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Video Cameras

Can I afford a progressive scan camcorder?

Are there any affordable camcorders capable of recording progressive footage?

I'm trying to find out about the cheapest camcorders on the market with a progressive-scan mode. Can anyone help?

Neil

Yes Neil, CNET can help. CNET always helps. This isn't a comprehensive list of prices -- we can't do everything for you, y'know -- but we can point you, and progressive newbies, in the right direction.

First off, some science: progressive scanning is a method of displaying, storing or transmitting moving images in which each frame is divided into lines, and those lines are all drawn onscreen, usually at 30 frames per second. This is an alternative to interlacing, in which the odd lines are drawn, followed by the even lines.

This means that you are only seeing half the image, called a field, at any one time, or at least you would if your eye was fast enough to see them. The illusion of a complete picture is created by the speed of the fields flashing across the screen at 60fps, fooling the eye.

The big advantage of interlacing is that less data is required -- half of what is required by progressive scanning, obviously. Conversely, the disadvantage is equally obvious: you only get half the data. This makes it near impossible to get clear stills from interlaced footage, but as portable items, storage is a crucial issue with camcorders.

So in theory, progressively scanned footage is better, but can you see the difference? Look at the difference between television and cinema. Many people prefer a more cinematic feel over television's smoothed-out movement.

Interlaced television's smoothness is partly a result of blurring. This is sometimes applied to interlaced footage to reduce twitter, the flickering effect between the lines as the fields flash by. Without the blurring, a clearer picture is possible.

So progressive-scan camcorders give a more detailed, cinematic result, but at the cost of needing more storage. Which means -- you guessed it -- they're generally more expensive. Still, progressive footage doesn't have to break the bank. The Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2 is available for less than £300. The Panasonic PV-GS320 is a tape-based standard-definition 3CCD model, the trio of CCD sensors guaranteeing decent quality images to be shown off in all their progressive glory.

When shopping for a progressive camcorder, look for a model that records 720p. The number stands for the number of lines in a frame: 1080 is obviously a higher resolution, but 1080 footage is usually interlaced. And the 'p'? Well, we all know what that stands for by now.