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Camcorders Seeking Solid Ground

Camcorders will continue their migration toward solid-state recording formats and high-definition capture in 2009.

High-definition models claimed 17 percent of the market through the third quarter of 2008 vs. 7 percent in the same period in 2007, according to The NPD Group’s retail tracking service.

“AVCHD is now in a mainstream price point,” said Phil Boyle, product manager, Sony. “Now that HDTV penetration is higher we think consumers” will be shifting more decisively to HD camcorders, he added.

During this period, buyers shifted from tape- and DVD-based models to hard disk drives (HDD) and flash memory. HDD camcorders moved, from 21 percent, to 28 percent of the market, according to NPD. The biggest gains were enjoyed by flash camcorders, which grew, from 17 percent, to 36 percent of the market.

Tape- and DVD-based camcorders, which accounted for 62 percent of the market in 2007, plummeted to 36 percent in 2008.

The capacities available on hard-disk camcorders, now up to 240GB, have made them a compelling option for consumers, Boyle said. These capacities have become more important as consumers have embraced HD recording, he added.

“We think SD camcorders are the wave of the future,” said Sanjeet Patel, national marketing manager, Panasonic. Memory prices are falling, giving consumers access to ever high capacities. Flash-based camcorders are also smaller, lighter and more robust, Patel added.

Canon, too, has shifted its model line decisively toward flash-memory camcorders.

The sudden spike in sales of low-cost flash-memory camcorders such as Pure Digital’s Flip has helped the category experience a unit growth of 6 percent through October, according to NPD. Yet dollars sales had dropped 5 percent, reflecting the lower selling price of the “pocket camcorder” category.

The rise of the Flip and other pocket flash camcorders hasn’t necessarily peeled away what would be traditional camcorder customers, venders assert. “You’re not going to take that kind of camera to a wedding,” said T.K. Yoshimura, Hitachi.

“We’re monitoring the market, but we don’t think it offers a lot of value for consumers,” Patel said.

It has, however, caught the eye of Sony, which entered the market last year with the NetCam. This year it will expand the lineup to two models under the new Webbie brand.

These models appeal to a PC-centric audience looking for a solution that’s better than a digital still camera but not as robust as a traditional camcorder, Boyle said.

The success of the low-cost flash cameras has demonstrated a useful lesson to the category, said Ross Rubin, industry analysis director, NPD. Consumers have responded to their ease of use, particularly the ease with which video can be uploaded and shared on Web sites such as YouTube or Facebook, Rubin said.

“Many of the pocket video cameras have one-touch uploading to these sites, allowing people to easily share their videos with family and friends,” said a spokesperson for Creative. Their success, she added, has coincided with the success of social networking.

Hoping to ride this wave, JVC has incorporated direct-upload buttons on its 2009 camcorders for transmitting video directly to YouTube when the unit is connected to a PC.