Sunday, August 16, 2009

Video Aspect Ratios and Buying A Camcorder

When you are buying a camcorder there are a lot of things to consider. This is a small part of the purchase but understanding aspect ratios can help you select the right camcorder.

The definition of an aspect ratio is the length and width of the video or the screen shape of the device that will display your video. There are other aspect ratios for movies and other fields; this post deals with aspect ratio as it relates to web video.

Consumers now have two specific aspect ratios to consider.

The analog television and computer video standard aspect ratio is 4 units long and 3 units tall. This is expressed as a 4:3 aspect ratio and is represented by a square.

Computer video aspect ratio
This is the shape of traditional analog television and computer screens, some media players and game devices.

Digital televisions and newer consumer electronics in the widescreen format use an aspect ratio of 16 units long and 9 units tall. This is expressed as a 16:9 aspect ratio is is represented by a rectangle.

Digital widescreen aspect ratio

Why Is This Important?

If you are going to buy a web camcorder or a consumer level digital camcorder one of the factors to consider is how your viewers are going to see the video. You want to get the best camcorder you can afford and record in the format you plan to display to your viewers.

Internet Only?

A camcorder that records in standard definition would be fine for Internet viewing. If you don't need or want to record in high definition you can save money buying a standard definition camcorder.

Connect the Camcorder To A Digital Television?

Eeep! A video recorded in the standard definition that you view on a digital television might be stretched to fit or you might see a heavy black boarder to maintain the aspect ratio of the video. It might not look so good.

There are workarounds like exporting a version of the video 640x360 for playback on a digital TV. If you are going to use a digital television to view videos on a regular basis then you might want to record in high definition format.

Output Video in Multiple Formats Like iTunes, PSP, YouTube or Selling DVDs?

Then you want to record in high definition and create versions for different media devices. You want to work with the best quality video as possible. High definition camcorders are becoming the standard so prices are coming down. The good news is that many high definition camcorders have a dual record modes that includes standard definition recording.

Cheat Sheet

Before you purchase a camcorder look at the specifications or specs. You can find it generally on the vendor's web site or directly on the seller's page. If you see 640x480, Standard Definition or VGA that means that the camcorder records in standard definition.

Examples of camcorders that record in standard definition are the Creative Vado, RCA Small Wonder or the Canon FS21, These camcorders generally cost less than the high definition siblings.

If the camcorder records in 1280x720, 720p, or high definition listed in the product specification then you are looking at a camcorder that records in the widescreen format. Examples of camcorders that record in this format are the Kodak Zi8, Panasonic HDC-HS300 or the Canon Vixia HF200.

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