The Everio GZ-HD40 is a significant camcorder for JVC. Available for around £650, it supports AVCHD, in addition to JVC's traditional MPEG-2 TS format, offering more flexibility in the video-editing options. It also marks a shift from using three, low-resolution CCD sensors to using a single, comparatively high-resolution CMOS sensor. The result is an Everio with video quality able to compete with similarly priced high-definition models from Canon and Sony.
Considering there's a 120GB hard drive inside, JVC has kept the HD40 reasonably compact, at 74mm by 69mm by 124mm. With the battery, it weighs 544g.
In front is a 10x f1.8-2.2 50-500mm-equivalent lens with no optical image stabilisation -- only electronic stabilisation is an option. Behind the lens, on top of the camcorder's body, is a serviceable stereo mic, followed by an accessory shoe for use with an external microphone attachment. It's worth noting that the shoe's cover is not attached to the body, which more or less guarantees that it'll eventually get lost.
Another niggling design issue is that, as is the case with most camcorders of this size, the strap is positioned too low on the body, causing the HD40 to be off-balance, flopping to the left with the slightest relaxation of your grip. It seems that the location of the strap is low on the HD40 to avoid it blocking inputs. But that doesn't make it any less irritating.
Flipping open the 71mm (2.8-inch) LCD reveals a set of buttons on the body's right side: 'direct DVD' for burning discs without a PC, using the Everio Share Station DVD burner; 'focus assist' (explained further on); 'play/rec' for switching to playback mode and back again; 'delete'; and a power button. The camcorder also has an instant-on setting when the LCD is opened. On the left side of the LCD are the remaining controls for menu navigation and settings: menu and index buttons, and a five-way thumb-stick.
Ports include HDMI, AV and component outputs at the back, above the DC input for power and charging; a mic input and headphone out on the body's right side near the lens; and a USB mini-connector in front, below an LED lamp to the lens' right.
On the left of the lens is a switch for sliding open and closing the manual cover. On the HD40's bottom is a microSDHC card slot for recording still photos or AVCHD video to cards of up to 8GB in capacity. MPEG-2 TS video can only be recorded to the hard drive. There's also a docking port for use with the included base, which adds a FireWire port for file transfers.
The HD40 has a number of manual controls for white balance, exposure, sharpness, shutter priority, aperture priority and brightness. You get manual focus, too, controlled by the stick to the left of the LCD. To help you actually see what's in focus, there's a very handy focus-assist feature. Turn it on and the LCD's picture turns black and white, while whatever is in focus gets outlined in your choice of one of three colours. There's an exposure assistant, too, that puts zebra stripes across areas that are overexposed in your shot.
Changing settings can be tortuous, depending on what you're looking to adjust. The menu button gets you into a majority of the options, but important settings are buried three levels deep, and there doesn't appear to be any order. For example, switching between MPEG-2 and AVCHD -- one of the major reasons for buying this model -- requires you to press the menu button, go to 'basic settings', find the selection entitled 'stream format', and then choose either 'SD video' -- which is in fact MPEG-2 -- or AVCHD. Then, once you're back out, you have to hit the menu button again, find 'video quality' and select what recording speed you want to use.
This probably isn't a setting you'll be changing all that often, but it's illustrative of the rest of the menu system, so, if you're easily intimidated by digging through settings, you may want to try the HD40 before buying.
Recording speed options for AVCHD (.MTS files) include 'XP' at 17Mbps, a 12Mbps 'SP' mode, or 'EP' video at 5Mbps. JVC's MPEG-2 TS -- recorded as .TOD files -- are 26.6Mbps variable bit rate when set to full high definition or 27Mbps in 1440 constant bit rate. The 120GB hard drive will store up to 10 hours of FHD MPEG-2 video or 15 hours of the more compressed AVCHD format at XP quality.
Video quality on the whole is very good. Colours lean more towards saturated than natural, but are definitely pleasing and enhance the high-resolution video. This is particularly true when recording in MPEG-2 TS, which produces a more consistent tonal range, as compared to the greater blockiness of AVCHD recordings.