Sanyo claims its Xacti VPC-HD2 is the smallest hi-def camcorder on the market. While we can't quite confirm the superlative, it certainly is a very small, light camcorder that can fit almost an hour of 720p footage into a single 4GB SD memory card.
The VPC-HD2 shares the same slender, vaguely gun-shaped design as Sanyo's other Xacti camcorders. The 10x, 38mm- to 380mm-equivalent lens sits on the top of the camcorder, with the bulk of the device's controls right behind it. Below the lens, the camcorder's slim, rectangular body houses the battery, SD card slot and flip-out 56mm (2.2-inch) LCD screen, while offering a comfortable grip. The VPC-HD2 sat comfortably, even in large hands, though we still recommend using a wrist strap.
Despite its comfortable design, the VPC-HD2's control scheme suffers from a persistent, irritating flaw. Users can navigate the camcorder's menus and settings with a small, wiggly joystick just under the zoom switch. Besides tilting horizontally and vertically, the joystick presses straight down to act as a confirmation button. Unfortunately, the camcorder often mistakes the joystick's button functions and tilt functions, making menu navigation a frustrating exercise in precision.
The VPC-HD2's biggest draw is its ability to record hi-def MPEG-4 footage at 1,280x720-pixel resolution and 30 frames per second, but it keeps a few other tricks up its sleeve. While shooting video, the camcorder also can take 7-megapixel still pictures. Most camcorders with still photo capabilities can't shoot at the same time. The screen blanks out and the camcorder freezes for about 6 seconds when you shoot photos while recording video, but it's still better than nothing and you don't lose any video as it's happening.
Because it records hi-def video, users need an HDTV or some other high-definition display to get the most out of the VPC-HD2. Its included dock supports both component and HDMI cables, so piping video to your television is a snap. The camcorder also comes with a remote control, so you can shoot and play back videos and images without fiddling with the docked camera.
Though still quite usable, the VPC-HD2's actual footage and performance disappointed us. The camcorder takes a long time to get a focus lock, especially in low light.
When it finally focused and shot, the camcorder's video came out soft and washed out. Even when viewed on an HDTV over an HDMI cable, fine details are obscured and colours appear bland and undersaturated. The footage is still high definition and will appear as such on any HDTV, but it doesn't look nearly as crisp as footage from higher-end hi-def camcorders.
Like their standard-definition cousins, hi-def camcorders, such as the higher end Canon HV20 and the extremely higher end (and much, much more expensive) Panasonic AG-HVX200, can offer wildly varying video quality.
Price certainly plays a factor, but even the less expensive camera-turned-HD-camcorder Canon PowerShot TX1 offers clearer high-definition video than the VPC-HD2. The VPC-HD2 produces decent footage and won't ruin your home movies with poor quality, but you can find better video elsewhere.
Additional editing by Kate Macefield