High Definition TV (HDTV) is coming, whether we’re ready in Europe or not. Over the other side of the Big Pond, Americans have been enjoying HDTV for a couple of years. But despite the Sky satellite service being the only broadcaster putting even a vague date on upgrading, widescreen TVs are arriving with HD playback abilities – and so are HD camcorders.
Although JVC brought HD to the masses in the US with the GR-HD1, when that model arrived in the UK a couple of years ago it had mysteriously transformed into the GR-PD1, without the HD recording functionality. So Sony was the first to market in Europe, at the end of 2004, with the incredible HDR-FX1. Less than a year later, Sony is already more than halving the cost of HD entry with the HDR-HC1E.
But HD isn’t the only innovation to be found in the HDR-HC1E. It’s also only the second camcorder to arrive with a CMOS sensor instead of a CCD – the first being Sony’s DCR-PC1000. While CMOS technology has started finding its way into cheap digital camcorders, it hasn’t been popular for camcorders up until now. In the past, CMOSes offered poor low light performance, but Sony appears to have overcome this with its Enhanced Imaging Processor. CCDs capture video as an analogue signal, which is then digitised and filtered by separate circuitry. With a CMOS, the sensor chip itself does the digitising, making the camcorder circuitry cheaper.
Panasonic has criticised Sony’s CMOS technology as inferior to CCDs. Whereas a CCD captures a field or frame all at the same time, the Sony CMOS scans progressively, so pixels at the bottom of the image are recorded milliseconds later than those at the top. Because of this, fast camera moves can create bending and tearing effects. However, although we saw some evidence of this with very fast camera moves, in practice it was virtually invisible, and we didn’t find it had any effect on overall video quality.