highest resolution video on your TV? You could play them back through the camcorder — pushing files back and forth to the SD memory card shouldnít be a problem. Soon enough, though, you might end up with a Blu-ray or even HD DVD burner — one that will let you record true high-definition content onto a shiny silver disc. Sure, itís cool, but in the first couple of years, none of that stuff will come cheap.