Creative Vado HD Pocket Camcorder
At a Glance
The newest addition to the ever-expanding mini-camcorder market is the Creative Labs Vado HD, a $230 pocket camcorder that can record 720p high-definition video. While it isn't quite as compact as Pure Digital's Flip Mino HD and won't win any awards for its ordinary looks, the Vado HD gets high marks thanks to its solid video quality and feature set. It also has the widest-angle lens of any pocket camcorder we've seen--by far.
The Vado HD certainly won't incite drooling; its design, which resembles that of an MP3 player at first glance, is rather pedestrian. But it also has a lot to like. Measuring 3.9 by 2.2 by 0.6 inches, the Vado HD is only a hair larger than the Flip Mino HD, making it very pocket-friendly. The Vado HD's large, 2-inch, 680-by-240-pixel display does a great job of previewing video, too, though it is a little hard to see in sunlight.
The Vado HD can output through RCA jacks, as well as HDMI--it even comes with an HDMI cable (but no RCA cable). Also, like many other pocket camcorders, the Vado HD has an integrated USB connector that you plug into a PC to offload your footage and charge the camcorder. As a result, you don't need to carry a USB cable around, though a USB extension cable is bundled with the unit.
Using the Vado HD is straightforward, as it has a mere seven buttons for controlling recording and playback. I found the physical buttons to be better than the Flip Mino HD's touch-sensitive controls, since the Vado HD's buttons aren't as easy to press accidentally. Unfortunately, the four-way rocker button provided less-than-ideal clicking action, especially for the zoom-in/zoom-out controls.
The Vado HD records to AVI video using the H.264 codec. The camcorder works with Windows XP and Vista, as well as with Mac OS X 10.4.11 or later. The integrated 8GB of storage holds up to 2 hours of 720p high-def video in HD+ mode (higher bit rate), up to 4 hours of footage in HD mode (still 720p video, but at a lower bit rate), and up to 8 hours of standard-definition VGA (640 by 480 resolution) video. For my testing, I mainly used the HD+ mode. While the 2-hour battery life is a bit short considering the Vado HD's recording capacity, the battery is user-replaceable, so you can carry an extra battery along and swap it in when necessary.
Creative bundles its VadoCentral software for transferring videos to your computer, managing them, and uploading them to YouTube or other video services, but the software is only for Windows. If you're a Mac user, you'll have to drag videos off the camcorder and onto your hard drive manually, and you'll have to download the Perian codec pack for QuickTime (version 1.1.2 or newer) to actually watch any videos.
Overall, the Vado HD did a pretty good job recording video in my informal tests. Its white balance is good enough to avoid the dreaded yellow tint, and it handles moving between different lighting conditions well; when I did that, the camcorder adjusted in less than a second. I did find the video a little grainy and pixelated, however, and sometimes I saw a slight "jelly effect" when recording shaky video (for example, recording while walking). Like some other pocket camcorders, the Vado HD struggles on close-ups and features only 2X zoom. But by and large, in comparison with similar products, there's little to complain about.
The Vado HD is a pretty slick package. It lacks the sex appeal of some other camcorders in its class, such as the Flip Mino series, and it lacks a Mac-compatible video-management app. Nevertheless, good overall image quality, a user-replaceable battery, and other niceties make the Vado HD an attention-worthy option for a pocketable HD camcorder.