The JVC Everio GZ-HD10 is the first JVC camcorder to fully embrace the AVCHD video format that other manufacturers have been taking advantage of for some time. AVCHD compression has many advantages over previous video formats like HDV and MPEG-2, which JVC previously supported, in particular the ability to shoot higher-quality HD video with smaller, more manageable file sizes. This allows for longer recording times on smaller capacity camcorders (something the GZ-HD10 doesn't have to worry about, really, with its 40GB hard disk drive).
The 40GB hard disk drive in the JVC GZ-HD10 allows for five hours of best-quality high-definition footage and up to 16 hours of lowest-quality HD. The quality differences refer to the differences in bit-rate for each setting. The XP mode records at a bit-rate of 17Mbps, while the EP mode records at a bit-rate of 5Mbps. That's a significant reduction of quality, to the point where calling EP mode 'high-definition' is probably a stretch.
There is one thing about the GZ-HD10 that should be addressed immediately, however. Although JVC claims the GZ-HD10 is capable of full HD, the truth is in the details, or in this case, the fine print. If you look closely at the box or the manual, you'll notice that the claims of 'Full HD' apply only to the camcorder's output. That means the GZ-HD10 can output full HD content through its full-size HDMI port to a high-definition television. That does not mean that the GZ-HD10 records full HD video at a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. In fact, the camcorder can only record at a resolution of 1440 x 1080 pixels (the same as the HDV format); when being played back, the camera up-scales to 1920 x 1080, fitting the image to the screen but not necessarily providing the best quality. While technically high-definition, it's not as robust as a camcorder that can truly accept full HD input.
From a design point-of-view, the GZ-HD10 looks unmistakably like its fellow JVC camcorders, with a tight, rectangular body that is almost brick-like. It's a form factor I prefer, as it makes the camcorder easy to grasp and provides stability. The camcorder also features a curved grip on the right side to better conform to the hand.
Most of the controls are relegated to the LCD bezel, and their layout is a little confusing. There are only three options on the bezel, two buttons and a little nub joystick, but they are cluttered up with an array of labels and instructions that are not always easy to understand without some deeper probing. The control to switch between camera and camcorder mode is located on the body of the camera, under the thumb, and is, in fact, an analog toggle switch. It's recessed into the body, making it difficult to access, and it is nearly impossible to do so while holding the camera in a normal position.
Other buttons are located on the left-hand side of the camcorder, hidden by the LCD bezel when it is closed. This grouping includes the 'power' button. These are also somewhat difficult to access with the camera in a normal shooting position, and require some adjustment.
The camcorder's most appealing feature is the full-size HDMI port that allows for direct high-definition output to an HDTV. When not in playback mode, the viewer is treated to a live take of the camcorder's point-of-view (which can result in some nasty audio feedback).
Performance and Video Quality
I tested the JVC HD10 in a variety of situations, both indoors in low and medium light environments and outdoors in bright sunshine. I limited my tests to the best-quality, 17Mbps XP mode for video and the highest-resolution 1920 x 1080 mode for still photos. Overall, I was not very impressed with the final results.
Indoors, the video seemed to be marred by a gauzy film, as if the lens were coated in Vaseline. The video lacked depth and I couldn't help but feel as if I was being distracted by compression artifacts and image noise floating over the scene. Outdoors, the bright light helped to eliminate the softness present on the indoor clips, but the lack of depth seemed even more pronounced. Scenes had a strange, two-dimensional appearance. Everything looked flat and lifeless. Still images had the same issue, a washed out flatness that sucked the life out of a scene.
The GZ-HD10's stereo sound performed well, although the 'wind cut' feature, designed to reduce the effect wind has on the microphones did not prevent some severe gusts from spoiling the audio on some clips.
Considering the price of the JVC GZ-HD10, consumers should expect a little more from their camcorders. While the image quality may be passable in some circumstances, it'd be better to invest in a similarly priced camcorder like the Canon HF100 or HF10, which offers true HD recording and output, and outperforms the GZ-HD10 handily.