If you're sick of hearing products compared to the iPod, you might want to stop reading now. But if you're delighted by the idea of a digital video camcorder that uses an iPod-size 30GB hard drive instead of MiniDV or DVD media, then the new JVC Everio GZ-MG50 may be the camcorder to put on your late summer wish list. The MG50 is the flagship of JVC's new G series of Everio compact hard disk camcorders, which also includes the MG40 (1.33-megapixel sensor, 20GB), the MG30 (680,000-pixel sensor, 30GB), and the MG20 (680,000-pixel sensor, 20GB).
The Everio GZ-MG50 is small and light, weighing about 380g with its battery attached, and its 1.33-megapixel CCD sensor matches what you'd find on competing higher-end consumer camcorders. JVC claims that the MG50's 30GB hard drive will hold 10.5 hours of DVD-quality footage, which, as JVC's press release so helpfully informs us, equates to 22 standard 1.4GB DVD camcorder discs. Even at maximum quality, the MG50 can record 7 hours of 9Mbps video.
One other thing we like about the MG50's hard drive is that clips are stored in a random-access file system, so you can select individual clips from a central menu instead of having to rewind and fast-forward through an entire tape. In addition, a drop-protection mechanism will shut off the MG50's hard drive to prevent data loss when it detects that the camera is rapidly accelerating, ostensibly toward the floor.
Gobs of capacity can be a double-edged sword: 30GB of onboard storage sounds great, but where are you supposed to put your movies when the drive is full? Anyone who uses a high-capacity media card with their digital camera will tell you that computer disk space can evaporate fast after a few shoots, and with the Everio GZ-MG50, we're talking roughly 60 times as much media per dump. In other words, while you won't have to buy traditional media such as MiniDV tapes, you will likely have to invest in a gigantic hard drive or a DVD recorder -- and the accompanying DVDs -- in the long term.
It's also probable that this camcorder's recording capacity will outstrip its battery life, especially given that the hard drive will have to constantly spin while reading and writing video. Last but not least, we're not impressed with the MG50's static recording bit rate; generally, variable bit rates allow for better overall video quality.
Comparisons with Apple's iPod are sure to abound in the months leading up to the Everio GZ-MG50's release, since the two products use the same internal hard drive. And fortunately for JVC, the iPod has already done a lot of the legwork in training consumers to move hefty wedges of media on and off a portable device. Still, it's unclear whether the idea of medialess recording will catch on right away -- a lot could depend on the extent to which DVD archiving and set-top DVD recorders take off. While we applaud JVC's innovative approach to shooting digital video, our questions about the camcorder's battery life and actual video quality will remain until we can get our hands on a production model for a full review.
Edited by Aimee Baldridge
Additional editing by Nick Hide