Toshiba hopes that its first entrants into the camcorder market -- both standing about 12cm tall and sporting a distinctive upright design -- have enough in the way of features, design and value to stand out from the pack. We tested the AU$1,299 gigashot GSC-R60, which features a 60GB hard-disk, a 10x Canon zoom lens, a 2-megapixel single-CCD sensor, a stereo microphone and a 2.5-inch LCD. There's also the AU$999 gigashot GSC-R30, which differs mainly by virtue of its smaller 30GB hard-disk and direct USB connectivity.
The gigashot feels good -- it weighs an average 410g -- with a rubberised pad underneath where one's right hand rests. This and the metal lens barrel give the camera an air of substance that most consumer camcorders lack. One benefit of the upright design is that all major buttons and switches -- bar the zoom and photo shutter -- are on the back of the camera, within easy reach of one's thumb. It's a shame then that the markings informing you of which button does what, as well as the meaning of the LEDs, are confusingly laid out.
Once you've figured it all out, though, controlling the GSC-R60 is a fairly easy task. The main controller comprises an OK button, which doubles as a four-way joystick, surrounded by a rotating jog dial. Pushing the OK joystick in each of the four cardinal directions lets you adjust the shooting mode, gain, focus and flash. Menu items and camera settings are scrolled through with the jog dial and then selected by a press of the OK button. Toshiba has managed to make the GSC-R60's menus responsive, even after the addition of animated eye candy -- some of the more established manufacturers should take note of this.
Unfortunately, some of the gigashot's controls are counter-intuitive. In top level menus, items scroll through in accordance with the rotation of the jog dial yet second level menus scroll counter to the rotation of the jog dial. Even after a few weeks with the camera, we were still getting it mixed up. In a similar vein, the zoom switch defies the industry norm with a flick to the right zooming out instead of in.
Camera start-up takes about a second and the gigashot has shooting priority when not in playback mode -- that is, when you're in a menu and want to record, pressing the record button is all that's required; there's no need to exit from the menu system first. This combination of features should reduce the number of missed memorable moments.
Underneath the plastic panel on the lens barrel are connections for charging the camera and connecting it to a TV, but no USB port. That resides instead on the camera's cradle. So, connecting the GSC-R60 to a computer requires attaching the USB cable to the cradle, connecting the power cable to the cradle, sitting the camera in the cradle and then hitting the USB button on the cradle. This makes transferring videos and photos to friends' computers cumbersome, although you can copy the files onto an SD card -- this method limits you, however, to 2GB at a time, as there's no support for SDHC cards. Interestingly, Toshiba refrains from using the word "hybrid" in marketing the gigashots.
With Toshiba's supplied software installed, your PC will detect the presence of the camera and present you with options to backup the camera's contents to DVD discs, synchronise the camera to your computer or author DVD video discs using CyberLink PowerProducer. Making DVD video discs with your own authoring software is easy too, as the gigashot functions as an external hard-disk and footage is recorded in MPEG-2 format.
The gigashot performs reasonably well as a point-and-shoot 2-megapixel camera, although details are a little indistinct and the overall image lacks a sharp, alluring quality. In video mode, backlit subjects, a metre or less away, are handled well with gain automatically adjusted to ensure that the subject isn't a shadowy blob. Gain, however, has to be manually set high for subjects further away. Unfortunately, the gigashot misses out on optical image stabilisation, making do with the electronic kind which does an adequate job at wider angles. The trade-off, though, for stabilisation is a slightly softer image.
Four compression modes are available, in order from highest quality to least: SHQ, HQ, SP and LP. In largely static scenes, the image is sharp with few visible compression artefacts in SHQ, HQ and SP modes. Gradient bands are noticeable in shaded areas and, in quiet scenes, the zoom mechanism and click-clack of the zoom toggle can be heard -- no doubt a function of the microphone being mounted on top of the lens barrel.
The differences been SHQ, HQ and SP modes became more obvious in our busy street scene test. The overall image in SP mode is considerably softer than in SHQ and HQ, with those two modes still almost indistinguishable from each other. LP mode should be avoided unless space is extremely tight because even in static scenes, objects are rendered soft, detail lost and compression artefacts are abundant. LP is also the only mode in which shooting in 16:9 wide-screen format is not possible. Shooting in wide-screen on the gigashot, though, is a bit of a con, as the camera letterboxes the standard footage instead of capturing true wide-screen.
To view our handiwork on a TV, we had to burn DVD discs because the GSC-R60's direct to TV playback was jerky and problematic. The moment we attached the video-out cable to the camera, the LCD display developed a flicker hitherto unseen and motion, especially in busier scenes, became stilted. Ironically, playback was worst on a Toshiba LCD TV we were testing at the time, which also exhibited several horizontal distortion bands when connected to the gigashot.