The JVC GZ-HD5 is a high-definition hard disk drive camcorder capable of recording almost five hours of full-1080p video. That's right: it's an HD HDD camcorder that uses MPEG-2 compression. As if there weren't already enough confusing acronyms involved, the GZ-HD5 also has an HDV mode, which allows the camcorder to simulate the recording quality of a Mini DV tape-based "high-definition video" camera.
Finding the Middle Ground
HDV's reliance on cassette tape makes it impossible to produce the hyper-portable hard-drive and memory-card based camcorders that MPEG-2 boasts. HDV also is incapable of fulfilling the total HD resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, instead recording at 1440 x 1080 and making up the difference by using irregularly shaped pixels that cover the gaps.
The GZ-HD5 shoots for a middle ground, hoping to satisfy everyday consumers who value portability and comfort as well as hardcore videophiles who still desire the perceived superiority of the HDV format. The 1440CBR mode approximates HDTV and yields videos that can be edited with HDV-friendly software.
The GZ-HD5 comes with an in-camera 60GB hard disk drive (the GZ-HD6, essentially the same camcorder, features a 120GB HDD). As noted previously, this provides storage for nearly five hours of full-HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) video, five hours of HDV-like 1440CBR (Constant Bit Rate, 27Mbps, 1440 x 1080) video, and up to 12 hours of variable bit rate 1440 x 1080 video.
The camera features a 10x optical zoom, rather small for a camcorder but a result of its overall compact profile. The widescreen 2.8-inch LCD is extremely vivid and is a pleasure to work with. An integrated HDMI port allows you to directly connect your camcorder to an HDTV for immediate playback.
Using the Camera
Recording videos on the GZ-HD5 is a generally positive experience, though not without some caveats. The high-definition quality of the videos is apparent; colors look intensely vibrant and finer details are clearly noticeable. The sound quality is also very high, making for a fully rendered scene.
Unfortunately, the GZ-HD5 doesn't respond to manual movement well, even with optical image stabilization. At close zooms, the video is often quite shaky and when panning across a scene from one side to another with the hand, the video takes on a slight blur, making it hard to focus on the subject.
When the camcorder isnt being jostled or moved too quickly, the videos are much more appealing. The GZ-HD5 may not be the right camera to take along for action and adventure, but if you were filming a high-action scene while keeping yourself relatively stable, it's definitely capable of capturing gloriously good-looking images.
Transferring Videos to PC
The GZ-HD5 has both USB and FireWire outputs for direct transfer of videos to your personal computer, and is bundled with an array of software to facilitate that process. The primary program, CyberLink PowerCinema, is used to backup and copy the video files, and ostensibly, to view them.
File transfer went smoothly, but when trying to use PowerCinema to view videos, whether they were on the camera or in the backup folder, it returned a less than informative error: "Unable to play this file." It was never clear why this was the case. Another bundled program, CyberLink PowerDirector was able to open and playback the video files without issue. Though Windows Media Player was unable to read the Everio's proprietary TOD files, other third-party media programs like VLC Media Player had no trouble. Wrangling with PowerCinema was very frustrating, and not just because it wouldn't playback the videos. It was a sluggish, slow-moving bit of software.
The instructions included with the GZ-HD5 were notably vague when it came to transferring to the computer. It walked you through the backup process, but nothing more. When the camera is plugged into the PC, a menu appears on the LCD display offering two options, "Backup" and "Playback on PC." The latter is never referenced in the camcorder's instruction manual. Selecting it opens CyberLink PowerCinema (the same result as "Backup") which still refuses to play any videos.
The instructions are also extremely vague when it comes to disconnecting the GZ-HD5 and its 60GB hard drive from the computer. There are a few "notes" which seem a little too crucial to be relegated to what appears to be an aside: "Never disconnect the USB cable while the access/charge lamp on the camera lights or blinks," it reads, "Do not turn the camera off when the USB cable is connected."
When asked, a JVC representative explained the camera should be disconnected like an external hard drive, that is, it should be dismounted from the computer before you start yanking cables out. That's information that should probably be in the instructions, yet, they are nowhere to be found.
Conclusion: Good, but a few kinks
In total, the JVC Everio GZ-HD5 is a fairly decent camcorder whose exciting features are somewhat dulled by a few awkward snags. Or perhaps the awkward snags are somewhat mitigated by the exciting features. In any case, the camcorder has its ups and downs, and whether or not you want to take the bad with the good is up to you. With some expanded support for computer transfers and better image stabilization, the GZ-HD5 would be a far better camcorder. As is, it's a fine option for those curious about the future of camcorders.