Creative Labs found a niche in the quickly growing pocket camcorder space by bringing out models that cost less than its competitors but offering many of the same features. To a degree, the same holds true for its latest model, which Creative simply calls the Vado HD 3rd Gen.
This model offers 720p HD resolution, 4GB of built-in memory, and an HDMI output, in a compact, stylish package that weighs a mere 3.3 ounces. It lists for $179, significantly less than the second-generation Flip Video MinoHD and about the same as the rival Kodak Zi8, which requires you to purchase an additional memory card because it lacks any real internal memory. Your color choices are white, purple, black, blue (cyan), and red.
Though attractive, the Vado 3rd Gen doesn't feel quite as durable as the heavier Kodak Zi8 or the metal-bodied second-generation Flip MinoHD, and since it has a shiny finish, it does seem prone to scratches. As is typical of this class of camcorders, the design is fairly basic: the operating side features a large 2-inch LCD (640x240 pixels) with only a single record button flanked by capacitive touch buttons that are quite responsive. On its side you'll find a Mini-HDMI port for outputting video to HDTVs, though no cable is included. At the bottom, there's a threaded tripod mount and flip-out USB connector, for uploading and charging via a PC. Finally, on top, you'll notice a headphone jack that also accepts optional external microphones.
We can't rave about the interface, but it's fairly straightforward and simple enough to navigate once you play around with the device for 10 or 15 minutes. You can shoot video at HD resolution (720p) and at the lower 640x480-pixel (VGA) resolution, which allows you to store more video than the typical 2 hours of HD in the 4GB of internal memory. That 2 hours is about how long the rechargeable lithium ion battery lasts as well.
Additionally, there's a still-image capture mode that produces photos just a notch above camera phone quality. And though there's no macro/close-up mode or image stabilization, it does have a motion-detection setting that triggers recording when it senses motion in front of the lens. As with all current pocket camcorders, there's a 2x digital zoom but no optical zoom.
Like the MinoHD, this model records H.264 compressed video in MPEG-4 format instead of the Advanced Profile MPEG-4 AVI used by the original Vado HD. The video quality was decent for an inexpensive camcorder, but when we compared the video shot with its predecessor as well as competitors, the colors seemed less vibrant; in more poorly lit environments, the Flip camcorders performed better, with slightly less noise and a sharper image. Also, the Flip camcorders adjusted for exposure (going from bright to dark scenes) faster. Interestingly, the Vado HD has manual exposure control--you simply press the forward and back buttons as you shoot. This isn't very useful, though, for three reasons: the effect is fairly subtle, the exposure changes so slowly that you tend to overshoot your goal, and it's impossible to see the changes on the LCD so you can't tell where you want to be.
It's worth noting that when you keep the playback image small on your computer--such as YouTube size--it's harder to notice the difference in the video quality among these models, particularly when it comes to sharpness and noise. But when you blow the video up to full screen (or view it on a large-screen TV) you start to see the differences. Though you can't compare this HD video to the video you'd capture with a full-fledged HD camcorder, shooting in 720p does allow you to scale the image to larger sizes and retain a reasonable amount of detail and sharpness than with VGA-resolution video.