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Old 08-07-2007, 03:00 PM
Jason Dunn
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Join Date: Aug 2006
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Default Canon's HV20: A High-Definition, Vista-Certified Delight

<img src="" /><br /><br /><b>Product Category:</b> High-definition video camera<br /><b>Manufacturer:</b> <a href="">Canon</a><br /><b>Where to Buy:</b> <a href="">Low Price Search</a><br /><b>Price:</b> $865 to $1099 (at the time of this writing)<br /><b>Specifications:</b> 1/2.7" CMOS Sensor, RGB Primary Color Filter. 2,960,000 total pixels. Zoom Ratio: 10x Optical/200x Digital. Supported Playback Modes: 1080/60i, 1080/24P, 1080/30F, 1080/24F. Dimensions (WxHxD) 3.5 x 3.2 x 5.4 inches. 1.2 lbs in weight, not including lens and battery pack. Further details on the Canon <a href="">specifications page</a>.<br /><br /><b>Pros:</b><ul><li>1080/60i quality in a small package;<li>Excellent image quality and colour; <li>Certified for Windows Vista; <li>Surprisingly good still photo capture.</ul><b>Cons:</b><ul><li>Small, awkwardly-placed zoom control;<li>No exposure adjustment/override;<li>Ridiculous that no Firewire cable is included;<li>Spartan out of box experience.</ul><b>Summary:</b><br />Canon's HV20 is a breakthrough video camera: it hits a trifecta of high quality, reasonable price, and small size that will make it a winner in the consumer market. The video quality is excellent, and while it lacks an exposure control to help with those shots that have tricky lighting, for the most part pointing and pressing record will get great-quality video.<br /><br />Read on for the full review!<!><br /><PAGEBREAK><br /><b><span>What's in the Box</span></b><br />Canon's out of box experience, no matter which product you buy, has always been on the basic side. Looking at the box and the packaging, you feel more like you're unpacking a box of light bulbs than a $1000 piece of technology. Canon needs to look to a company such as HTC: if they can have a smartphone phone costing half as much <a href=",55567">be so much fun to unpack</a>, I know Canon can do better. Here's what you get in the box:<br /><br /> HV20 Camcorder;<br /> BP-2L13 Battery Pack (with Terminal Cover);<br /> Compact Power Adaptor;<br /> Stereo Video Cable;<br /> Wireless Controller;<br /> USB Cable;<br /> Component Cable;<br /> Digital Video Solution Disc for Windows and Macintosh.<br /><br />I normally prefer to see a separate charger for the battery, but in this case charging the battery while it's attached to the camera didn't prove to be a hassle like it is with digital still cameras. As you can tell from that list, all the basics are there except for a Firewire cable. I can understand printer manufacturers not giving you a USB cable with a $99 printer, but if you're dropping $1000 on a video camera, it should come with absolutely everything you need - there's no excuse for not including a cable that would likely cost Canon 75 cents to buy. I've dealt with consumers and video cameras a lot over the years, and because a USB cable is included, but not a Firewire cable, many are under the impression that you can pull video off the camera using USB. Needless frustration could be avoided if Canon just ponied up and included a Firewire cable.<br /><br />The wireless controller is a standard affair, offering one-button start/stop recording, zoom in/out, stop, play, rewind, etc. The included component cable is a nice touch, but an HDMI cable would be even better - we <i>are</i> talking about a high-definition camera here, and like the Firewire cable, including it should be standard when buying a camera that costs this much. The "Digital Video Solution Disk" seems to have been named by someone with a strong sense of irony: it includes no video editing software, only Canon's ZoomBrowser EX 5.7 software (which is only useful with photos) and a TWAIN driver for using the camera as a live video capture device (think expensive Web cam). Although the camera will work just fine with the HD-friendly version of Windows Movie Maker included with Windows Vista Home Premium and Vista Ultimate, I would have preferred to see some form of video editing application included - though with those versions of Vista now including a DVD burning application, this is less of an issue.<br /><PAGEBREAK><br /><b><span>Exploring the Camera's Features</span></b><br />Looking at the camera itself, it's hard to believe they packed so many impressive features in something so small. The camera feels great in my hands, and is nicely balanced. Since this isn't <a href=""></a> I'm not going to go into great detail regarding the features on this camera - this review focuses more on the experience of using the camera with Windows Vista. More on that later, but for now here's an exploration of the HV20 in a series of photos.<br /><br /><img src="" /><br /><i>Figure 1: A side view of the HV20 mounted on my video tripod. The HV20 is so small it made me feel a bit silly using it at an event, but it fit just fine on the Manfrotto head.</i><br /><br /><img src="" /><br /><i>Figure 2: A front view - the camera looks great, though it has a few too many marketing bragging points on it for my liking - do I really need to see the words "Instant AF" and "CMOS" on it? Button labels are necessary, most of the other text is not.</i><br /><br /><img src="" /><br /><i>Figure 3: The 2.7 inch wide screen LCD screen packs 211,000 pixels, so it's highly usable and bright enough to be clear outdoors. The brightness is adjustable, and it even includes a greyscale ramp so you can make sure you're not running the LCD screen so bright that you won't be able to pick out greyscale shades (this doesn't impact the actual video capture however).</i><br /><br /><img src="" /><br /><i>Figure 4: The miniSD slot - I'm surprised they didn't go with either SD or microSD. miniSD is the red-headed stepchild of the SD family.</i><br /><br /><img src="" /><br /><i>Figure 5: Shown here are the basic capture controls, the power indicator, the HDV/DV port (Firewire), the HDMI out port, the Function button which brings up the menu, and the control pad which allows you to navigate the menu.</i><br /><br /><img src="" /><br /><i>Figure 6: This is the right-rear side of the camera - it has the AUTO/P switch which allows you to switch between full auto mode and the programmed mode. The programmed mode allows you to select presets such as portrait, snow, sports, etc. Each preset will alter the aperture and shutter speed. Below that is the tape/memory card switch, which controls where photos are stored.</i><br /><br /><img src="" /><br /><i>Figure 7: The right-front of the HV20 has an input for an external microphone, the AV output/headphone jack, and the component out.</i><br /><PAGEBREAK><br /><b><span>Exploring the Camera's Features (...Continued)</span></b><br /><br /><img src="" /><br /><i>Figure 8: The 10x zoom is big enough to get you fairly close to the action and is standard for Canon cameras.</i><br /><br /><img src="" /><br /><i>Figure 9: The menu system allows for a great deal of customization and configuration. This screen is where you start off.</i><br /><br /><img src="" /><br /><i>Figure 10: You can record in various types of video formats (see the next figure), SP or LP mode, 12 bit or 16 bit audio, and control how your photos are numbered.</i><br /><br /><img src="" /><br /><i>Figure 11: The HV20 is capable of recording in HDV (1080i) format, HDV 24 frames per second (sometimes called "film mode"), and regular 720 x 480 DV format (which is non-high definition) either in wide screen or standard 4:3 format. The ability to record in all these modes is simply awesome!</i><br /><br /><img src="" /><br /><i>Figure 12: This screen is where you control the brightness of the LCD screen and the audio level, and configure how the camera displays on a connected TV set.</i><br /><br /><img src="" /><br /><i>Figure 13: You can turn off the ability of the camera to accept input from the wireless remote...though I'm not sure why you'd want to. Turning off beeping is a good thing - there's nothing worse than being at a wedding ceremony and listening to some guy's camera going BEEP BEEP BEEP as he's changing settings or snapping a photo. Be polite people. ;-)</i><br /><PAGEBREAK><br /><b><span>What Really Matters: Video &amp; Photo Quality</span></b><br />So how does the video this camera captures actually look? In a word, great. Not superb, but great. I have a Canon GL2, which is a semi-pro 3-chip camera that Canon still sells today for around $2500 USD. So my quality bar is quite high - the sheer resolution of the HV20 out-guns my GL2, but the colour doesn't quite measure up. But you know what? Most people aren't going to notice because seeing your memories played back in glorious high-definition is so damn impressive. The video output is crisp, clear, with accurate colour and saturation. I tested both the 1080i/60 modes and the standard DV mode, and both modes gave me excellent quality video. There's nothing like seeing it for yourself, so <a href="">click here to download a 13 second sample clip</a> (48.3 MB) shot in 1080i/60. Make sure you go full screen on your monitor, and if you're lucky enough to have a monitor that has 1920 x 1200 display resolution, you'll be seeing the video closest to the resolution it was meant to be displayed at. The sample clip is in MPEG format, capture right off the camera and not re-compressed to save space. If the video is jerky while being played back, it likely means your system doesn't have enough horsepower to handle HD video - there are a lot of pixels in there.<br /><br />I was surprised by the quality of the still photo capture - I guess I've grown bitter against digital still photo capture on video cameras because for so many years the quality was just horrific. The HV20 captures images at a maximum resolution of 3.1 megapixels, which is more than enough for a 4x6 or 5x7 print. It's not going to measure up to my Nikon D200 DSLR, but it compares favourably to the entry-level $150 digital still cameras. There are a few choices for image size, the highest quality one being 2048 x 1536 (<a href="">sample 1, 1.3 MB</a>). Colour saturation is decent (<a href="">sample 2, 1.4 MB</a>), although the flash is a bit too powerful at close range. There's also an option to capture photos in wide-screen resolution, meaning 1920 x 1080 (<a href="">sample 3, 899 KB</a>). This is the first video camera I've used where I might actually use it to take photos if I saw something while filming that looked like it would make a good still photo.<br /><br /><b><span>Certified for Windows Vista</span></b><br />The main reason Microsoft sent me this camera on loan was to explore and report on the experience of using it as a Certified for Windows Vista product. What's that you might be wondering? If you see a product that has a logo on it that says "Works With Windows Vista" that means it will function with Vista - there are drivers for it, and the basic functionality will be there. On the other hand, if you see a Certified for Windows Vista logo on it (see Figure 14) you're buying a product that has been thoroughly tested not only for compatibility but also for meeting a certain quality bar in terms of the overall experience. Microsoft knows that the process of installing, configuring, and using new hardware can be daunting for many computer users - people often don't read instructions, and if something doesn't immediately work the way someone thinks it should, quite often it will get returned to the store. Microsoft wants people to be able to connect a new piece of hardware and have the experience be a delight - for it to just simply work. That's the goal.<br /><br /><img src="" /><br /><i>Figure 14: The logo to look for on hardware and software.</i><br /><br />I attended a presentation on this topic in January of 2007, so if you want to learn more about the background being Certified for Windows Vista, <a href=",11611">check out this article</a>. Microsoft also has an amusing <a href="">Certified for Windows Vista</a> website featuring an enthusiastic coach that "trains" products to live up to the task of being good enough for certification. Does the HV20 live up to that rather lofty expectation? Keep reading.<br /><PAGEBREAK><br /><b><span>Using the HV20 with Windows Vista</span></b><br />When I test a new product, I try to approach it as an average user would. So I charged up the battery on the HV20, captured some video on it, then connected it to my <a href="">Shuttle SD39P2</a> running Windows Vista Ultimate. I didn't read the instruction manual, I didn't install any drivers. Here's what happened, step by step...<br /><br /><img src="" /><br /><i>Figure 15: Vista immediately identified the connected hardware properly, taking around 5 seconds to complete the process. I was then presented with several options (not shown above) - I chose to capture the video off the camera using Windows Movie Maker.</i><br /><br /><img src="" /><br /><i>Figure 16: Windows Movie Maker presented me with a simple screen, asking me to give my video project a name, and it correctly selected the High Definition Video Device Format (MPEG).</i><br /><br /><img src="" /><br /><i>Figure 17: This is where the experience failed a bit - I didn't want to capture the entire tape, but that was the only option it gave me.</i><br /><br /><img src="" /><br /><i>Figure 18: After starting the import, it rewound the tape in the camera (nice touch!) then started to import the video. The one main disadvantage of tape-based media is that you have to capture in real-time. If you've got 45 minutes of video footage, come back in 45 minutes - it doesn't matter how fast your computer is. Windows Movie Maker helpfully reported the length of the video it had captured so far, the size of the file so far, and how much space I have left over. I was capturing to two 500 GB Western Digital Caviar RE2 drives in RAID 1 - meaning as I capture the video it was copied to both drives, protecting me from losing my video if one of the hard drives failed. Gotta' love that!</i><br /><br /><img src="" /><br /><i>Figure 19: Eventually the preview of my video stopped and I was staring at a black preview window, but it kept capturing. It would have been nice if Windows Movie Maker recognized that it was capturing blank tape and stopped automatically.</i><br /><br /><img src="" /><br /><i>Figure 20: This ominous warning is silly, because I don't need to capture a blank tape with no video.</i><br /><br /><img src="" /><br /><i>Figure 21: My video, captured and imported into Windows Movie Maker - ready for editing.</i><br /><br />The entire process was remarkably painless and easy - the Canon HV20 did everything it was supposed to do, and Windows Vista likewise made the process fast and simple. I wish Windows Movie Maker was smarter about the tape capturing process, only capturing what was on the tape, but it's basic, free software, so perhaps I shouldn't expect so much. Then again, I bet a Mac user using iMovie doesn't have to deal with that - I think Microsoft can do better with Windows Movie Maker.<br /><br />I tried the Canon HV20 with other software applications, and the experience was a bit more...bumpy. Even if the hardware is Certified for Windows Vista, you still need the right kind of software: I tried capturing video with Adobe Premiere Elements 3.02, my main video editing application, and it was anything but intuitive. The HD portion of what I recorded on on the tape only showed up as black footage. I had to manually switch the capture mode to HDV Capture before anything would show up, and there was no indication for me to do so. When the Canon HV20 is in camera record mode, it can be used to capture live HD footage right to the hard drive - but there's no preview, it shows only a black screen. It wasn't until I clicked stop that I saw the video had been captured. I don't know if this is Adobe Premiere Elements not recognizing that an HD camera has been connected and making the capture switch automatically, or the Canon HV20 not identifying itself as an HD camera. Adobe Premiere Elements is not Certified for Windows Vista, so perhaps once it is, this scenario will get better.<br /><br /><b><span>Conclusions</span></b><br />Canon's HV20 video camera is an impressive piece of hardware - getting true 1080i video in a small package, all for under $1000 USD, is an impressive feat. When paired with Windows Vista Home Premium or Windows Vista Ultimate, the Canon HV20 really shines, giving consumers the ability to capture HD video, easily edit it, and burn DVDs to share with their friends and family. If you're looking for a video camera, you owe it to yourself to give the HV20 a try.<br /><br /><i>Jason Dunn owns and operates <a href="">Thoughts Media Inc.</a>, a company dedicated to creating the best in online communities. He enjoys mobile devices, digital media content creation/editing, and pretty much all technology. He lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada with his lovely wife, and his sometimes obedient dog. He's loving the HD!</i>
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