The words 'Perfect HD' are splashed across the side of the Genius G-shot HD520, but it's pretty obvious from its £90 asking price that it's not a camcorder aimed at serious video enthusiasts. Nevertheless, this budget shooter is capable of capturing high-definition video at a 720p resolution, so the question is: does it deliver enough cheap thrills to be the ideal partner for YouTube fans?
The HD520 has a pistol-grip design similar to that of Sanyo's Xacti VPC-CG10 and Toshiba's Camileo P30 camcorders. But its silver case feels a good deal flimsier than the case on either of those models. It doesn't fill you with confidence that the HD520 will stand up to much long-term abuse. The main controls are a small, less-than-sturdy joystick on the main stem, used to cycle through the easy-to-navigate menus, and a group of four buttons on the rear of the camcorder, used to capture still shots, access the main menu, change the mode and call up the settings menu.
As with pretty much all pistol-grip shooters, the screen flips out from the case and can be rotated around its axis, so you can spin it right round to see yourself when you want to shoot self-portraits. The 64mm (2.5-inch) screen is relatively large and bright, so it works well even outdoors.
The camcorder only has a measly 32MB of built-in memory, so, if you want to take more than a couple of stills shots or a few seconds of video, you need to pop an SD memory card into the slot on the bottom.
When it comes to shooting video, there are three modes on offer: 'HD' at a 1,280x720-pixel resolution, 'TV' at a 640x480-pixel resolution, and 'Web' at a 320x240-pixel resolution.
Unfortunately, HD video is compressed to a rate of less than 1MBps, which is low even by the standards of the H.264 compression used here. The low bit rate is quite noticeable, as there's a good deal of tearing and jerkiness evident when you shoot quick action shots or pans. Also, the camera's sensor tends to overdo colours, with the result that videos look slightly cartoon-like. As the pin-hole lens is fixed, if you want to zoom, you have to rely on the 5x digital zoom, which is very jerky and not really worth bothering with.
The HD520 can also be used to capture still images at resolutions of up to 11 megapixels. However, the camera only has a 5-megapixel sensor, so pictures at resolutions above this are interpolated. Snaps taken at the native 5-megapixel resolution are of passable quality, but compromised not just by the poor lens but also by the sensor's tendency to overdo colours. As a result, pictures tend to be more like those of a camera phone than even a cheap compact camera.
Along with the video and photo features, the HD520 can also be used as an MP3 player (it's got a standard-size headphone jack), ebook reader and portable media player, although you'll probably never use these features, as it's too big to act as an MP3 player and the screen is too small to make it useful as ebook reader or PMP. You can, however, output videos to a screen via the AV lead.
Battery life depends heavily on how you're actually using the camcorder and what mode you're shooting in, but, on the whole, you can expect to get about an hour's worth of footage from it before it gives up the ghost. We don't think this is too bad, considering the low price tag.
The Genius G-shot HD520 may be cheap, but it's far from a bargain, due to its plasticky construction and less-than-impressive video and stills performance. Those after a decent budget camcorder that can shoot in HD would be better off spending a little more money and getting something like the Kodak Zi8 or Flip Video UltraHD.
Edited by Charles Kloet