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Camcorder Formats Explained - SD

SD Formats

Although DV is still going strong, and probably will be for a good few years to come, it has now been joined by a number of alternatives which are pushing it to the sidelines. DV has become synonymous with MiniDV tape. It doesn't necessarily have to be recorded to tape but DV hasn't made the transition to the latest recording media formats.


DV uses intraframe compression, where each frame is compressed individually. This is great for quality and makes editing less computationally intensive. But DV requires 3.6MB for each second of video, so rapidly chews up gigabytes of storage. As a result, camcorder manufacturers have turned to MPEG-2 instead for non-tape-based models.

For these new models, the SD resolution of 720 x 576 remains the same, except for some economy modes which generally have a quarter-frame resolution. However, the MPEG-2 compression used is much more efficient than DV, thanks to its use of interframe compression, which works between frames as well as within them. So the storage requirement is about four times less than DV, even at the top quality settings.


There is no specific name for the MPEG-2 SD camcorder video format. It's essentially the same as that used by DVDs, which has the added bonus of making it readily transferable to optical disc. The major manufacturers all have models which record MPEG-2 SD, with media formats ranging from DVD to hard disk to Flash memory.


The DVD versions offer convenience, as you can simply slip the disc into your PC for editing, or even watch it on the DVD player in your lounge. The hard disk models let you record hours without having to swap media. And the Flash memory models are unfeasibly small. Which one you choose is a matter of lifestyle preference as much as anything, and the video format is now readily editable by virtually all mainstream software.

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