Quite Cheap (€389)
25x optical zoom
16:9 widescreen option
good 2.7" widescreen LCD
0.5Kg and easy to hold
Can't record video to SD
Bad low light video quality
Stills only 640x480
Difficult to transfer movies to PC

The most important thing to note about this camcorder is that it does not record movies to SD. This was not mentioned in the description on the site where I bought it, and caught me out at least. In addition to the camcorder I had bought a 2GB 150x TwinMOS Secure Digital card for €42, which is more than fast enough to stream the video to. Unfortunately this camcorder does not support that and therefore the SD can only be used for storing stills (up to 12000!). One can take a still picture just like a camera, or from previously recorded video, but at only 640x480 JPEG, I don't see the point. So SD support is just a gimmick IMHO. Luckily my parents bought a new camera without the required SD card, so they're using it now. It was also lucky that I had bought a 5 pack of "Verbatim 2x DVD-RW 1.46GB 8cm Jewel Case" for €11. Optical media is a dying format but unfortunately I'm stuck using it for a while now. This was exacerbated by having to spend some time reverse engineering the data format of the DVDs written by the camcorder, as described below. Shrug.

Recording video

Video quality

In summary I wasn't impressed. Especially in low light conditions (like with normal indoor lighting) there is very noticeable graining. The CCD is rated for 0.3 lx in low light mode, but the ghosting in this mode is ridiculous, and so it's only suitable for very slow moving images, and even still there is noticeable background CCD noise. Even my Canon A70 camera which records (a max 30s of) ~15fps MJPEG at 640x480, has much better quality. Note this camcorder records in PAL MPEG V2 format which is 720x576 at 25fps, and supports both 4:3 and 16:9 (widescreen) aspect ratios.

DVD-RW discs

The most versatile disc one can use with this camcorder is a DVD-RW format disc whose specs are:

DVD-VR format

When you pop in a new DVD-RW you're prompted as to whether you want to format it as VF or VR mode, i.e. whether you want to create a DVD-R or DVD-VR disk respectively. VF is the most compatible and essentially creates a DVD-Video file structure and hence should be playable on all DVD players. VR mode creates a DVD-RAM file structure and has the advantage that one can split, delete and combine movies using the camcorder. This is an important feature given that the 1.46GB DVD discs can only hold 20 to 30 mins of video depending on quality mode used, so this is the mode I use. Note, I understand that double sided 8cm DVD-RW discs are available to double capacity to about 1 hour. Note also (and I've seen the opposite mentioned elsewhere) that the largest free space available on the disc is used for recording, so if you have 1 min free space left, and delete a 5 min recording from the middle of the disc for example, you will have 5 min available for recording. Fragmentation of the free space is not much of a problem given that the movies will generally be copied off a full disc, before it's reformatted for reuse.

Battery specs

Playing, Dubbing, Ripping, Copying, Backing up video

Hmm, why so many names for the same thing? Anyway, no software comes with this camcorder and there is no USB port for copying the video data. Also the DVD-VR format discs are not compatible with most DVD players (well not my Phillips one at least), so manipulating the video independently of the camcorder is difficult. Well one could use a video capture device with the camcorder's s-video or composite outputs, but that's an awkward and a lossy transmission mechanism. Now I use Linux exclusively, but for completeness, on windows I downloaded a trial version of PowerDVD which can play these discs. I also downloaded a trial version of "TMPGEnc 4.0 XPress" which recognised the format and supports transcoding it to AVI(xvid),DIVX,MP4,... It was quite difficult to find programs that could support this format even on windows, and both I found were closed source, cost money and were not as flexible as I would like.

On Linux things are a little more involved. One can mount the (UDF 2.0) disk fine which has the following structure:

$ find /media/dvd/ -printf "%p %s\n" | column -t
/media/dvd/                       248
/media/dvd/RTR_EXTN/              244
/media/dvd/RTR_EXTN/RX.DAT        1365692
/media/dvd/RTR_EXTN/VR_STDUM.000  0
/media/dvd/DVD_RTAV/              196
/media/dvd/DVD_RTAV/VR_MANGR.IFO  131072
/media/dvd/DVD_RTAV/VR_MANGR.BUP  131072
/media/dvd/DVD_RTAV/VR_MOVIE.VRO  450562048
/media/dvd/DCIM/                  88
/media/dvd/DCIM/100HPNX1/         40
The pertinent files are highlighted. The IFO is an information file describing the layout of the VRO file which is equivalent to a collection of DVD-Video VOB files. If one doesn't care about any edits (divide/combine/delete) done on the camcorder, one can play all the MPEG2 video content on the disc with the following command:
mplayer -vf pp=fd -monitoraspect 8:5 -aspect 16:9 VR_MOVIE.VRO
The -vf pp=fd option is to deinterlace the video and the -monitoraspect option is required as mplayer currently defaults to 4:3. The 8:5 value is specific to my laptop which has a 1280x800 screen resolution.

Ignoring the individual recordings is not very useful however, especially considering that any deleted video data whose space wasn't reused by subsequent recordings will be played (so be careful when deleting confidential material). To extract the individual recordings from the disc I needed to figure out the DVD-VR application format and write an extraction program

Here is an example run of this program, including encoding the resulting MPEG2 VOBs into theora format, which compresses them by 4.84 times with the default settings, as well as being a patent free, open format.

$ mkdir dest-dir
$ cd dest-dir
$ dvd-vr /media/dvd/DVD_*/{*.IFO,*.VRO} #extract VOBs to current directory


tv_system: PAL
resolution: 720x576
format: MPEG2
aspect_ratio: 16:9
audio_channels: 2
audio_coding: Dolby AC-3

Number of programs: 5

date: 2006-12-26 10:01:05
size: 37,298,176

date: 2006-12-26 10:02:39
size: 21,368,832

date: 2006-12-27 17:32:29
size: 353,515,520

date: 2006-12-29 12:54:25
size: 7,241,728

date: 2006-12-31 16:39:40
size: 31,137,792

$ for vob in program_*.vob; do ffmpeg2theora $vob; done
© Feb 19 2007