Lessons Learned In HD Camcorder Purchasing

by Jason Falls |

As many of you noticed, I’ve ramped up the frequency and quality of the video blog efforts recently with SME-TV. My interest in providing a video component as part of the offerings here stemmed from both my involvement in The Daily Idea (funny stuff, you should watch it regularly) and interest in pursuing web TV projects from a client.Canon Vixia HG 10To provide that client with the best quality equipment at the most affordable price, I was set loose on a shopping spree recently to purchase a high definition camcorder. And, as always when shopping for gadgets, I learned a couple things worth sharing.

I purchased a JVC Everio HD Hard Disk Camcorder with 3CCD technology (not pictured) for roughly $1,000. Upon opening the camera and installing the provided JVC software, I ultimately learned that the output to disc was a proprietary .TOD file structure is unreadable by the two video editing software packages I own (Windows Movie Maker and Sony Vegas Movie Studio.) Both are fairly standard video editing softwares but the fact neither could open the .TOD file essentially forced me to use the JVC software provided, something I did not want to do.

Hours of searching, reading message boards and calling (in vein, more in a moment) JVC customer service later, I learned there was a fix. The fix was not provided by JVC and involved downloading two different third-party applications, converting the file in one, then another, then bowing to the East, eating six canned hams and singing, “Tie A Yellow Ribbon,” in Dutch.

It is my firm opinion successfully opening a video file to edit should not require doing anything off-key in Dutch.

I do not want to use the JVC software and shouldn’t be forced to do so. I paid a fair sum of money for Sony Vegas and should expect any standard brand video camera would output a file I can open and manipulate with a standard video editing package.

Not wanting to represent JVC unfairly, I reached out to Terry Shea, their General Manager of Corporate Communications, with the first draft of this blog post. To my delight, he responded. Here are some of the things he had to say. This was from his initial response:

Our intention is not to “force” consumers to use the software that comes with the camcorder. It is not “our” software, and we do not gain financially in way by including it. The software is from Cyberlink, a separate company with a good reputation for its software products. We include the software as a convenience for our customers. With a single purchase, they have everything they need to shoot, edit and burn to disc their high definition video. Not all customers have or want to purchase separate video editing software. At least one of our major competitors also includes software, but only as a 90-day trial, after which the user must purchase it.

Fair point, but how am I going to open the JVC file?

Here is something worth noting from his second response to simply check in on the matter:

Actually, it is not correct that without the included software a user can’t access video files on the camcorder. The camcorder can work with other software. I need to hear from some of my product folks to provide me with the details. However, one thing I do know is that the camcorder has a constant bit rate mode. If you shoot in that mode, the camcorder can output an HDV-compatible stream that can be edited with any HDV-compatible software.

Then after he presumably checked with his product folks, here’s an additional entry:

Here are a few points regarding your experience with the JVC HD camcorder.

  • As I explained, we have no intention of trying to force consumers to use the software included with the camcorder. It’s third-party software (from Cyberlink) that we include to offer consumers a single-purchase package that allows them to shoot, edit and burn to disc their HD video with the need to separately purchase editing software.
  • If you shoot in the constant bit rate mode, that footage can be edited with any HDV-compatible software, including Sony Vegas Platinum and Pro, Adobe Premier and Pinnacle.
  • More software companies are adding .TOD file compatibility to their applications. Pinnacle Studio 12, to be available in June, will be fully compatible. When the AVCHD format first hit the market there were no third-party editing applications available for it. And, as I explained, some manufacturers include software that can only be used only for a limited trial period, after which the software must be purchased.

As an FYI, our reason for opting for the file format that we use is that we believe that MPEG2 provides better image quality than the MPEG4 format used in AVCHD (less signal compression with MPEG2).

While I applaud Mr. Shea for his timely and attentive responses and that he corrected some of my assumptions and indications in a pleasant and professional manner, the fact remained that with standard video editing software (I shouldn’t have to pay more than the $80 for the standard level of Sony Vegas just to get to a .TOD file) I could not open JVC’s file output. After 11 hours of searching and trying to fix it, I decided the JVC file structure wasn’t for me.

I returned the camera and purchased the Canon Vixia HG 10 (pictured, above) for the exact same price. It turns out Canon also has a file version issue, like JVC, because of the AVCHD file format. But the Canon customer support personnel directed me to a simple conversion fix (save the file as a DVD movie, then open it in your editing software) and I was up and editing in my chosen software in short order.

By the way, Canon’s support personnel answer the phone in less than one minute – astounding. JVC’s customer service center was closed. Just a little suggestion for Mr. Shea and his colleagues: Most people play with recently purchased gadgets at home, after work. Support centers only open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. are hiding from customers. My two cents … or my $1,000, which you no longer have, depending on your perspective.

I was so hoping Mr. Shea would tell me why customer support wasn’t available during typical customer support need hours, but alas, he didn’t address that issue. He knows the post is coming, though. Perhaps he’ll comment.

To be fair, Mr. Shea and JVC responded promptly and with useful information. Kudos to them. I also loved the camera. It’s too bad JVC’s software engineering and/or lack of support to fix it ruined any chance I would have of using it.

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IMAGE: Canon Vixia HG 10 image from Canon’s USA website.

[tags]JVC Everio, HD camcorder, high definition video camera, Canon Vixia HG 10, compare HD video cameras, web video, video camera, web TV, JVC, Canon[/tags]

About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).