Like the Panasonic HDC-SD1 and HDC-SD5 before it, the Panasonic HDC-SD9 captured video in the AVCHD format. While Sony and Canon are just rolling out full HD (1920 x 1080) recording at the 2008 CES trade show, the Panasonic HDC-SD5 (the HDC-SD9’s predecessor) was upgraded to 1920 x 1080 about six months ago. Of course, the HDC-SD9 retains this upgrade.
The Panasonic HDC-SD9 is only capable of capturing in high definition. The highest compression options is HA, which captures at 1920 x 1080 at 17Mbps, which is slightly higher than the 15Mbps bit rate we saw on the HDC-SD5. Ever so slowly, we’re witnessing manufacturers inching towards AVCHD’s maximum bit rate of 24Mbps.
Other compression options include HG at 13Mbps and HX at 9Mbps, both of which captured in 1920 x 1080. The lowest options is HE, which captured 1440 x 1080 at 6Mbps. When we tested the Panasonic HDC-SD1 we saw a lot of compression artifacts that made the footage look blocky and caused motion trailing. We’ll be interested to get the Panasonic HDC-SD9 into our labs to see if this issue has been addressed with the resolution and bit rate increase.
The Panasonic HDC-SD9 is one of a growing number of flash (or solid-state) based camcorders, recording exclusively to SDHC memory cards. In this case it’s the third generation of Panasonic’s flash camcorders, preceded by the HDC-SD1 and HDC-SD5, all within the past year. We like that SDHC is an open format that is used in many devices, unlike Sony’s MemoryStick format that will only work with Sony devices. Flash card based storage also provides you with the convenience of simply pulling out the card and plugging it into a card reader attached to your computer to transfer content. It’s also small and easily portable, much more so than MiniDV tapes or even Mini DVDs.
Unlike Canon’s HF10, which gets you ready to roll with 16GB of internal memory, you’ll have to purchase an SDHC card before you start recording with the Panasonic HDC-SD9. SDHC cards are currently available at a maximum of 16GB, with 32GB cards available later this year. Panasonic only quoted a six hour recording time for the lowest HE quality setting, which captures at 6Mbps and 1440 x 1080 resolution, using a 16GB SDHC card. On the CES show floor, we were able to get approximate numbers using a 1GB card for the other quality settings. All these quality settings capture at 1920 x 1080. We got about 6 minutes per gigabyte at HA (17Mbps), 8 minutes per gigabyte at HG (13Mbps) and 13 minutes per gigabyte at HX (9Mbps). These are all approximate times however, even Panasonic’s estimate for HE, because the Panasonic HDC-SD9 records at a variable bitrate, which means it goes up or down depending upon how much information is in the scene.
A year and a half after the AVCHD format was announced, your editing options have expanded considerably. Unfortunately these options may be constrained a bit because even though AVCHD is an open format the different manufacturers tweak it just enough that software from one manufacturer can have problems with video captured from a rival’s camcorder. This means that you may not be able to use Sony Vegas 8.0 for non-Sony AVCHD camcorders. Ulead Video Studio 11 and Pinnacle Studio 11 are pretty safe bets for universal AVCHD compatibility, but double-check first. On the Mac side you can choose from iMovie ’08 and Final Cut Express 4.0.
The Panasonic HDC-SD9 ships with HD Writer 2.5E. We don’t have any information on the upgrades to this software, but the 1.0 version was a ruudimentary DVD authoring program with very limited editing capabilities. Anyone who wants to do more advanced video editing should invest in some of the above software.