Mark Harris

Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD1 camcorder Sanyo's latest Xacti gives High Def in your pocket. Mark Harris explores a brave new high res world...

Kit: Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD1 tapeless High Definition camcorder
Cost: £700
Company: Sanyo

High Definition is the biggest thing to happen to home video in a decade and, as with any revolution, there’ll be winners and losers. On the victorious side will be those manufacturers who can persuade us to buy their HD Ready TVs, cables and camcorders. And among those licking their wounds will be anyone without the thousands of pounds necessary to upgrade their entire system – and older movie stars dreading that wrinkle-revealing resolution.

If you’re in the market for an affordable HD camcorder today, your choice is between the Sony HDR-HC3, using reliable old MiniDV tapes, or Sanyo’s flagship solid-state Xacti pistol-corder. The HD1 looks and feels very much like previous Xactis, filling one hand nicely, with the main controls falling under your thumb (almost uniquely, Xactis can be used as easily by southpaws as by ‘normal’ right-handed folk).

The slider for the sharp 10x zoom is smooth and speedy, and dedicated buttons for movie and (five megapixel) photo shooting mean no awkward delays when swapping modes. Sanyo has retained the small and fiddly joystick, but the fast interface is simplicity itself, with even priority and manual exposure causing no difficulty.

Go organic?
The 2.2-inch screen is larger than on previous Xactis but still feels small these days. Sanyo has boldly opted for a new OLED (Organic LED) screen. This technology promises higher refresh rates, wider viewing angles and lower power consumption than LCD, but is still in its infancy – as demonstrated by the muddy colours and low contrast on show here. It’s also strange that the screen is 4:3 in shape when all HD recording is in widescreen, making it seem smaller still.

Behind the flip-up screen is a button for changing between standard definition movies (640x480-pixels at up to 60fps) and widescreen HD capture (1280x720-pixels, progressively scanned at 30fps). You can choose between two bit-rates in HD: stick with the higher (9Mbps) for best video quality.

If you’ve seen the crystal clear HD movies from Sony’s HC1 (or new HC3), you might get a shock when viewing the Sanyo’s clips. There’s plenty of detail on offer, but nothing like the vivid, three-dimensional clarity from the MiniDV devices. The finest details are mushy and there’s occasional blocking. Compare it to previous Xactis, however, and the HD advantage is clear – sharper edges, more information and clearer colours.

Low light loser
Unfortunately, the HD1 squanders this advantage in low light, where noise dominates detail and colours fade to a dull, brown-ish mix. Seeing these results, you have to wonder at the wisdom of including a pop-up photo flash rather than the video light the Xacti so obviously requires.

Still photos are damn good for a camcorder, bursting with colour and life, if sharing some hesitancy over recording detail. Audio is also very good, although beware of bumping the side-mounted stereo microphones.

As a HD pioneer, the HD1 can hardly be faulted. High Def movies are clearly better than standard MPEG-4 footage, ease of use is excellent and there are some useful creative and manual features on board. If you want the ultimate in image quality, and a screen that lives up to the promise of the technology, go for the Sony HC3. But if you want easy HD movies at a reasonable price, Sanyo is where it’s at.

Key controls
Joystick – On the small side for sausage-fingered shooters, with quite a fiddly action.
Photo/video buttons – Dedicated filming and photo controls mean you don’t need to change mode to move from still to movie shooting.
HD control – One-touch button to activate HD capture. Leave it in HD mode unless you’re running out of memory.

Key features
High Def recording – The HD1 can record at resolutions up 1280x720-pixels, progressively scanned for smoother action.
OLED screen – It’s 2.2-inches of high tech display action, although the power-saving new screen does suffer from murky visuals.
5MP photos – A genuine 5MP sensor makes the HD1 a decent still camera as well as a ground-breaking camcorder
Secure Digital card – Sanyo includes a 2Gb card in the box, which is large enough for around 30 minutes of HD shooting.
10x lens – This modest zoom has just about the right range considering there’s no optical image stabilisation on board.

Technical specs
Manufacturer: Sanyo
Model name: Xacti VPC-HD1
Size: 80x119x36mm
Weight: 230g
Format: High Def MPEG-4 flash memory
CCD: 5.4MP
CCD size:1/2.5-inch
Lens: 10x
Digital zoom: 100x
Exposure compensation: +/-1.8EV in 0.3EV steps, priority and manual exposure
Audio recording system: MPEG-4 audio
Microphone: Stereo microphone
Inputs: Microphone
Outputs: (via dock) USB 2.0, S-video, component
Hot shoe: No
Memory Card: 2Gb Secure Digital
Viewfinder: No
LCD: 2.2-inch OLED
Battery used: Lithium ion, DB-L40

Essential accessories
Elonex Lumina 3320, £2600,
Dub down your movies on this multimedia Windows Media Centre PC. It runs on the latest Intel Viiv processors and has a 32-inch HD Ready display .
JVC LT-32DX7, £1400,
This 32-inch LCD flat panel. delivers superb HD images, and has two HDMI inputs for connecting multiple High Def sources.

Also consider
Sony HDR-HC3, £900, MiniDV – Sony’s latest HD camcorder gives the best quality High Def footage of any consumer camcorder
Panasonic SDR-S150 £TBC, Flash – It’s not HD, but Panasonic’s classy tape-free cam has three CCDs and uses new SDHC (SD High Capacity) cards..

Battery life
The supplied lithium rechargeable gives around an hour of movie shooting, or just 130 still images. Or you’ll get about 150 minutes of playback time instead.

Final verdict
Features: A solid 10x lens, 5MP sensor and High Def recording – what more do you want? 9/10
Images: HD is dodgy in low light, and way behind the Sony HC1, but a real advance for solid-state shooters 7/10
Build: Stylish, compact and with an excellently designed interface. Only the muddy OLED screen disappoints. 8/10
Value: Costing less than some standard def camcorders – and hundreds less than the High Def Sony, this looks a real bargain 9/10

Overall: This time next year, almost all camcorders will be High Def. Until then, Sanyo has the consumer market in the palm of its hand 9/10

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