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Panasonic AG-HSC1U: A pro's by any other name

The Panasonic HDC-SD1 3CCD AVCHD consumer camcorder announced at CES now has a "pro" twin, the AG-HSC1U.

Panasonic AG-HSC1U

A show of hands, please: When Panasonic's consumer division announced its $1,500 HDC-SD1 SD-based HD camcorder at CES, how many of you thought "That's too cheap--I want to pay more!" Well, here's your chance. Panasonic's Broadcast division has just announced the nearly identical 3CCD camcorder for the bargain price of $2,099.

There are some differences, of course. The pro model is a nonreflective gray with an anodized filter ring. The pro model carries a one-year parts-and-labor warranty, while the consumer model has a mere three months on labor. They have different default settings--natural and neutral for pros, vivid and oversharpened for consumers. Finally, the AG-HSC1U comes with a 40GB portable hard drive with an SD slot to offload video from the SD card.

Personally, I think the base camcorder sounds as if it has promise. But does something feel not quite right about Panasonic's strategy? I'm sure consumers would love the option of a gray body and a better warranty. Ditto for the ability to choose the default processing settings--and loading different settings into camcorder firmware shouldn't add any cost, anyway. Finally, I'm sure consumers would love the portable hard drive as an option, and that many pros would like the option to skip it and pay less.

Besides, I thought the most important thing for a pro would be very high quality, editable source video. AVCHD is not designed to deliver that. It's designed to deliver a high quality but highly compressed playback stream. Compression is anathema to editability.

So I'm left with the cynical feeling that when the marketers went to work, they decided that pros wanted to dabble with AVCHD as a cheap alternative to Panasonic's P2-based models, but that they wouldn't buy a so-called consumer product. That's my benefit-of-the-doubt theory. My other theory is that manufacturers are so used to extorting premium bucks from the pros--something that's true across all industries, to the extent that pros now equate "cheap" with "consumer"--that they saw the opportunity to dress the consumer product in the emperor's new clothes and charge them extra for the label.

But that's just my humble opinion. I'm also looking forward to trying the camcorder--either version--after it ships in March. We'll see if it's really worth all those extra bucks.

Panasonic AG-HSC1U