JVC GZ-MG50
4.0Overall Score
Price (RRP): $1,749 Manufacturer: JVC

Are JVC’s Everio camcorders about to do for video what Apple did to music with the iPod? The new Everio GZ-MG50 30GB hard disk camcorder has all the indicators that this is exactly what is happening. Peter Blasina takes the latest largest capacity HDD camcorder ever to be released for a test run and presents an overview of it features and functions.

JVC is definitely not sitting still when it comes to extending its range of hard disk-based camcorders. With the Everio range now firmly established in the marketplace, the company has set about broadening its offering for those keen to leave tape, DVD or flash memory recording media behind.

Speaking to a broad range of retailers, we found that the consumers are showing increasing interest in the new hard disk camcorder format. Anecdotally, most retailers agree that the iPod revolution of hard disk music players has made selling a hard disk-based camcorder much easier than they thought. “Most consumers are aware of what an iPod is and how it operates. It’s not a giant leap to explain that digital video can work in much the same way”, said one camera store owner that GadgetGuy interviewed.

According to most retailers that were stocking JVC’s Everio range, consumers are very aware of the various media options available now and are showing little resistance to the new format. “People looking for a new camcorder are coming into our store and asking about hard disk camcorders. This is happening without us prompting them, so it would appear there is a reasonable level of market knowledge,” said one shop assistant.

One criticism leveled at the original hard disk Everio models was that their 4GB capacity was limiting, especially for travellers that didn?t have a computer to download recorded footage when the hard disk was full.

The new series of Everio G Series camcorders directly target this criticism and will be available in the local market by October 2005. These additional hard disk camcorders will expand JVC’s Everio line-up to include compact and long recording models. JVC is promoting The new Everio G Series as the camcorders that eliminate the need to carry tapes, discs or any media at all, yet they can record almost 11 hours at a quality comparable to a DVD camcorder’s 30-minute mode.

The Everio G Series will be available in 20 and 30 gigabyte (GB) versions, offering a huge amount of video and stills storage capacity in a size significantly smaller than many conventional camcorders.

The Everio G models consist of three configurations. Two popularly-priced versions provide seven and 10.5 hours respectively of DVD camcorder-quality (30-minute mode) video and are equipped with 20GB hard disk (GZ-MG20) and 30GB hard disk (GZ-MG30). A step-up version with a 1.33 megapixel CCD and an F1.2 lens is the 30GB hard disk GZ-MG50 (previewed here) that also records 10.5 hours of DVD camcorder-quality video. JVC put the storage capacity in context, by explaining that it would take 22 DVD camcorder discs (8 cm/30-minute discs) to hold seven hours of video.

Design and layout

The MG50 camcorder supplied to VideoCamera is a pre-production sample, so this overview will include a look at the camcorder’s design and layout only at this stage so it will not include bench testing and performance. When GadgetGuy is supplied with a production model we will provide the information as to the camcorder’s ratings and performance characteristics.

Despite its high capacity storage, the MG50 is surprisingly small, ergonomically balanced and well featured. It has conventional camcorder styling along the lines of the palm-sized mini-DV models and weighs an amazing 380 grams with the included battery attached. The design and layout is similar to a small DV camcorder, and it has a large, 112,000 pixel polycrystalline silicon colour 2.5-inch flip-out LCD screen for easy recording and playback.

Playback is easy, with multiple connections (composite and S-Video sockets) on the camcorder allowing convenient TV playback, dubbing to a VCR or DVD recorder, transfer to a PC or Apple Macintosh (yes, amazingly there is included software for the Mac – a very unusual feature these days) for DVD creation, editing, or posting on the internet, or even burned directly without PC to a full length movie DVD disc using an optional DVD burner.

The design of the MG50 makes it fall into the curve of your cupped hand, and there are indentations along the top of the camcorder to accommodate your fingers. The design also makes your spare fingers fall naturally to the controls – basically your index finger and thumb on the right hand are used to control and navigate the camcorder’s few operations.

The MG50 offers over seven hours storage at recording at the top bit rate of 8.5Mbps, which is close to the maximum bit rate for DVD movie quality recording, or 10 hours 40 minutes at 5.5Mbps, comparable to DVD camcorder recordings. Two more modes are available for even more recording time. It’s important to note that the MPEG-2 files that are recorded the MG50?s hard disk are in the same format used in conventional DVD movies, which means that there will be no quality loss when burning them to DVD, and no time and quality wasting conversion.

The GZ50 allows for four different recording modes to be set, depending on the quality of footage you require and the amount of footage recorded. Ultra mode (DVD Movie) will deliver 7.4 hours of recording while the Fine mode translates to 10.5 hours – both these modes record at fixed bit rates. Footage recorded in Normal (TV) mode is equivalent to VHS quality and 14 hours and 10 minutes of footage can be recorded, while Economy (Internet) mode will record up to 37 hours and 30 minutes of footage ? both these modes deploy variable bit rate recording.

The GZ50 has a compact little body that fits snugly into the hand. The minimal operational controls are laid out at strategic points around the camcorder’s body making them easy to access whilst recording. Most controls are accessed via the comprehensive yet easy to navigate menu system.

The front of the GZ50 is dominated by a high-resolution lens specifically matched for the camcorder’s 1.33 (1.23 effective) megapixel 5.6 mm (1/4.5 inch) CCD. JVC have opted for an excellent lens system that delivers a full 15x optical zoom (f=3 ? 45mm) – which offers a 35mm lens equivalent of Normal Video: 43.3 -649.5mm or with 16:9 Video selected: 39.3 – 589.5mm and in Still Image mode: 36.1 – 541.5mm. The lens opens to an excellent F1.2 at wide angle only closing down to a minimum of F2.8 when at 15x zoom. There is also a 700x digital zoom mode available.

The f=3 – 45mm focal length and F1.2 minimum aperture delivers very good images, with minimal distortion or aberration at either end of the optical zoom range.

Like other models in the Everio range, JVC’s new Megabrid Imaging Engine separately processes video and still signals, providing optimal image processing for both video and still images. Megabrid technology assures high sensitivity and a high signal-to-noise ratio for moving pictures, and clear, high-resolution progressive still images. Encoding of the image to MPEG-2 data is handled, according to JVC, by the world’s smallest MPEG-2 codec chip.

Random access to recordings

The benefits of recording video to a hard disk are the same benefits that have made hard disk-based audio players so popular – random access to quickly locate desired material, the ability to effortlessly delete unwanted material, and easily rearrange the playback sequence. What’s more, there’s no danger of mistakenly recording over something you want to keep.

Scene selection is made easy thanks to on-screen index images, so the large amount recorded won’t become a hindrance to quick accessibility. And with remote control operation, it is possible to connect the MG50 to a TV and operate it from a distance, just like a DVD deck. Playlist operation allows recording of desired clips directly to DVD with the optional DVD burner, or directly to VHS or other analog input devices for easy copying.

JVC explains that one of the biggest challenges in designing and building a hard disk camcorder is protecting the disk from shocks and vibrations. One way this is done in the MG50 is by deploying a unique floating suspension system that effectively dampens vibrations through advanced polymer shock absorbers. Another security measure familiar to notebook PC users is its gravity-like force sensor system that automatically senses sudden acceleration such as in a free fall situation, and turns off the power to defend the hard disk so that a head crash can be avoided in many cases even when the unit is dropped. This is especially relevant for the abuse some camcorders can be subjected to.

Unlike the Everio MC500, which offers a lot of manual, the MG50 is a camcorder that is happiest being used in full automatic mode. There are manual overrides but they are all menu-driven, making their access whilst shooting next to impossible.

The obvious zoom at the top of the camcorder is easily operated while the menu system that has the majority of the camcorder’s controls is accessed via a novel multidirectional controller behind the LCD screen on the left side of the camcorder. This controller is the main access to virtually all the MG50?s functions – even in playback mode it doubles as the transport control.

There is an interesting LED light on the rear panel that flickers when recording or playing back footage. Called ‘Access’, it is the clearest indicator that this is not a tape-based camcorder. ‘Access’ refers to recording to the camera’s hard drive – but more about that later.

JVC has developed a great new GUI (Graphical User Interface) for the MG50. It makes it easy to navigate and control a huge range of settings and functions easily. In addition, there is access to the camcorders’ video and still files via thumbnails, the surest sign that we have left the tape domain and entered the more easily accessible world of hard disk recording.

Still pictures

The MG50 is uses a 1.33 megapixel CCD that will allow digital still shots at 1152 x 864, 1024 x 768, or the standard 640 x 480 sizes. For each size, the camcorder has two resolution modes available: STD and FINE, which either provide more detail or less detail for email. Digital stills can be stored on either the internal hard drive or on a removable SD Memory Card (which is optional), whichever is more convenient.

Like other Everio models viewing or dubbing recorded video is a very easy; just connect the AV cable and/or the S-Video cable to a TV, DVD or VCR’s analog inputs. Every analog copy will be first generation made from the digital original, so all copies made this way have the same high quality.

For quick downloading to a PC, simply connect the camcorder via its USB 2.0 socket. All transfer is digital-to-digital (approximately 4x or better real time speed depending on the PC or Mac you are using), so there is no quality lost in the process. As well, the MG50 supports PictBridge, so it can be connected via the USB terminal to a compatible printer to easily print stills directly, without the need to transfer shots to a computer first.

On the other hand, there is the option of using a computer with the MG50 to really start producing more professional-looking video. For those who want to edit with a computer, JVC includes software for use with both the Windows and Macintosh platforms. The provided Pixela Capty MPEG Edit EX and optional Capty DVD for making DVD Video software packages provide seamless integration into the Apple Macintosh computer world. An added bonus is that the MG50 is compatible with Apple’s iPhoto for still pictures. The Mac identifies the camcorder when connected by USB.

For Windows PCs, the bundled CyberLink DVD software bundled with MG50 models comprises three applications that make it easy to make full-length DVD movies. A standard 4.7GB single-layer DVD-R/RW disc holds over one hour of an Ultra mode video, and over 90 minutes of a Fine mode video from the camcorder?s hard disk.

PowerProducer offers easy saving and authoring of video clips in any order to DVD, even directly from a USB-connected camcorder, so you can share original DVDs with anybody who owns a DVD player. The software makes it easy to locate and transfer video files residing on the camcorder’s hard disk. Saving to DVD requires only a PC with 256 MB RAM, 700MHz or above Pentium III, USB 2.0 terminal and a DVD burner.

PowerDirector Express offers feature-rich non-linear editing. The program also converts movies to a variety of file formats to send via the Web or e-mail. Supported formats include DV-AVI, Windows-AVI, MPEG-1 and MPEG-2, as well as Windows Media Video and RealVideo that can be streamed uploaded or streamed over the internet.

PowerDVD conveniently plays back video clips and DVDs with Dolby Digital audio.

Conclusions

One of the fantastic things that happened when it became possible to digitize video onto a computer, was random access to the footage. It meant that you could move from the video’s first frame to its last in a fraction of a second. The same convenience is one of the best features of the MG50. The camcorder’s hard drive stores clips in a random-access file system, so you can select individual clips from a central menu instead of having to rewind and fast-forward through an entire tape.

Another extremely cool feature is the drop-protection safety mechanism built into the camcorder that will shut off the MG50’s hard disk to prevent data loss when it detects that the camera is rapidly accelerating, ostensibly toward the floor!

However, 10 hours of video can be a blessing and a curse. The MG50 certainly answers the criticism leveled at the other Everio models – only an hour of quality video could be recorded. However, what do you do with your movies when the 30GB drive is full? Anyone that uses a high-capacity media card with their digital camera will tell you that computer disk space can evaporate fast after a few shoots.

The logical solution is a very large hard drive either installed in or attached to your computer – something in the 200 to 300GB range sounds reasonable for a 30GB camcorder. So, while you won’t have to buy traditional media, such as mini-DV tapes, you will likely have to invest in a gigantic hard drive or a set top DVD recorder with a large hard drive so you can archive your footage.

There is little question that JVC is first to market with the home movie version of Apple’s now-famous iPod. Fortunately for JVC, the iPod has already done a lot of the legwork by instructing consumers on how to move large amounts of media on and off of a portable hard disk-based device.

It will be interesting when we have a chance to actually test the MG50 on the test bench and compare its output to the mini-DV and DVD camcorders that are currently dominating the market. The burning question is whether the Everio camcorders become the iPods of video and revolutionise the way we record, store and playback our home movies.

JVC GZ-MG50
Price (RRP): $1,749 Manufacturer: JVC
Immediate access to files, drop protection safety mechanism for internal hard disk, cool factor.
Probably need to buy extra hard drive storage for the PC, MPEG2 editing is still not quite mature.
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4.0Overall Score
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