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True Widescreen Camcorders?

May 2004

This is starting to get on my nerves. I hardly have time any more to sit down just to jot a few thoughts down! Between the job, the daughter, and trying to learn Spanish for the family's trip to London and Madrid this summer, the time just disappears. I also just recently finished a major DVD project for my old high school. Of course, the recent release of "Far Cry" (about which I am not impressed, by the way) and "Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow" don't help to give me spare time either.

Fortunately, things have been quiet as far as I've seen on the widescreen front. Sadly, we are still being deluged with the dual-release DVDs, but I'm not going to rehash that just for the sake of getting a commentary out.

A few years ago, I was in the market for a new camcorder, so I decided that it was time to go to digital video. As expected, I wanted a camcorder with a widescreen function - a true, widescreen function preferably. I picked up a Sony DV camcorder and started to play with it. After toying with the functions, I got quite upset with what I had discovered. The only widescreen function that they had on any of their camcorders was a "crop and stretch" function where the camcorder cropped off the top and bottom and stretched the image vertically.

Sure, this would have made the image good for a 16:9 TV in stretched moden, but I felt cheated. The reason is that the camcorder that was being replaced was a many-years-old Sony 8mm camcorder. It wasn't even Hi-8, just regular 8mm. But this camcorder had (actually "has" since I still have it) an anamorphic widescreen that actually had more information on the sides! Yes, believe it or not, I am the owner of a ten-year-old, analog camcorder that actually does provide more information on the sides when in anamorphic mode!

(I remember when someone from California who thought he was some kind of videography god told me that I was full of it - that there have never been any consumer camcorders with that function. It wasn't until I produced a composite of the 4:3 and 16:9 images of the same scene and another person said that he also had such a camcorder that the person finally clammed up. Yes, Virginia, there was a consumer camcorder that did anamorphic. In case you're one of those nay-sayers, my composite image of the 4:3 and 16:9 examples is below.)

Anamorphic camcorder example

So, at that point I felt that I was being cheated. I was going from an inferior Sony 8mm camcorder with both matted widescreen and anamorphic widescreen to a vastly superior digital video camcorder; yet the Sony models that I looked at did not have "true" anamorphic widescreen or even a matted widescreen function. I did finally find a JVC camcorder with matted widescreen, so I purchased that, but I wasn't happy about what had happened.

(Keep in mind that this was a few years ago before 16:9 home DVD authoring was easy to do. So, at the very least a matted 16:9 function was a requirement.)

I then proceeded to send a snot gram to Sony about it. Let's face it. When a device has certain functions that really were ahead of their time, then those functions disappear on a superior device, it feels much more like going backwards instead of forwards.

A few weeks ago, I was at Best Buy eyeing some of the camcorders (since mine has some issues with it that are starting to make it an ideal candidate for replacement). I locked in on a Sony camcorder that looks like a real camcorder, as opposed to those ugly camcorders that look like cubes. (You know the kinds that I mean.) Of course, I started to play with the widescreen functions and saw that it had a matted widescreen function (which is an improvement from my previous experience).

"Wait a minute."

"I need to look at that again."

"Well, I'll be!"

It appears that Sony realized their mistake and took my snot gram to heart! Here I was looking in the viewfinder of a Sony digital video camcorder that actually was displaying more information on the sides when in widescreen mode! The display was matted in the viewfinder, but I don't know if that was just for the convenience of framing. It's possible that the image would be anamorphic when transferred to the PC or TV. Just the fact that Sony came out with a consumer, digital camcorder that actually lends credence to the adjective "wide" in "widescreen" is wonderful to see - no pun intended.

Sorry, I don't have the exact model number and it might not be restricted to Sony; but now you at least know that they're out there. If such camcorders are in my local Best Buy, chances are that they're in yours, too.

There's not much else to talk about, so I'll leave it at that.

Until next time … which hopefully will not take two or three months…