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Panasonic's dinky HDC-SD9 may have grabbed the lion's share of our attention, but it was released in tandem with another new model. The HDC-HS9 doesn't have quite the same miniaturised appeal, being about 10mm wider and noticeably heavier. However, it does pack the same features which have helped make the HDC-SD9 the most exciting camcorder we've seen so far this year. It also has a built-in hard disk, so you don't need to invest in a large SDHC card to store a respectable amount of video.
The HDC-HS9 uses a trio of 1/6in CCDs, each with a gross 560,000 pixels. These are small, but at least with three of them they provide a discrete signal for each colour channel. The CCDs are aggregated for digital photography, allowing 2.1-megapixel stills at 1,920 x 1,080 - not exactly print resolution, but enough for email and web usage. Image stabilisation is Panasonic's Advanced Optical variety, which is much more effective than the digital equivalent. In particular, no loss of resolution is involved with optical anti-shake technology.
The HS9 records video in the AVCHD format, which uses the more efficient MPEG-4 AVC H.264 compression system rather than the MPEG-2 of HDV. Four quality modes are available. The HA, HG and HX modes record at 1,920 x 1,080, but HE uses the same 1,440 x 1,080 frame size as HDV. The headline act is HA mode. Not only does this offer a 17Mbits/sec data rate - the highest of any AVCHD camcorder currently available - but it is also true Full HD, with progressively scanned frames. The other modes still use interlaced video, and HE mode operates at 6Mbits/sec. But all of this is identical to the HDC-SD9. What singles out the HS9 is the 60GB hard disk. Even at the top HA quality setting, this will be enough for nearly 8 hours of footage. The HS9 still has an SD card slot, but we can't see it getting much use with so much space readily available on board.