JVC Everio GZ-HD40 HD Camcorder
At a Glance
JVC HDEverio GZ-HD40
The big hard drive is offset by this camcorder's big price, and its merely decent performance.
There's a lot to like about the JVC Everio GZ-HD40 high-definition camcorder. A compact model with a beefy 120GB hard drive, it records to two formats: the compact and increasingly common AVCHD and the higher-quality MPEG-2 Transport Stream (TS). Though it has decent automatic and manual image control, the GZ-HD40 is like a bilingual exchange student lacking perfect mastery of either his native or secondary tongue. It's a good HD camcorder, but better values abound.
The GZ-HD40 captures 1080i high-definition video onto its 120GB hard drive (or a user-supplied microSDHC card) with a 1/3-inch CMOS sensor. This JVC camcorder is more compact than the similar, hard-drive-equipped Sony Handycam HDR-SR12 (good); but at $1300, it's just as expensive (not so good), and its image quality isn't as fine (definitely not good).
The JVC model scores points for handling multiple HD formats, however. The GZ-HD40 records AVCHD at 17, 12, and 5 mbps. It can also capture 30-mbps MPEG-2 TS (transport stream) files at 1920 by 1080 pixels or as a 1440-by-1080, HDV-compatible 1440 CBR file. The MPEG-2 video looks slightly better than the 17-mbps AVCHD, thanks to smoother color and increased sharpness. The trade-off: On the 120GB hard drive, you can store just 10 hours of MPEG-2 TS content, versus 15 hours of 17-mbps AVCHD.
Our image-quality evaluations focused on video captured as 1920-by-1080 MPEG-2 TS files. Under standard lighting conditions, the GZ-HD40 created good-looking video that exhibited some oversaturated colors. I consider the color inaccuracy a minor drawback, but other people may actually see it as a plus, as the colors appear pleasingly warm. Under low-light conditions, the video looked fair, with washed-out color. Still images were acceptable, but not quite as good as shots taken by your average sub-$250 digital camera. In PC World Test Center tests, our jury rated the overall image quality of the GZ-HD40's video and stills as Good, but other HDV and AVCHD camcorders in its class outshone it.
The GZ-HD40's handling and operating features are mixed, at best. For casual shooters, it provides an auto setting, as well as six scene modes (Portrait, Sports, and Twilight among them). For more experienced users, it offers comprehensive manual control of the focus and other settings, including the shutter speed, brightness, white balance, and sharpness. The menu button and control buttons are conveniently located along the outside edge of the 2.8-inch flip-out LCD panel. The camera provides both microphone and headphone jacks, plus an accessory shoe. The ports are appropriately placed: The USB port is on the front, near the lens, while the HDMI, component, and AV ports are at the back, by the camcorder's battery. Augmenting the connection options is a nicely designed docking and charging station that adds a FireWire port, as well as extra USB and analog video ports.
JVC's entry lasted through the PC World Test Center's drain tests for 93 minutes. That's decent battery life, though it isn't quite as stellar as the results from some of the other camcorders we tested for our tapeless camcorder roundup--and it's well short of the 2-hour battery life of the Panasonic HDC-HS100. It's more on a par with the battery life of the hard-drive-carrying Sony Handycam HDR-SR12, which ran for 87 minutes.
A few pet peeves: This camera lacks a viewfinder, a minor point for many users, but one that takes a toll on battery life. Frame-rate options are limited; footage records at 60 interlaced frames per second (60i), and you can't change the look of your video by switching to the filmlike 24 progressive frames per second (24p) or the Web-friendly 30 progressive frames per second (30p). In addition, the GZ-HD40's digital image stabilization didn't perform as well as the optical image stabilization of other camcorders, such as the excellent stabilization feature in the Canon Vixia HF10.
You should also consider the impact on your nerves if you plan on using the GZ-HD40's MPEG-2 TS recording abilities. Importing and editing MPEG-2 TS video from the GZ-HD40 requires patience. You can edit the 1920-by-1080 MPEG-2 files in the sluggish, limited, and Windows-only CyberLink PowerDirector app that JVC bundles with the camera. But before the files will work with some common (and better) editing applications, you need to convert them to a different format. The 1440 CBR files, while compatible with many editing applications that support the HDV format, require several steps to export from the camera. Video that the camera has encoded as AVCHD presents fewer compatibility issues than full-size MPEG-2 TS video does, but working with such footage requires a more powerful computer.
The JVC GZ-HD40 isn't a bad HD camcorder--in fact, it's pretty good. People seeking a tapeless camcorder that they can use with a modest PC today and a more powerful computer in the future may find the GZ-HD40's multiple recording formats compelling. In the end, though, dabblers will likely consider this camera too expensive, while experienced users may find it too limited. Other camcorders offer better images and usability at a lower price.