In the course of testing standard-definition camcorders, more often than not, I stumble upon a user review where the person complains that their cell phone takes better video than--insert model name here. Sadly, that appraisal is probably not far from the truth.
For example, the recently reviewed Sony Handycam DCR-SX41 and Samsung SMX-F34 flash-based camcorders are no great shakes in the video department. I have used smaller, cheaper devices that take as good or better video than these camcorders. The only things they really offer are megazoom lenses, compact, lightweight bodies, and better controls and shooting options--all at sub-$300 prices. However, does any of that matter if the video isn't nice looking, is all soft and fuzzy, and loaded with blocky compression artifacts and noise?
Granted, there are a few advantages to SD digital video, though. The files are smaller than HD files, for one. They're also less taxing on computer resources, so editing and viewing them on even a basic laptop or desktop is possible. Plus, the quality is generally so mediocre that the movies are perfect for sharing online at small sizes where imperfections are less visible or cared about.
All of these things can be addressed by changing settings on any HD camcorder that's available, though, and buying an HD model gives you the headroom to take advantage of the higher-resolution capabilities should you eventually want to use them.
At this point, it's feeling like the only reason manufacturers still make SD camcorders are for up-selling consumers to HD models. This goes for YouTube-type minicamcorders, too. Case in point, the Flip family of pocket camcorders currently has four models: two HD, two SD. The price difference between SD and HD: $50.
The fifth-generation Nano with its built-in 640x480-pixel resolution video camera seems like an eventual up-sell opportunity, too. Apple's giving consumers VGA video now, letting them see how crappy it looks, and then next year it can get them to buy a Touch with an HD camera in it.
So yes, it's time for standard-definition camcorders--in all of their various form factors--to just die. The industry-standard minimum should be 720p at this point and just give consumers an easy, fast, one-button-press way to drop the resolution to VGA if need be. If companies such as Pure Digital, Kodak, and Creative can do it inexpensively, why can't the other companies?