For the past few years, there have been almost no new standard-definition camcorders introduced. That means even low-end, budget camcorders record high-definition video (at either 1280 x 720 pixels or 1920 x 1080 pixels at various frame rates) and look best when viewed on an HDTV. There have also been fewer HD-models introduced because more devices, from SLRs to smart phones and tablets, also capture video in HD resolution. However, a new type of higher resolution HD camcorder, which is called a 4K video camcorder, is beginning to appear in the market place. The major distinction between this new type of 4K camcorder and high-definition camcorders is the resolution they capture:
- The resolution for a 4K camcorder is 3840 x 2160 pixels
- The resolution for a high-definition camcorder is 1920 x 1080 pixels or 1280 x 720 pixels
- The resolution for a standard-definition camcorder is 720 x 480 pixels
However, for now, 4K camcorders are still too expensive for most consumers, which is why your best bet is to buy an HD camcorder.
HD models look just like conventional standard-definition models--in fact, many are even smaller, lighter and more compact--but use a higher-resolution image sensor and more-advanced recording technology, and they record in a widescreen format (or 16:9 aspect ratio). Not surprisingly, HD video contains much more detail than standard video, but you'll be able to see it only on an HDTV. (If you hook up an HD model to your standard-def TV, you'll see video, but not the highest quality.)
Almost all HD models can record video in 1080i, the same high resolution as much HDTV programming. Some can even shoot in 1080p, which is the same format used on Blu-ray discs. Only a few models record in 720p, an alternative HD broadcast format. Note that HD recordings take up much more space than standard-def video, so you'll fit less video in a given amount of storage; 720p files are not quite as large as 1080i, though. Some formats that record in HD, such as AVCHD, need HD-capable hardware, such as a Blu-ray disc player, to play back recordings. Also, you'll find pocket and action camcorders that can capture HD-resolution video, some even in 1080i, but will compromise the video quality in other ways, such as lower frame rates. Most are still unable to capture 4K, or ultra-high-definition, video. (However, if they can capture 4K video, the model will probably compromise the video quality in other ways as well, such as a lower frame rate.)
You can also connect directly to an HDTV. Some HD models give you the option of recording in standard definition, which enables you to store more video. That also provides for broader playback compatibility if you want to share recordings with others. You can also downconvert HD video either within the camera or after you've transferred it to a computer.