Sanyo VPC-HD1 Camcorder Review
**Video Performance ***(7.2)*
The Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD1 is equipped with a very large 1/2.5 inch CCD, with approximately 5.36 gross megapixels, and a primary color filter. The next largest chip in a consumer cam is the 1/2.8 inch found on the Canon Optura 600. The Sony DCR-DVD505 and DVD405 offer 1/3 inch chips.
The HD1 records high definition (HD), which measures 1280 x 720 pixels, at 30 frames per second (fps) and a maximum data rate of 9 Megabits per second (Mbps). It also records in 640 x 480 standard definition (SD) at 60 fps interlaced, with a maximum data rate of 6Mbps. There is also a 30 fps frame rate in SD, with a bit rate of 3Mbps. For more information and a full list of shooting qualities, see the Compression section towards the end of this review.
In order to determine the VPC-HD1’s video performance, we shot a standard video color chart in three of the camcorder’s modes: the highest quality HD, SD at 60fps (which is referred to as TV-HR), and SD at 30fps (called TV-SHQ). The manual promises that the 30fps in SD will be of better quality than the 60fps.
Note: The score is based on the HD footage.
At 3000 lux, colors in the Xacti appeared overly saturated, as was the case in last year’s Sony DCR-DVD403. While Sony has since made moves to tone down the colors, Sanyo has forged ahead to an extreme that blows them out. Sony's HD camcorder, the HC1, certainly saturates as well, but it produces nothing like the excessive saturation on the VPC-HD1. This camcorder pushes it to an extreme where colors look not only vibrant but inaccurate. Most consumers, for whom this camera was intended, prefer stronger *colors to *accurate colors, but we still think the Xacti goes too far. However, the Xacti shoots in an inherently more detailed HD format, and can spare a little sharpness, whereas the DVD403 noticably sacrificed sharpness for color intensity.
Perhaps to help offset the side effects of saturation, such as fuzziness, the Sanyo tends toward intense in-camera sharpening. While this helps to define the edges of objects, too much can lead to sharp outlines between contrasting areas, like the labels we print out for each test.
These pictures also show the damage that oversharpening does to curved lines such as resolution trumpets and the noticeable noise around the dashed line in the middle of the image. Noise levels in the image varied according to color tones. The true black in the center of the chart was almost completely noise free, something that we rarely see (though the Sony HC1 was able to do the same), but noise was surprisingly strong in other areas. This is not something we would ever expect to see in an HD camcorder. The noise was not fine grain but large and chunky.
Blow up of the Sanyo VPC-HD1
Blow up of the Sony HDR-HC1
We’re not saying that this is a bad image, per se. It’s just not very impressive for HD. Comparatively, the Canon Optura 600, an SD MiniDV camcorder with a 1/2.8" CCD, had a slightly less saturated image and much better noise control. The colors were also much more accurate. If I were to pick which image I preferred, I would have to throw my hat in with the Optura 600.
The Sanyo VPC-HD1 next to the Canon Optura 600, blown up 200% to show the difference in noise and saturation.
The Sony DCR-DVD405, which has a 1/3" CCD, could not match the Sanyo for sharpness and showed less intense colors, though color balance was generally good.
The Panasonic PV-GS500, an SD MiniDV camcorder with three 1/4.7" CCDs, showed strong in-camera sharpening and the same problem with curving lines, but it produced crisp images. Close-ups showed a good amount of fine-grain blackish noise, but this is preferably to the chunky noise of the Sanyo.
We also compared the VPC-HD1 to JVC’s highest-end camcorder, the Everio GZ-MC500, which also records to a flash media card. The MC500 had an overall unhealthy look to it, rather pale and greenish-bluish, despite being white balanced. It did not have nearly the sharpness of the Sanyo, though the noise was a little finer.
Finally, we were curious about the capabilities of the in-camera Neutral Density filter. Neutral Density filters, in theory, reduce the light of all colors and wavelengths equally. In practice, however, they may be stronger in some areas and weaker in others.
At 3000 lux, the HD image with the ND filter on, noise increased dramatically. The filter did darken the image, but it did not do much else.
Because people will likely be shooting in HD when given the opportunity, we’ll only examine the Xacti’s SD performance briefly.
At 3000 lux, 60fps--the standard definition shooting mode of TV-HR--showed approximately the same levels of oversaturation that we saw in HD. Sharpness was, of course, affected, and serious moiré patterns occurred in the denser areas of the resolution trumpets. There was actually less in-camera sharpening, which seemed to help reduce the noise flare-ups along high contrast borders. This was not a better image compared to the HD picture, however, just less noisy.
The TV-SHQ, or 30fps, image also produced moiré patterns, but they weren't quite so severe. Image quality was definitely better overall, with decreased noise and noticeably better sharpness. The picture seemed both brighter and softer, not something we’d normally praise, but a good thing in this case, as most of the images from this camcorder were too sharp.
One final note: the video testing chart cannot show some things. Usually, we are content to talk about this in the Video Performance and Manual Control sections, but this particular camcorder warrants additional images. The VPC-HD1 has very little dynamic range, particularly in darker areas and shadow. Below is a still from the Sanyo shooting into a fairly well-lit corner of our testing room, which is covered in non-reflective black fabric. Following that is the same shot from the Sony DCR-DVD405. Both camcorders are in full auto mode, including auto white balance. Note how the Sanyo quickly drops off into lost information.
Sanyo VPC-HD1 shooting into a corner
The same shot from the Sony DCR-DVD405
The bottom line is that Sanyo is trying, unsuccessfully, to cover up a weak chip. While the chip in the camcorder may have an impressive pixel count combined with some sharpening technologies, it ultimately produces oversaturation with little dynamic range. Its images, while technically crisp, have none of the brilliance that people expect from HD camcorders, even consumer models like the HDR-HC1.
**Video Resolution ***(21.3)*
Now for the test you've all been waiting for: the resolution of the VPC-HD1.
In HD, the VPC-HD1 produced 453.3 lines of vertical resolution and 470 lines of horizontal resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 213051.0. The average clipping ran at about 50%. Clipping occurs when Imatest cannot read a portion of the information from the image, either because the whites were blowing out (red, green, and blue channels all measuring 255) or the blacks were bottoming out (all channels at 0). 50% is an extremely high clipping number which can slightly compromise the result and indicates that nearly the entire black portion of the black/white line edge is bottoming out.
And now the big question: how does the HD1 compare to the Sony HDR-HC1? Is it really HD? By comparison, the Sony HDR-HC1 scored a 31.5 in the video resolution test, about 50% better than the HD1. The best MiniDV camcorders this year are scoring in the mid-teens. This test confirms what we expected. While HD1's picture is sharp, and it might technically be HD, it certainly doesn't perform in the 'spirit' of HD. The resolution performance is nowhere close to any existing HD camcorder, including the Sony HDR-HC1or the performance we'd expect from its successor, the HDR-HC3. You're going to get a sharp picture out of the VPC-HD1, but it's not going to have the brilliance that people expect when they hear high definition.
In addition, we tested the two modes of SD video for resolution by shooting a standard ISO 12233 resolution chart and running stills from those clips through Imatest imaging software. In SD mode, TV-HR quality (60fps), the camcorder produced 395 lines of vertical resolution and 441.3 lines of horizontal resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 174313.5.
In TV-SHQ (30fps), which showed a better picture in Video Performance, the camcorder produced 362.5 lines of vertical resolution and 409.1 lines of horizontal resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 148298.75.
Low Light Performance*(3.75)*
The Sanyo VPC-HD1 was tested for its low light performance at two light levels, 60 and 15 lux. Because larger imagers have more surface area available to capture light, the HD1's 1/2.5' CCD should produce excellent low-light shots. However, this was not the case, adding more evidence to our theory: large still chips don't perform in low light like large video chips.
At 60 lux, the Xacti’s HD video shows the same high saturation levels that we saw in bright light. At this low level, the noise that was once tolerable becomes intense. The violet and blue sections contained intense bouts of blue noise, while blackish noise appeared in the yellow portions. The type of noise is also worse than we’ve seen on most camcorders: large chunks, some with vertical or horizontal patterns.
We also looked at the two highest ISO settings, ISO 800 and ISO 1600. Compared to the image with auto ISO, the ISO 800 is brighter overall. While the image had the same amount of noise, the difference between the noise tone and the color around it was less noticeable. The noise took on a slightly finer grain and became black, except in the blue-violet tones. At ISO 1600, the image was too bright, and appeared blown out. The noise was just as bad, but the tell-tale saturation was gone.
By comparison, the Sony HDR-HC1 was exceptionally sharp, with a fantastic amount of noise suppression. The color tones were far from impressive, though. The greens came in the best, while the red-violet all tended to blur together. There was almost no saturation, which you’ll probably miss. The Canon Optura 600 has more color saturation than the Sony HC1, but not nearly as much as the Sanyo. The Canon showed far less noise than the Optura. The Panasonic PV-GS500 was very similar to the Optura, though sharper. The Sony DCR-DVD405 had some sharpness problems compared to the Sanyo, but had far less noise. Finally, the JVC GZ-MC500 was compared with its auto gain control (AGC) on. (JVC’s AGC is a particularly potent control compared to most auto gains). At 60 lux, the MC500 looked blown out and lost a good deal of sharpness.
We also looked at the SD footage in low light, both at TV-HR (60fps) and TV-SHQ (30fps). At TV-HR, the picture was overall darker than the HD picture at 60 lux. Noise was, if you can believe it, even worse. Also, the TV-HR shot lacked one of the HD picture's saving graces: its sharpness. We looked at the same shooting mode with ISO 800 and 1600. ISO 800 was exactly the same, indicating that that was where the automatic gain had already been set. ISO 1600 was much brighter, but the noise was simply terrible.
In TV-SHQ mode, the slower frame rate of 30fps made for a much brighter picture. Noise was also slightly decreased. Saturation levels were very high.
At 15 lux, the Sanyo VPC-HD1’s HD footage was almost devoid of color information. Despite the large chip size, this is an unusable image. Ironically, the best reports of color that can push through the darkness are actually coming from the noise.
The HDR-HC1 lost a good deal of color, but retained a surprising amount of sharpness. Noise, though present, was still very low for such a low light. The Canon Optura 600 was similarly sharp, but lacked color information. In fact, the picture was almost greyscale. The Panasonic PV-GS5000 had more color than the other Sony or the Canon. The Sony DVD405 was less sharp than the HC1, Optura, and GS500, but sharper than the Sanyo. Color was also better. The JVC GZ-MC500 was the least sharp of all the competitors, but still sharper than the Sanyo.
The VPC-HD1’s HD image with an ISO 800 was the same as in auto. At ISO 1600 the image was much brighter, but oversaturated and terribly noisy.
In the camcorder’s SD format, TV-HR (60fps), the image was pretty much black. At ISO 800, the image was exactly the same. At ISO 1600, it was about the same at the footage in HD auto mode, but less sharp.
At TV-SHQ (30fps), the image was much brighter than in TV-HR mode, and just slightly darker than the image in HD mode at 15 lux auto.
Overall, this is a terribly disappointing low light performance. The large imager seemed to add nothing to the picture, and noise was extremely high. This is not at all the kind of performance we should accept from a high definition camcorder.
Wide Angle* (10.4)*
We tested the Xacti HD1 for wide angle field of view in both HD-SHQ and TV-SHQ formats. These two settings shoot at the highest quality for their respective aspect ratio and a 30 frame per second frame rate. TV-SHQ records video at a resolution of 640 x 480 and HD-SHQ records at 1280 x 720 resolution. When tested, the TV-SHQ (640 x 480) produced a 52 degree field of view that competently matches the true widescreen displays of Canon camcorders. The HD-SHQ has a far higher resolution while not compromising wide angle field of view, so users will be able to shoot HD footage with a wide angle measurement of 52 degrees.