It may not come with full-fat 1080p high-definition capabilities, but the supremely portable Sanyo Xacti VPC-TH1 camcorder is likely to appeal to anyone looking to make HD home movies without paying through the nose. It has simple point-and-shoot appeal and can be picked up online for around £250. Canny shoppers may be able to find it for less than £200.
Anyone familiar with previous models in the Xacti range will note that the VPC-TH1 has a rather sober-looking design compared to the distinctive ray-gun stylings once favoured by Sanyo's design team. This model has a much more similar look and feel to its competitors in the market at large. It's not dissimilar in size and shape to Panasonic's compact HDC-SD9 -- if anything, it's slightly smaller and lighter.
The inclusion of an HDMI port, face 'chasing' -- that is, recognition -- technology and a lengthy 30x optical zoom are definite bonuses. Size and price aside though, simplicity is probably the VPC-TH1's biggest selling point.
There's a grand total of seven buttons on the unit, including the on/off switch. Most of the device's features are accessible via a straightforward on-screen menu and even this can be switched to idiot mode if you just want to get on with the task at hand with the minimum of fuss. All of this would be fine if the VPC-TH1's automatic functions were up to speed. Unfortunately, they aren't.
For a device that's so clearly intended to be used in full auto mode, the VPC-TH1 is frustratingly sluggish when it comes to much of its automated operation. Take the optical zoom, for example. There's no manual ring, so you're left at the mercy of the motorised zoom, which is creakingly slow. Similarly, the VPC-TH1's autofocus takes an absolute age to work out what it's actually supposed to be focusing on. If you zoom or pan from one subject to another, the image remains hopelessly blurry for much longer than is acceptable.
It's a shame that Sanyo doesn't include an SD memory card and has opted for 720p image quality over 'Full HD' 1080p, but we're happy to concede that both of these decisions were probably made to help keep the product's price down. In fact, the top-quality image -- 1,280x720-pixel resolution, 30 frames per second -- looks extremely rich and detailed when played back via an HD Ready 720p TV. Or at least it does as long as the camcorder has been held perfectly still during filming.
As with other low-cost AVC-based HD models, there can be a noticeable drop in quality when camera motion is introduced. This isn't helped by a strange electronic image stabiliser and a fair amount of random artefacting. Low-light environments aren't this camcorder's forte either, with noise creeping into the image even in reasonably well-lit interiors.
Sanyo brands all its camcorders as 'Dual Cameras' and, although the VPC-TH1 has the ability to take still shots during video filming, its low-resolution photo capability is no replacement for a dedicated digital stills camera.
We were prepared to champion the Sanyo Xacti VPC-TH1 as an HD camcorder for the people, but we have to admit that we're disappointed. Under the right conditions, the VPC-TH1 can produce some great-looking footage, but its performance is patchy and its simplicity is undermined by its frustratingly slow auto operation.
Edited by Charles Kloet