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What's coming in camcorders?

I'm hoping a boring CES foreshadows subtle but substantive improvements in the products themselves.

I have to admit; once again, I'm heading into another CES with pretty low expectations when it comes to anything significantly new or different in camcorders. Thankfully, we seem to have already reached ludicrous maximus on lens lengths, so while we'll probably see longer lenses than last year's at many price points, I don't think we'll hear claims of even longer ones for the current longest models.

But replacing the long lens claims, the most hyped feature we'll probably see is more 3D, thanks to companies that are trying to sell more 3D TVs and camcorders({cough}Sony, Panasonic, Samsung{cough}) and mass-consumer companies with really cheap models. While I'm reserving judgment on 3D's prospects in consumer models over the long run, right now, and likely through the next generation of models, it still feels like gimmickry.

Will we see any models with large sensors and interchangeable lenses like the Sony NEX-VG10 and Panasonic AG-AF100 at this year's show? I'm inclined to think not. Those two have barely shipped, and Canon's the only major manufacturer left who I'd expect to have one, but CES usually isn't where Canon likes to make its splash.

Standard-def models like the Panasonic SDR-H85 simply refuse to die. Sarah Tew/CNET

Standard definition stubbornly hangs on like not-dead-yet guy in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." We were ready for it to disappear last year, but SD models remain popular enough for manufacturers to keep rolling them out. (Though not as popular here on CNET as on sites like Thank you, dear visitors.) That's likely because of their aggressive pricing, generally below--sometimes well below--$400.

I can't imagine prices of HD camcorders dropping much farther to eat into that market, though, so we'll likely see an expansion of features--such as longer lenses, more memory, and improved automation--to try to upsell you out of standard def. Hopefully, there will be a quality improvement in the cheaper models as well. A girl can dream.

However, on the really cheaper mini HD models along the lines of the Flips or Kodak PlaySports, there's not a lot of wiggle room for improvement. There I imagine we'll see some slight redesigns and feature tweaks.

All that said, a boring CES for a given product category does not equate to bad products. As I've been saying for years, what consumer camcorders need in general is better video quality, especially in low light, and improved usability, at lower prices--none of which serves to attract crowd and media attention. I'm hoping subtlety wins in 2011.