By Laurent Belsie, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
The consumer canon dictates that innovations at the high-end eventually find their way into the mainstream. If it flies off the shelves at Neiman Marcus, sooner or later you're going to find it at Wal-Mart.
That process is about to take place with home videos. Smaller, digital camcorders are coming onto the market that will be able to capture home video so sharp it could pass muster in professional studios. And that laborious process of editing the video? It will be nearly as simple as word-processing on a computer.
Traditional camcorders have not exactly been slouches in the innovation race. They've gotten smaller, steadier, and cheaper in the past decade. Their next step, however, represents a huge leap from the old world of analog signals to the new one of digital bits and bytes. Already popular in Japan, the digital camcorder is making headway in the United States. Last year, for example, sales of digital camcorders represented no more than 1.5 percent of the overall US market. This year, according to one estimate by Sony, sales will easily double. "It's just been a phenomenal success," says Gregg Nole, senior product trainer for personal video with Sony Electronics Inc. The company's high-end digital camcorder - the DCR-VX1000 - has become so popular it's on back order, even at a suggested retail price of $4,199. Amateur video buffs are willing to shell out that kind of money because the digital machines have much better quality than traditional consumer-level camcorders. For example, a standard VHS model has some 240 lines of horizontal resolution. All Sony's digital camcorders have at least twice that number. The more lines of resolution, the finer the picture. Digital camcorders display even finer resolution than laser discs, which serious film connoisseurs use to watch Hollywood movies. Mr. Nole claims the digital camcorder rivals (in picture though not in features) Sony's professional Beta SP video cameras. …