Is a $1,000 Video Camera Worth It?

These bright tropical birds would probably look like ghetto pigeons on your camera.

I almost always argue on the side of budget, and frequently write about how to get professional looks on amateur equipment. In the pursuit of “balance” (and to make another futile attempt at affiliate links), here are some reasons to spend more on a video camera. You don’t always get what you pay (very often you pay too much, or can get a deal on last year’s falling star). But here are some features that you don’t always see in the $300-$500 range.

  1. Image sensor (provides quality of image under various lighting conditions)
  2. Manual controls (customize lense ring to do white balance instead of focus)
  3. Rich touch-screen display and menu options
  4. Optical image stabilization
  5. Color peaking
  6. External audio/mic input
  7. HD video onto hard drive (internal memory) or memory cards
So for most people, these things aren’t worth the x2 and x3 premium. But if you’re more than a hobbiest, these cameras can offer quality that surpasses the average amateur vid. Here’s B&H photos picks on three higher-end video cameras, and the Sony ($1298) appears to lead the pack based on higher photo file size and internal memory. But the Canon Vixia is $1099 (and I’ve been using Canon for most of my YouTube stint). The Panasonic is under $1000, and the company seems to have recaptured its place in video equipment. B&H usually beats other retailers on price, and my “invisible hand” suggests these are competitive if not the lowest prices. But check.
Read the features below, and watch the video if you want to feel worse about your camera. Then click my damned affiliate links. Ghees. Or use comments to “rationalize” and convince us (and yourself) that your camera is good enough. Whatev.

1) Sony HDR-CX700V Camcorder

Features:

  • 96 GB of internal memory (plus cards)
  • 12 MP still frame photography
  • Surround sound audio built in
  • Geotag of photos
  • Built in USB cable for charging and file sharing

2) Canon VIXIA HF S30 Flash Memory Camcorder

  • 32 GB internal memory and dual SD card slots
  • Color bars for reference
  • Zebra patterns
  • Remote controllers
  • 8 MP photos
  • Built in flash and LED light

3) Panasonic HDC-TM900 High Definition Camcorder

  • 32 GB internal memory and card slots
  • 3 3.05 MP sensors (3 chips, one for each primary color)
  • 5.1 surround sound
  • 14 MP photos
  • 3D videos (snore)

Time To Kill AVCHD (and Tanbee Converter)

Prescript added post hoc: Thanks to Jeff and Jimmer (see comments) for useful tips on solving the AVCHD problems, including this Panasonic white paper. I found this Panasonic white paper about AVCHD and iMovie too.

Sony and Panasonic invented a video format called “AVCHD” and I would like now to proclaim it dead. I remember years ago hearing about great new cameras that were “functionally obsolescent” for Mac users. The way they stored video footage required a whole separate conversion process (pre-editing) that was painful.

Last night I recorded an evening “Christmas carol flash mob” using 5 different cameras to compare how they’d handle low light. The winner was my Panasonic Lumix, a neat little camera and video camera combo which happens to use AVCHD. Sadly, I’ve spent 5 hours and $40 of software trying to get the footage into a usable format, and to no avail. In an act of desperation I purchased the Tanbee AVCHD Video Converter. I should have known better since I couldn’t find a single review or rating for it.

Tanbee, like AVCHD (for a Mac user anyway) can best be described as “ass.” The trial provided an obnoxious watermark, the $40 version one crashed, and after waiting 3.5 hours for a file to convert… all I got was audio and slow motion footage that didn’t match. I can only imagine that Tanbee has put its technical resources not in product development but SEO strategy (to ensure no ratings were available on the first few pages of Google).

Tanbee Software: Another Wasted $40
  • The software was impossibly slow.
  • The trial version produced a watermark in the center of the frame.
  • The converted footage had slow-motion video with normal audio (not matching)
  • It crashed several times. I had to re-register it each time.
  • Even the interface is stupid. It says press the + key to start, but not the big + key in the center. The little one on the left.

Sadly, the industry continues using AVCHD, which I can only assume is bearable for PC users. See a recent Kodak review that the AVCHD software may cause “editing and playing headaches.” I’d say that was being kind.

Again- I’m imagining there are Vegas, Pinnacle and other PC users who are happy with AVCHD, but I’d love to know if an Apple/Mac user has found a way to make this format even remotely functional. Failing that, watch my “boogerofnalts” eBay account for the listing of a perfectly working Panasonic DMC-ZS3.

Darwinian Evolution: Forwards and Backwards

Having been hunched over a laptop for about 18 of the past 24 hours (and since a Sony Google TV is on route as a gift), I thought this image would be appropriate for my blog banner. What do you think?

Feel free to use it in your next presentation. It’s adapted from the Darwin evolutionary image (source unknown), and I created the “sitting laptop man” based on some posture clip art. Then added a cell phone to primitive man, and a laptop to our ape ancestors.

Admit it… we’re just a few evolutionary moves away from being giant pieces of fat and flesh with tiny opposable thumbs for texting and remote controls.

The evolution and devolution lifecycle, illustrated

Phone-Driven Television Arrives

Ladies and gentlemen I present the future of The Boob Tube: we shift from our cable boxes and laptops to…

HDTV viewing driven by words you search via your exo-brain (you need to stop calling it a phone, or else it’s going to get a complex). Yes your phone is your remote, and your television is your monitor. It’s going to happen just a bit slower I’d like, but *BAM* before you know it… you’ll forget I predicted it today because it will be as common as your toaster and microwave (note the lack of a hybrid toasterwave). I’ll thank you, dear WVFF back-rower, for reminding me of my psychic abilities next year.

Mac had a shot with the omni-present iPhone and the affordable AppleTV, but kinda blew it. The AppleTV wasn’t poised as a companion device to the phone, and that was its tragic flaw. Likewise it’s all so damned exclusive. Now the Android plus GoogleTV? That’s a game changer, friends. Let those green little robots march into my heart.

Before we examine some bold interim solutions, let me be “authentic” and “transparent” and disclose my biases. We have a home full of Macs. Two desktops, three laptops, two iPhones, three iTouches, one iPad, two old-style AppleTVs and one new one. And that’s not counting the Mac Mini and older desktops that are taking up closet space. As my debt can attest, the Apple bastards have never given me a thing for free (so I try to conceal these toys in my videos where possible). But I theoretically want to see Mac win, and I’m not seeing it. Similarly I’m biased in favor of Google since I do make a non-trivial amount of income from YouTube advertising around the 4-6 million views I get monthly. But I’ll try to be impartial.

On the road to smartphone-driven television viewing:

  • Roku, TiVo, AppleTV… they got us partially there. But none of these devices harness the power of man’s best friend (after dogs): the “phone.”
  • Today one of the first Google Television products will be announced by Logitech. Junien Labrousse, Logitech’s Executive VP of Products, is holding an invite-only media event in NYC at 3:oo p.m., presumably to launch the highly anticipated Revue. Perhaps it will invite people to use their phones as a remote, but I doubt it.
  • Anything’s got to be better than Sony’s remote-controlled television. Ian Douglas, Gadget Guru for the UK’s Telegraph, aptly suggested it was designed blindfold, in the 1980s (screen shot below courtesy of Engadget). The gamer in your family may love this, but it’s no flying automobile.
The 1980s called. It wants its remote back.

You may be surprised that I’ve written precious little about Google TV… simply because until now it’s all been hype and imagination. But three things changed in the past weeks:

  1. Dean Gilbert, who worked on GoogleTV, is now heading YouTube’s content partnerships. He’s joined by Robert Kyncl, former VP of content acquisitions from Netflix. That, to me, suggests that Google is poising to position YouTube on the new platform.
  2. We mean no harm to your planet.

    Newsweek ran a Grisham-like story about how Android is leapfrogging iPhone on the “next big screen” we call smart phones. It’s an interesting article to read, even if you didn’t just watch the fascinatingly depressing “The Social Network” movie. Where there are lawsuits, there’s game-changing innovation… and Newsweek documents the mad rush of lawyers chasing this disruptive market changer.

  3. Finally, we’re getting a taste of the toys. Sony will certainly claim its role, and Logitech may sell a mess of boxes… like Roku or TiVo. Of course the toys aren’t nearly as important as the BIG change.

Friends, GoogleTV plus Android equals comfortable viewing of searchable content, not from overpriced remotes, but… the smart phone you wear like a wrist watch in the 1970s.

Take the brief GoogleTV tour and imagine how your television interface will change, where you’re no longer a prisoner of the horrendously archaic cable-TV boxes brought to you by lazy monopolies like Verizon Fios and Comcast. Man I just want to give a crotch shot to the entire cable industry separating studios/networks and my television set. You’ll see that the Dish Network will have a distinct advantage as this model spreads, and our relationship with the television will fundamentally change.

Have a look at Logitech’s non-viral, viral video, featuring a television set with an eye, two feet, and a desperation to be relevant again. Video consumption will shift back to the biggest monitor in the house (that $2000 HDTV collecting dust), and the device powering it won’t be a laptop… they’re too clunky and hot, even if they’re far harder to lose than the chewed-up remote control.

I knew my “future of online video” chapter of Beyond Viral (Wiley) would have a limited shelf life. Here’s what you can expect in the next 6-18 months.

  1. Short-Term Adoption Minimal: Near-term purchases of GoogleTV devices will be minimal, as the “unwashed masses” would use a TRS-80 with their televisions if their cable provider told them that’s what they get. I’d like to say THIS is the Christmas season where web-TV becomes mainstream like those magical moments of precious technology adoption… CD players, DVD players, GPS devices. But I’m tired of being over zealous on that prediction like I did in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
  2. I proclaim 2011 the “Year of Smart Phones Marrying TV Sets.” Later in 2011 we’ll cross the… oh I hate using the term… “tipping point,” where consumers will want to drive their giant monitors (television sets) using their “exo-brains” (Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams), also called “smart phones.” Since the cable providers will sleep through this era like Blackberry snoozed the “smart phone” alarm clock, this will favor pairs of devices: iPad and AppleTV, Android phone and GoogleTV. I’m betting on the latter, and we’ll see Mac getting Microsofted and Microsoft buying anything that offers it a shortcut back to relevance. This TV/smart phone revolution should be especially interesting when we see “dueling banjos of remote controls” — between teenagers and their parents. Sure some will prefer to enjoy the tablet as a giant remote, but the kids have it occupied playing Angry Birds and Zombies versus Plants. Besides, it’s all covered with jam and peanut butter.
  3. Search will drive views… people won’t passively roam stations, getting stuck on “forebrain freezing” infomercials. Instead they’ll type the names of shows, actors, and even obscure strings of words like “knife, annoying, orange.” Where we once surfed stations, we’ll now search shows, actors and words… and remain mostly indifferent to where, when and how they appear. Sit with that thought for a moment… it’s kinda revolutionary.
  4. Even while search drives views, screen real estate will continue to influence us. Just as those “related videos” cause us to wonder into an online-video binge on YouTube…  what GoogleTV does to serve related content will, in effect, possess us with a stronger hold than any television show or network. We may start our “television binge” with one intent, but the surrounding real estate will suck us into that comma-induced trance we love about today’s television.
  5. So… the more things change, the more they will stay the same. Still I’m going to bet that search-enabled consumers will democratize television. This gives independent content creators (especially those with existing audiences) a distinct advantage… at least until the big guys adapt to the medium.

Note: Added Oct. 7, 2010. Bobjenz predicted tablet/television combo on a guest post last year (see his post). When he pointed that out, I playfully edited his comment, which he didn’t find funny. Sorry, Bob. Note that Bobjenz also points out in that guest post the importance of regular uploads, which is perhaps my biggest and most tragic lapse over the past year.

Samsung Calls Consumer Reports “Not Honorable”

Samsung CEO Geesung Choi called Consumer Union, the non-profit product-testing organization behind Consumer Reports magazine, “not honorable.” Choi on Monday cited the October 2010 issue of the magazine, which gave Samsung low scores on high-definition and standard-definition video camcorders.

"Consumer Reporting not honorable," says Samsung CEO Geesung Choi

“American magazine making JVC and Sony best-buy awards is insult to my family and character,” said Choi at a press meeting yesterday. “Consumer Deport (sic) will caused me great suffering and humiliation,” the CEO shouted at a press meeting that is already being satired on such online-video sites as Revver and YouTube. AP News reporter David Scheyd asked Choi to identify if Consumer Reports has any conflicts of interest or missinformation, but Choi declined to speak about the unfavorable ratings of the Samsung HMX-H204 and SMX-C24.

“We people of Samsung find better reviews by cooperative publishers like Very Eager Product magazine,” said Choi. The publication, according to Washington Post writer Richard Winters, is edited by Choi’s niece, Xiuxiu Ch’eng. Ch’eng’s previous review magazines were the subject of a CNN “Bogus Review” article. “When you see merchandise or merchant ratings, or prices that look too good to be true, be cautious,” said Heather Dougherty, analyst with Nielsen/NetRatings. Very Eager Product’s September 2010 issue gave Samsung’s digital-camera line “5 eager stars” and reports Samsung’s recent camcorders are “strong to please and suiting whole family needs for easy utilization and bright leadership in electronic consumer portfolio.”

Consumer Union President Jim Guest e-mailed a statement claiming he is “not concerned about Samsung’s allegations.” “It’s quite common for a manufacturer to dispute the credibility of our publication when we review them unfavorably,” wrote Guest. “We do our best to maintain objective reviews using consistant processes, and surveys of millions of consumers regarding their experiences with products and services.” Guest found himself facing similar attacks just months ago when the magazine’s poor review of the iPhone prompted Steve Jobs to call the magazine: “Lying liars who lie.”

Consumer Reports October 2010 issue “capable camcorders” awarded CR Best Buys to JVC’s A5 and Sony’s A10, crediting such attributes as image quality, excellent battery life and autofocus. The article indicated that manufacturers have discontinued DVD and MiniDV tape models.

Samsung is opting to depart from the evolving industry-standard of flash media. Choi said Samsung’s 2011 video cameras will “pursue new waters of storage and finer horizons for image holding,” citing the Samsung CMX2’s Iomega Zip Drive camera available in February 2010. He cited Samsung’s ongoing commitment to “make better society and humans.”

Samsung to recycle Iomega Zip Drives for 2011 model

Sony USA CEO, Sir Howard Stringer, released a statement on Monday indicating that Consumer Reports maintains Sony’s respect. “We appreciate hard working Americans, and nothing says American like Consumer Reports.” Stringer asked that WillVideoForFood not use Stringer’s “Sir” title in reporting. JVC declined specific comment, but spokesperson Alice Preis acknowledged that the company was “f’ing stoked” about the magazine’s positive ratings on 5 of its JVC models.

Consumerist.com reported last week that “Samsung is not sure where Samsung apps will work,” and Technorati reported that Samsung has launched the highly anticipated Galaxy Tab claiming to be “just as good as the iPad.” Choi yesterday said the Galaxy Tab was “many appealing superiority” to the iPad, and projects 2010 sales to exceed the company’s adjusted forecast of 845 units.

Technorati reported in August that Samsung is overhauling its business model to remain competitive and innovative, and is diversifying its business. Samsung’s public list of affiliated companies, however, has no listing of what Technorati is calling Samsung’s new “Very Suspicious Supermarket” chain in the Bronx, NYC.

P.S. I’m kidding. Thanks, Slater, for pointing out this wonderful Samsung video promoting the, um, galaxy thing. Dang this is so wonderful! If you don’t smile watching this than you’re the Uncle Bus who appears in the video linked above. Appreciate the tip, Brett… I’m going to use this as a “best in class” of viral video marketing because it is.

Technorati claimed last week that Samsung is behind new chain of "Very Suspicious Supermarkets" in NYC