Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2 First Impressions Camcorder Review

Performance

Video Performance

Video performance is always difficult to assess in the context of a trade show display booth given the oddly mixed lighting coming from all directions.  Factor in the Sanyo VPC-HD2’s relatively tiny 2.2" LCD screen – and the fact that the models on display were not production models – and we can only make educated guesses about how the camcorder will perform based on the HD2's specs and our review of last year's HD1. 

The VPC-HD1 from 2006 was a disappointment in video mode, but we expect the VPC-HD2 to perform better overall, based on the upgrades Sanyo has made since 2006.  Whether the performance increase will make the HD2 a respectable HD camcorder remains an open question pending our full review of the finished product. To put it simply: You get what you pay for. High defintion camcorders of good quality, even passing quality, are starting at around $1000 this year. The VPC-HD1 was a suspiciously good deal because the quality was not the same or even close. Producing video that meets the HD specs to the letter does not necessarily mean that it meets the spirit of HD. Blown up on a big HDTV, you'll soon see where that money saved went.

Hopefully, some of that has changed. What we do know is that the CCD size remains 1/2.5" but that the gross pixel count has increased considerably from 5.36 MP to 7.21 MP.  In terms of raw pixel count, this sensor has the most of any consumer camcorder we are aware of, but last year's tests of the HD1 showed that gross pixel count does not necessarily produce a great video image.

The HD2 records high-definition (HD) video at the 30 fps 720p standard, producing frames measuring 1280 x 720 pixels at a maximum data rate of 9 Megabits per second (Mbps). The camcorder also records standard-definition video at 640 x 480 at a maximum bit rate of 3Mbps, and in a lower resolution 320 x 240 web mode.  Full details on all video quality settings can be read in the compression section below.

At 3000 lux, we found the images produced by the VPC-HD1 to be oversaturated and intense.  While many consumers like intensely colored video images, and manufacturers like Sony tend to give their colors a modest boost, the Sanyo’s video was too saturated.  While the images produced were indeed sharper than those seen in standard-definition camcorders, they also appeared to suffer from significant in-camera sharpening.  In-camera sharpening is an electronic process that heightens contrast along object borders in the frame, making the image appear sharper than it actually is. 

As with saturation boost, in-camera sharpening is used by many manufacturers to cater to the demands of the market.  We think Sanyo sharpened the picture on last year's camcorder too much, to the detriment of fine detail.  The most finely detailed parts of the resolution chart tended to break up in the VPC-HD1’s images and suffered from chunky noise.  We suspect this noise was both a byproduct of image sharpening and of a relatively low bit rate.  Maxing out at 9Mbps, the VPC-HD2 squeezes its 720p video down to the same size as the standard-definition 480i MPEG-2 video seen in the majority of consumer DVD camcorders.  That means the Sanyo employs more aggressive compression thus resulting in a noisier image.

As one would expect from a HD camcorder, the VPC-HD1 did score higher in terms of resolution than standard-definition models like the Sony DCR-DVD405 – but not significantly higher.  The resolution gap between the Sanyo and the 1080i Sony HDR-HC3 was twice as great as the one between the Sanyo and standard-definition models.  This is not surprising given that it adheres to the lower-end 720p HD specification, but it was still an underperformance considering that 720p video has rivaled or even surpassed 1080i video in resolution tests.

 

We believe this year’s model will indeed improve upon the performance of its predecessor, based on its larger CCD and Sanyo's reports.  The increase in size may allow Sanyo to throttle back on the in-camera sharpening that muddied the HD1’s video image, and we hope color saturation is treated more subtly as well.  Without these improvements, the larger chip will deliver a slightly sharper version of an image we found sub-par.

Low Light Performance

Large sensors sometimes translate into larger pixels, and larger pixels have a greater light gathering ability than small pixels.  In the case of the VPC-HD1 tested in 2006, the extremely high pixel count (meaning small, tightly packed pixels) seemed to impact low light performance significantly, and the camcorder struggled at both 60 lux and 15 lux.  At 60 lux, the image displayed more noise with the same oversaturated colors we observed at 3000 lux.  At 15 lux, the oversaturation gave way to big blotches of noise that most shooters will not find acceptable.  It is worth noting that the new VPC-HD2 includes an ISO setting feature that works like the gain settings seen on other camcorders.  In last year’s tests, increasing the ISO to 800 or 1600 did produce a brighter image, but noise became much worse.  When we do test the HD2, we’ll be eyeing the camcorder’s performance in low light very closely and will write up a full report on if and how the new sensor makes a difference.

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Sections

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

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