camcorders

Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2 Camcorder Review

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Performance

Video Performance* (6.5)*

The Sanyo VPC-HD2 contains a single 1/2.5" CCD, the largest CCD of any consumer camcorder on the market. This is the same size as last year, but the pixel count has increased significantly, from 5.36MP to 7.38MP. Our suspicion last year was that the imager was actually from a still camera. So much of the terminology in the menu and manual controls, not to mention the huge size, reflects that of a still camera rather than a camcorder. The gross pixel count on the new imager is 7,380,000 (effective pixel count 7,100,000).

The new higher pixel count would, in theory, increase the resolution but decrease the low light performance. We’ve seen instances where this was not the case, so aren’t jumping to any conclusions. Both of these tests have been revised since last year, but we will certainly be able to make comparisons. Both of these tests are also detailed in other section (see below), so more on that later.

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We’re pleased to report that in bright light (3000 lux), the VPC-HD2 looks remarkably better than the VPC-HD1. (We tested the camcorder in HD-SHQ quality, which records 1280 x 720 video at 30fps with a bit rate of 9 Mbps.) This is a huge improvement in color quality, so huge that we’re obligated to make a big deal about it, considering the massacre of a review we gave it last year. No longer do colors blare out like neon signage on The Strip. The colors are still saturated, sure, but they’re now in the land of normal consumer camcorder color space.

Last year's showing - the VPC-HD1

The image is significantly darker than last year, which is good. The VPC-HD1’s image had overly bright whites and grey tones. However, the lower end of the dynamic range appears to have suffered in this upgrade. The VPC-HD2 could not distinguish the last two grey tone chips. We don’t see this problem too often. Part of this can be explained by the heavily contrasted image. Black lines are very thick and always accompanied by ghostly white lines on either side – the result of too much sharpening.

There were definitely some noise issues in the image, as well. They presented themselves more in low light than in bright light, but we could see the tell-tale dance of dots in the darker areas of the image, and pretty strongly in the blues.

Though some may consider it unfair, we held this image up against the leading HD camcorders of the day. The Sanyo VPC-HD2 could not hold a candle to the Canon HV20. The 1920 x 1080 image was cleaner, sharper, less noisy, and achieved better color. The Sony HDR-HC7 told the same story. Comparing the color performance of the VPC-HD2 to the Panasonic HDC-SD1 and JVC Everio GZ-HD7 was very interesting. Of all the consumer HD camcorders this year, the Panasonic SD1 had the least saturated colors and the JVC HD1 had the most saturated. The Sanyo VPC-HD2 was right in the middle, leaning more towards the bold colors of the JVC. The Everio GZ-HD7 did not produce as much noise.

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The Sanyo VPC-HD2 offers a few image control options, including Soft, Vivid, and… our favorite, Soft Vivid. In Soft mode, we really couldn’t see a difference from normal shooting. Vivid mode, however, clearly boosted color saturation all around the spectrum. It did not blow the lid off, though, so a setting like this might be useful for shooting landscapes where you want the greens and blues to pop. Soft Vivid mode, well, it’s still vivid.

Video Resolution* (8.5)*

Video resolution for the Sanyo VPC-HD2 was determined by shooting a DSC Labs video resolution chart and viewing playback footage on an HD monitor. In the highest quality setting, the Sanyo produced an approximate horizontal resolution of 425 line widths per picture height (lw/ph). The vertical resolution measured 400 lw/ph.

Low Light Performance* (3.42)*

A 1/2.5" imager is likely to make for some serious speculation about low light performance. This is the largest imager of any consumer camcorder. So how did it do?

First, we’ll look at the 60 lux image. We started in auto mode, or the closest we could get to auto mode. As you read through the review, you’ll see that we found this a tremendously frustrating camcorder to use, and you’re often not quite sure where the settings are. Of course, there’s nothing like EXIF data available for the video, so we have to make inferences on the settings afterwards. For instance, most camcorders will not drop the shutter speed below 1/60th when in auto mode unless otherwise given permission (usually via an option like "Color Slow Shutter" in Sony models). Therefore, the VPC-HD2’s image in auto mode should have been the same as with the shutter set to 1/60th. It was not. The image in auto mode was significantly brighter. This either means that the shutter was slowed down lower than 1/60, or the auto gain is allowed to go higher when in auto mode than when the shutter speed has been locked. Who can tell? Not us.

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At 60 lux in auto, the Sanyo’s image is bright enough, but the noise levels are terrible – as bad as you’d expect on an entry-level camcorder. The color performance remains good, but so much of the fine detail has been washed away. This is not the type of image you want on your expensive, extra-large HDTV.

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When we locked the shutter speed at 1/60th, the noise results were exactly the same. The image was simply not as bright.

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With the image at 1/30th of a second, the noise was reduced considerably. What’s odd is that the brightness levels are essentially the same as when the shutter was set at 1/60th. The colors are a touch more saturated, but the big difference is noise. This seems to point to a poor internal logic that the processor uses to adjust gain. If the image gets too dark, the processor pumps the gain up to stratosphere rather than opt for a cleaner, darker image.

As with bright light performance, we’re pleased to see that VPC-HD2 once again outperformed its predecessor, the VPC-HD1. In large part, the best improvement was the color performance. Last year’s super-saturation was just too much for the human eye to withstand. The noise, which was terrible last year, has merely transmuted to another kind of noise. While the HD1 had a scratchy, blue-noise look to it, this year has a general fuzziness. One’s as bad as the other, but overall, the VPC-HD2 has improved.

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The footage at 15 lux in auto mode pointed to the same conclusion. Granted, 15 lux is a challenge for any consumer camcorder, but the picture is just so noisy here we really wouldn’t want to use it. The Canon HV20 has an incrementally smaller imager, but produced an image with much finer noise – an image that you wouldn’t discard out of hand.

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At 15 lux with the shutter at 1/30th, the image just about identical to the image in auto mode.

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One of the VPC-HD2’s touted extras is the High Sensitivity button, which as anyone with a video background recognizes as code for "gain." Gain is a mixed blessing – it increases overall brightness at the cost of increased noise. In this case, the cost is rather high. We tried out the High Sensitivity at 15 lux. The result was a bright image, yes, but with an exceptional amount of noise.

Our revised testing for low light involves measuring the camcorder’s sensitivity, noise, color accuracy, and saturation. The VPC-HD2 was able to produce 50 IRE at 15 lux. At 60 lux, the camcorder produced a color error of 7.53, a saturation of 105.6%, and a noise percentage of 1.07%.

Overall, the VPC-HD2 was a disappointment. With such specs, the camcorder should have delivered a cleaner image in low light. Instead, we saw more noise than even the most uncritical eye would find distasteful. It’s an improvement since last year, but not even close enough to parlay a competition with the big HD camcorders this year.

Stabilization* (2.46)*

We tested the VPC-HD2’s EIS system using our custom-built shake emulator. To calculate the effectiveness of a camcorder’s image stabilization system, we measure the percentage reduction in image offset between image stabilization off and on.

At Speed 1, roughly equivalent to the motion produced when hand-holding a camcorder while standing still, the VPC-HD2 displayed a 43% shake reduction, but at speed 2, EIS was ineffective, and actually exaggerated the perceived motion in the frame.

Wide Angle* (9.2)*

We measure the field of view of all 2007 camcorders in 16:9 mode – 720p in the case of the VPC-HD2. With the zoom is set to its widest angle and image stabilization turned off, the VPC-HD2's maximum field of view was 46 degrees.

Comparable Products

Before you buy the Sanyo VPC-HD2, take a look at these other camcorders.

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Sections

  1. Performance
  2. Format
  3. Auto / Manual Controls
  4. Still Features
  5. Handling and Use
  6. Audio / Playback / Connectivity
  7. Other Features
  8. Comparisons / Conclusion
  9. Specs and Ratings