Camcorders forum

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MiniDV or a HDD - advantages and disadvantages?

by haralampi / May 6, 2008 4:00 AM PDT

I am about to buy my first camcorder and I have done some research already. The main question I have is: should I go for a MiniDV or a HDD model?

A typical work flow for me would be:
1) Travel somewhere and shoot a video footage
2) Get back home and review the footage I have got
3) Pick/cut/edit/dub some scenes, maybe even add some music to the footage
4) Encode/compress some of the scenes and send them to friends
5) Possibly convert to DVDs to watch on TV
6) Archive

I am using computers a lot and most of the video viewing will be on computers as well. I don't want to go for professional quality videos but still I need some decent quality, good colors and sharp picture - I already have a still images camera that can make videos but I need something better than that Wink
Also I don't want to spend too much money on camcorder so I guess that makes me a budget buyer.

I had some mixed opinions from different people (including camcorder dealers) and am still not sure which format is best for me. Most people are saying that MiniDV has still the best quality (very little compression) while hard drive camcorders use MPEG2 or MPEG4 compression. I have no doubts about that but the question is: is the difference in quality THAT big?

What I don't know is how easy/difficult it is to edit (points 3, 4 and 5 from my work flow above) a MiniDV recording vs one from a HDD. What are the advantages and disadvantages?

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Watching with great interest
by QPhox4 / May 6, 2008 6:38 AM PDT

I'm watching this thread with great interest. A year ago I almost bought a DVD model thinking it was the way to go. Onto DVD, right into the computer. Then had second thoughts and used my old analog Sony for my vacation. Last weekend, I almost bought a HDD model (going on vacation again.) After spending a few days researching, I finally decided I didn't need HDD or Hi Def at the current prices, and probably didn't want DVD as it is more involved than out of the camera and into the computer. My Hi-8 video converted to digital is NOT good! So I decided on the Sony MiniDV, model DCR-HC62, mainly for price. As much as I use a camcorder, I couldn't justify much more than the $300 price tag. Of course, I have very little experience with video, but wanted to get some practice before the once-in-a-lifetime vacation. Some blogs/reviews I read made sense to go mini DV over the HiDef or MPEG route for my purposes. But still, I'd like to read on, and see if I made the right decision.

Buzz

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Is the video quality difference that big?
by boya84 / May 6, 2008 7:03 AM PDT

It depends... (I know - I hate this answer, too). But lets look at what you have...

First, in your work flow: Since miniDV tape is the archive, you essentially drop step 6. Unless you count exporting the finished project our to the camcorders as "archiving". This would only be done in the miniDV tape steps - not the hard drive camcorder steps. In the case of the hard drive camcorder, I would move that back to around step 2 or 3 or 4. Once you transfer the video from the camcorder to the computer, you *might* be ready to shoot more video before you've had a chance to edit what you have so you *might* delete video from the camcorder. If you start editing and deleting files from the computer - then decide you want something that you cut/deleted, and the archive is not yet done, recovery will be challenging.

Getting the video into your computer is the next step - MiniDV tape requires firewire (IEEE1394a, i.Link) for importing. Hard drive camcorders typically use USB for copying the video data files. Importing over firewire is generally real-time - whereas copying the files take a lot less time. You can use the importing of DV to watch/review possible video to use in the project, or you can go do something else (like I do... there is always something else to do around the house). Please do not fall into the "copying data files is faster so it must be easier" trap. Both transfer methods are equally easy/difficult. One way you click import; the other way you copy files. "Ease" has nothing to do with it. Keep in mind that if you archive the hard drive based video, you will most likely be burning optical discs (DVDs) with data files - and that can be time consuming (and you would need to feed the computer discs) so most of the time you think you saved copying files rather than importing files will get eaten.

Editing is easy once you have the right tools. Pretty much any video editor can deal with standard definition video whether from miniDV tape or hard drive based camcorders. Under certain conditions, you may need a free software utility to convert the MPEG video file from the camcorder hard drive to something your editor likes. High definition gets a little more tricky. For the most part, any editor that says it can deal with HDV (the high definition format from miniDV tape) can deal with HDV from any camcorder. In the hard drive (and flash memory world, many of the manufacturers have implemented AVCHD. This compression method is relatively new and not all editors can deal with all camcorders. Just do some research to be sure the camcorder you pick will get along with the video editor you pick.

Once the editing is done or a specific clip is selected, the video editor can "save as" or Export various video data file formats and compression methods suitable for emailing or uploading.

If a DVD for playback in most DVD players is desired, then a DVD authoring application (which also typically allows for creating a menu for scene selection) would be used.

Personally, I watch what the big boys use...
http://pro.sony.com/bbsc/ssr/cat-broadcastcameras/cat-hdv/
http://www.usa.canon.com/consumer/controller?act=ProductCatIndexAct&fcategoryid=172
http://www.panasonic.com/business/provideo/cat_camcorders.asp

Generally, it is typically DV and HDV which means miniDV tape. Even the flash memory (Panasonic P2 cards) and hard drive (externals from Sony or Firestore) save to DV or HDV.

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A couple more issues...
by haralampi / May 6, 2008 7:59 AM PDT

Wow, thanks for the thorough explanation!

It addressed my concerns to some extent. As far as archiving goes, it is pretty much clear: MiniDV tapes are a good archive in their own right. If I use HDD, I will have to burn DVD archives. That's clear.

A few more questions here:
1) I don't have a firewire port on my laptop/PC but I assume that some/most of the MiniDV cameras would support USB transfer, am I correct?

2) What about the system resource's usage when it comes to editing/converting videos? My computer is not that bad but the video is integrated on the MB, so it is not the best one. Would that favor MiniDV or HDD(MPEG) conversion?

3) HDD cameras use some variation of MPEG, which is data loss compression. If I take that footage that's already compressed, edit it (add music, dub it, shuffle scenes) and want to produce a DVD for example, this will mean that I will have to compress again. Would that degrade the quality of the DVD too much?

Thanks!

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This is fun...
by boya84 / May 6, 2008 8:44 AM PDT
1) I don't have a firewire port on my laptop/PC but I assume that some/most of the MiniDV cameras would support USB transfer, am I correct?
No. USB transferring/importing video from miniDV tape camcorders pretty much does not work - that's why I specified the difference. If your tower has an available PCI slot or if your laptop has an available PCMCIA slot, firewire400 ports are cheap and easy to add
http://shop1.outpost.com/%7BJd5gO-xhf4Nu7lxPI+DVKw**.node1%7D/search?search_type=regular&sqxts=1&query_string=firewire+card&cat=&submit.x=0&submit.y=0
Once the firewire400 card is working properly, there are no device-specific drivers (i.e., camcorder drivers) required. The firewire protocol allows for the communication between the computer and the camcorder. Generally, if the camcorder does have a USB port, that is used ONLY for transferring stills from a memory card (if it has that capability) or for web-streaming. Please note that I have specified Firewire 400 - there are two versions. the firewire800 version (much faster) will not work with your camcorder and is generally used with certain external hard drives.

With hard drive based camcorders, the USB connection requires device specific drivers and are either included with the operating system or are easily added.

2) What about the system resource's usage when it comes to editing/converting videos? My computer is not that bad but the video is integrated on the MB, so it is not the best one. Would that favor MiniDV or HDD(MPEG) conversion?
What I have found is that if your computer is within about 3 years old, you will not have an issue with editing either standard definition or high definition video. Nor will you have an issue importing standard definition video. If you are doing high definition video, there can be an issue importing (it can take longer than real time) or exporting (back out to the miniDV camcorder or burning a DVD or anything that takes CPU resources for rendering frames (transitions, titles, special effects, etc.), but this is on the CPU - not on the video card. From what I can tell, the video card hardly works at all - but the CPU is working REALLY hard. In any case, fast CPU and LOTS of RAM... I do all my editing and rendering on Macintoshes - and I am using a 3 year old PPC based 2GHz, 2 gig RAM iMac flatpanel. Most of my video is 1080i HD when it comes into the computer. It leaves the computer as 1080i (back to the camcorder), standard definition (480p, I guess) when written to the DVD, or various MPEG4 compressed data files for uploading. Yes, a new Intel-chip based CoreDuo machine would be much faster, and that is in the plans - but I'd like to get another camcorder first. Heads up on hard drive space: One hour of standard definition video uses about 14 gig of hard drive space when imported - and hidef uses about 4x more than that. I use a couple of 500 gig external (firewire-connected) drives for video project work.

3) HDD cameras use some variation of MPEG, which is data loss compression. If I take that footage that's already compressed, edit it (add music, dub it, shuffle scenes) and want to produce a DVD for example, this will mean that I will have to compress again. Would that degrade the quality of the DVD too much?
Most HDD drives do indeed use some sort of highly compressed video in side an MPEG wrapper. As soon as the video was compressed, the data was lost. Generally, when you bring the video into your computer, it is decompressed so your video editor can work on it. You are correct that you would be compressing again to render the DVD, but the data was discarded way before that. "Too much" is a relative term and subject to your eye and taste. The "high quality" hard drive or flash camcorders might be "good enough" for you... They are not for me, but then I sometimes connect my camcorder to my HDTV (using component video and the audio cables) and watch my exported final projects in high-def... I don't believe this is possible with hard drive based camcorders (you can watch the original raw, unedited, footage) - and I have exported the file as "high quality" MPEG4, connected a computer to the HDTV with a VGA cable and it looks REALLY good...
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Thanks
by haralampi / May 7, 2008 2:22 AM PDT
In reply to: This is fun...

Thanks a lot!

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More info to consider
by bmccaig / May 11, 2008 9:38 AM PDT
In reply to: Thanks

A few other factors to consider:

1) mini-dv tapes have a limited "self" life. If you want to archive your video permanently, you have to burn it to dvd.
2) while mini-dv tapes should be multi-use, they in fact are not. I've been using a Canon mini-dv video camera for about 10 years and have learned with experience to only ever use the tapes once. I just don't get good quality results the second time I use the tape.
3) when the hard drive on the HDD camera fills up, you can just swap in a new one and keeping shooting like you can with a mini-dv tape.

I've been considering the same question that you've posed here and after 10 years with my mini-dv cam, I'm pretty sure that my next one will be an HD hard-drive based video camera.

Based on my personal experience, I'd advise a nice little HDD camera that mets your needs and price range.

Good luck!

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This one is news to me...
by boya84 / May 11, 2008 11:37 AM PDT
In reply to: More info to consider

How do you "swap in a new hard drive" on a internal hard drive based camcorder? I've never seen that at any manufacturer's web site or in any manuals. What do you do with the full one? Is there an external case? Any manufacturer or model number information?

I agree that reusing tapes is not good - I never have and have never recommended that...

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WOW... you know you a lot
by vinooram / January 2, 2010 6:21 AM PST
In reply to: This is fun...

Have been using a JVC minDV and love it (no HD). Had been directly burning DVD media on Panasonic recorder (firewire DV cable) which I then used on my desktop (now retired) to edit using Nero 6 and "create movies" in both NTSC as well as PAL formats to share with friends and family in the US (NTSC) as well as India (PAL).
Purchased a new laptop with Vista and upgrading soon to Windows 7 (Vista is horrible). A few new obstacles/solutions - Nero 6 does not work with Vista or Windows 7, purchased a highly rated Corel product as I did not want to spend the dough on Nero 9, which I am informed is not as good. Laptop only has USB, no firewire ports. Also, trying to bypass the "burning to DVD media"

Quick question:

Have bought a cable that is IEEE 1394 4-pin DV out to USB 2.0 in. Will this work? Or am I back to using media as a transfer device?

P.S. I do not re-use my miniDV tapes. A friend has however informed me that DVD degrades faster than miniDV tapes. Is this correct for "archival purposes"? My 7-8 year old miniDV tapes appear as sharp as new, but so do the DVD copies.

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In my experience,
by boya84 / January 2, 2010 10:16 AM PST

I have found that the DV-to-firewire cables do not work when getting the video from a miniDV camcorder to a computer. I've read the cable manufacturer claims. I've tried one with Sony, Canon and Panasonic miniDV camcorders and HP and Macintosh computers running Windows XP and Vista - and various versions of OSX. Admittedly, I did not waste a lot of time trying to make them work - no sense getting frustrated when the easy way is to just use a firewire cable to connect a firewire port to the DV port...

The USB and IEEE1394 (firewire/i.LINK/DV) communications protocols are very different which is why one does well streaming (firewire) and the other does well in a bursty (not streaming) format. That USB is getting faster is cool and all, but USB2 is not there - looks like USB3 might get there, but not much available on that yet.

Does your laptop have any available PCMCIA or ExpressCard expansion slots? Adding a firewire port that way would be easy...

On the transfer to the Panasonic DVD recorder... When you do that, is the resulting DVD playable in a regular DVD player or is the media merely recording a data file that the video editor can deal with?

There has been a lot of debate on using optical media as long term storage media. In the early days, there as "disc rot". As well, because the discs are just layers of plastic that are glued together, the adhesive can "delaminate" over time. I think the chances of this happening are pretty slim if the media is kept in a cool, dry, environment. But sometimes, "slim" chances are not good enough. Some folks say that the oxides on tape can delaminate from the plastic ribbon on the miniDV tape. I think the cautious path forward is to not depend on a single archive media/method - if one does happen to fail you always have the other copy. In my case, I mainly use the miniDV tape as the archive - and RAID1 mirroring on a couple of hard drives in a small NAS (two hard drives have identical information - if one fails, replace it and the good one copies the data to the replacement).

Your 7-8 year old tapes *should* look as crisp and clear as the discs - They both contain digital data that does not degrade like analog video (or audio) does over time.

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Again, thnx for the info......
by vinooram / January 2, 2010 7:54 PM PST
In reply to: In my experience,

I guess I fell for it on manufacturer claims about the DV to USB cable. I'll give it a try but not waste a whole lot of time. So I spent all of $10 on the cable... LOL
I do not have a PCMCIA slot on the laptop (the old laptop did, but it suffered from lack of processor speed and it took forever using a firewire card and 4 pin to 6 pin firewire cable).
At the end of the day, burning to DVD on the Panasonic is still the back up plan, especially now that DVD media has become so much cheaper.
The DVD media written by the Panasonic recorder (its a garden variety DVD player/recorder) plays on any DVD player, so it must already be converting formats. Will check out the format next time I do a disk and upload to my laptop.
As for the oxide separating from the film on mag tapes, I learned a trick from an audiophile. I had a bunch of analog reel-to-reel audio tapes which were "losing oxide" to my player. He suggested "baking the tapes" periodically in a closed box, using a 100 watt light bulb. The tapes MUST be rewound in slow-mode before baking so as to have them even on the spool. Presto, it worked. Haven't tried it with one of my miniDV tapes, but guess I should sometime, as long as a backup copy exists on DVD media. And, yes, the key to preserving mag tape or media is temperature AND humidity!!

You're right.... This IS fun... Great exchanges and knowledge builders.

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I occasionally experiment
by boya84 / January 3, 2010 1:27 AM PST

just to try and "keep up". Bummer that there is no expansion slot in your new 'puter.

"Forever" in the import? That firewire import process *should* have been real-time - that is, 60 minutes of standard def miniDV tape based camcorder import should take 60 minutes, regardless of CPU processor. When I first started HDV, that took longer than real-time, but the 'puter buffer as it imported. 60 minutes of video took 2.5-3 hours until it was edit-ready - but the new computer does that real-time (it is capable of faster than real-time because if I have other CPU intensive things running and the importing is buffered, when I quit those processes, it catches up to real-time)...

The DVD player readable files are compressed into VOB files. I would not consider these an "archive" or copy. To get those to video editor format, you need an editor that can deal with the VOB format - or a ripper, like HandBrake. Video quality may suffer because of the compression into the VOB files.

Thanks for the tip on the light bulb. I need to check that out.

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Seems like forever...
by vinooram / January 3, 2010 2:37 AM PST

Comapred to copying data files...
But, of course, you're right...
It's a minute for each minute, whether writing on the DVD corder or the 'puter...

I know Nero 6 did not have a problem with VOB files... Don't know yet about Corel StudioExpress... Haven't tried yet, just as I haven't the "supposed transfer cable DV to USB"...DUH on moi!!

Learned to just hit capture and do something else...
Guess the difference was that I could be doing something on the computer while burning on the Panasonic, but had to stay away from the computer if captuing to computer... PATIENCE!!

Not playing with HD yet, don't even have an HD corder!!

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MiniDV vs. HDD
by forkboy1965 / May 11, 2008 3:43 AM PDT

I have commented on a handful of other posts regarding this very issue during the past year and I stand by my long-held opinion: MiniDV is a better camcorder solution than hard drive.

In your original post I find your work flow to be very similar to my own and while the transferring of MiniDV to computer is time consuming it is, in my opinion, the only drawback to MiniDV. And while my post will venture into a slightly different area I would like to address on item you bring up: image quality. Is there enough of a difference due to compression to be of concern? I would say this is a much more important issue now than it was just five years ago. With the proliferation of large screen t.v.'s I believe image quality is more important than ever. Compression artifacts will only be more obvious as screen size increases.

While I have long been a proponent (and owner) of MiniDV over the other available options (until recently: mini-DVD and hard-drive)I would strongly urge you to consider the flash-based camcorder option.

While my Sony MiniDV camcorder works just fine, I am seriously looking at purchasing an entry level flash based device for standard definition recording. I may, however, move up to high definition if I can justify the additional cost. Regardless, I genuinely believe that flash-based camcorders are the wave of the future and in this instance I also believe they make for a far better product than either hard drive or mini-DVD based camcorders.

Unfortunately I haven't yet had the opportunity to fully research flash based camcorders so I cannot speak to the issue of compression, but I believe we can look to issues such as price, weight (and possibly size) and reliability as being favorable for flash based camcorders. My only caveat regarding flash-based units would be to avoid those camcorders with a built-in media card. We all know that flash cards can fail (although they tend to be incredibly reliable) and it is much easier to simply throw away (or send in for replacement depending upon the warranty situation) a flash card that you plug in versus one that is built-in, thus facilitating the need to send the unit in for repair.

Regardless, I wish you success in finding a camcorder that best suits your needs and expectations.

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but why do they compress?
by manxman777 / December 2, 2008 9:02 PM PST
In reply to: MiniDV vs. HDD

Why are videos saved on flash memory compressed? Is it just to save space? Don't any of the manufacturers realize how convenient many potential customers feel flash is? But we are turned off by loss of data due to compression. Or is the space needed for uncompressed video so large that even a 16 GB card gives so little recording time as to be considered a poor value?

Richard
(who really likes the idea of a no-moving-parts flash card for a camcorder)

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Compression ....my 2 cents
by Papa Echo / December 3, 2008 8:11 AM PST

A 60 minutes footage on a miniDV tape when transfered to a computer hard disk as AVI use up, some 60G....Are there many Flash memory cards of 60G capacity ? If so, at what price ? So, essentially, video file has to be compressed ....

The video footage on a miniDV tape is not in the form of a "file" but digital signals - it is only turned into a very large AVI file(relatively uncompressed) by the "capturing program". Video editing then create "projects" from the AVI file ...and it is these projects that are saved in the form of files of your choice, e.g. mpeg2 (for creating DVDs) or mpeg4 (for HD, Blur-ray...)now conveniently compressed, whereas for Hard Disk and Memory cards format, the camcorder compresses the video in-camera to mpeg ...meaning that "editability" is somewhat lost...

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quality or convenience ???
by manxman777 / December 3, 2008 8:31 AM PST

Papa Echo: thank you for comments. 1 GB per minute. Wow! Compared to a 120 minute DVD at about 40 MB per minute. 25:1 compression. Am I understanding that correctly?

I have spent over an hour today visiting various forums and reading comments about DVD vs. miniDV vs. hard disk vs. flash. Everyone seems to understand miniDV camcorders capture more quality, but there are so many conveniences to some of the other formats.

I have a decent digital SLR and still shoot using highest quality JPG mode. Keep planning to go RAW but have not. Then I discovered that even RAW is compressed on my camera. On my camera, raw to jpg is about 4:1.

If it was only family parties, etc, I'd go flash, but I hope to do more than that so having more quality available gives me more options.

Richard

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A little overestimated.
by whizkid454 / December 3, 2008 10:33 AM PST

One standard definition tape takes up anywhere from 10-15GB of space depending on many factors during recording.

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maybe flash can work
by manxman777 / December 3, 2008 7:59 PM PST

If we use 15 GB for an hour, then flash could (based simply on numbers) come close to matching miniDV. The Canon HF11 claims 24 Mbps which results in 2 hours 55 minutes on its 32 GB internal memory. In my research I am pretty sure I saw 25 Mbps for miniDV in a number of cases.

I have looked at so many review sites, and many (most?) just do not bother researching the quality issue (at least not from a compression or transfer rate point of view). CNET isn't bad, but usually the transfer rate is NOT mentioned in the spec section. You have to read through the commentary to find it.

Are there better review sites?

Richard

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review site
by manxman777 / December 3, 2008 8:06 PM PST
In reply to: maybe flash can work
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What about truly uncompressed video?
by pianoplayer88key / January 2, 2010 7:22 AM PST
In reply to: maybe flash can work

The numbers I'm reading in this thread that claim to be from uncompressed video seem awfully low to me.... (btw I'm talking uncompressed -- like BMP would be for images and WAV would be for audio.)

Assuming 24 bits/pixel, and 1080p 60fps high definition, each pixel would be 3 bytes. Multiply that by the 1920x1080 (2,073,600) pixels per frame, and the 60 frames per second, and you have 373,248,000 bytes/second (around 3gigabits/second) just for the video track. Two hours (what I understand to be a standard-length movie, although I don't watch "bought" movies much) of that would be almost 2.7 terabytes (2,687,385,600,000 bytes to be exact).

So considering fully uncompressed HD video is out of the question in budget consumer camcorders, what's the current popular widely-compatible DRM-free format (pardon my ignorance on the subject) that's normally used for losslessly-compressed HD?

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over rated ....
by Papa Echo / December 3, 2008 10:53 PM PST

Okay. The latest I got was some 250 MB per minute ...

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(NT) The number is 13.5 gigs.
by Kiddpeat / December 3, 2008 11:53 PM PST
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DEPENDS --- an important clause in finding that perfect cam
by Puweet / April 9, 2009 1:13 AM PDT

Most reviews would note "depends" because that's truly how it goes in videography.

I have personally used hi8, minidv, and digicams in various formats except for AVCHD and edits in FC Studio, Vegas, Pinnacle or iMovie depending on the project.

The most crucial question, I believe is, what will you use it for. If its for everyday use, let's say a summer outing, then I would suggest any digital camcorders with good lenses to capture excellent video. Most editing software upgrades in a regular basis so I wouldnt be concerned on certain formats. True mpgs are downgraded, but it works for me sometimes when I simply need to upload on youtube.

The most crucial for any camcorder or even SLR cams are the lenses, everything else takes a backseat.

Now, if you're to take extremely important video of our child being born, weddings etc.. then minidv works wonderfully in editing, You can tweak your editing tools to obtain your data at high quality (if you have space). The greatest downside of mini-dvs is time wasted on uploading to computer. It takes supreme effort.

I've been spoiled lately by flash-based SDHC camcorder. Why because I simply take those SD cards and plug it to my printer with built in reader and that's it! I edit and upload online. Its a breeze.

But if its my important wedding videos, then mini dv it is. that requires more TLC (tender,love,care) on editing. Plus i can downgrade or upgrade to my delight. that's the main advantage.

Most of the time, we're lazy so --just go for flash. I went to CES 2009 (consumer electronic show), Would you believe they have 1-Terabyte of sd card!?

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what do professionals use?
by avjam / April 11, 2009 9:57 AM PDT

professionals use DV, miniDV & HDV, a sony MiniDV or HDV would be ideal, hard drives are getting cheaper so space isn't an issue, if you get a HDD cam and it drops on the ground, it's a possibiltity all video will be lost, corrupted or unreadable, in terms of quality video? HDV

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