With its massive CMOS sensor, we had high hopes for the VP-HMX20's video performance, and it didn't disappoint. In optimal lighting, visual quality is nothing short of stunning. Colours are accurate, rather than the usual over-saturation found in most consumer camcorders, although this is a matter of preference. Detail levels are very high, too. There is still more grain than the best HD camcorders currently available, but it's not oppressive and overall Samsung has stepped up its game by a quantum leap.
The results are similarly impressive in low light. Under everyday artificial illumination, image quality is still very good, retaining plenty of colour. Thanks to the huge, high-resolution CMOS, detail levels remain high despite increased noise. Since the camcorder can shoot 25p progressive video, you can use the shutter control to drop down to 1/25th without ill effects. This has a significant benefit for image quality, bringing colours back close to their appearance in the best conditions and reducing grain considerably.
The benefits of a 1/25th shutter speed are even more pronounced in the worst lighting. Although the Samsung still manages fair colour differentiation in 50i mode, the image is dark and very grainy. But switching to 25p and a 1/25th shutter makes a marked improvement to both factors, allowing the HMX20 to shoot usable video. On a more disappointing note, we found the progressive mode produced more jerky motion than with other manufacturers' camcorders, particularly Canon's. So whilst it really pays dividends in low light, we would recommend sticking with 50i in better illumination.
Lurking under a sliding flap beneath the LCD is a USB port and a proprietary port for AV or component analogue video output, depending on which of the supplied cables you plug in. One slight disappointment is that the HMX20 doesn't record AVCHD, even if its H.264-based MP4 compression is virtually the same. So its footage will not be so widely compatible with software. However, we tried sample files shot using each of its formats in Adobe Premiere Elements 7, Corel VideoStudio Pro X2, Pinnacle Studio Plus 12 and CyberLink PowerDirector 7. None of them had any problems importing or editing the footage. Samsung also supplies a suite of CyberLink apps in the box, although this only includes version 6 of PowerDirector.
The VP-HMX20 marks a sea change for Samsung. Whereas the majority of its previous models were firmly aimed at buyers on a budget, this one has image quality and features to vie with the best from the big household names in the camcorder business. Yet it's still very reasonably priced. In fact, at under £500 the VP-HMX20 is one of the cheapest models in its class. So it's a real contender on every level.