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6.11.2008

Jazz Elite HDV178 $99 HD Camcorder Review


I've had a few days to play with the Jazz Elite HDV-178 that I picked up at Wal-Mart last week. We took it with us on a trip to King's Island in Oh, so I made sure to take some photos and videos to test it. The verdict? I like it, a lot. It's a very basic camera, but it does everything I'd expect for $99 and is still a cheap enough camera I wouldn't be heartbroken if something happened to it instead of my MiniDV camcorder.

Let's start with some sample video and images:
Here is a video clip I shot at Kings Island of their new Firehawk coaster. This was taken on the HD setting. Keep in mind Vimeo transcoded this video to Flash, so some quality is lost. If you want to create a Vimeo account, there is an option to download the original file so you can see the full quality. The embedded version below is not displayed in HD, You'll want to click over to the Vimeo site to see their HD version.



King's Island Firehawk Coaster /HDV178 Camcorder Test from macrogeek on Vimeo.


Here is a still image taken with the HDV178:
PICT0001
Here is a comparison image taken with the 2MP camera on my iPhone:
IMG_0386
Here is another HDV178 still image taken at the amusement park with the macro setting on:
PICT0029
The major convenience of this camcorder is the convenience of flash memory. It boots in about 5 seconds, so you can be up an recording very quickly. I like my Panasonic MiniDV camcorder, but finding a queuing up a tape is a pain. I've missed recording cute baby moments because the camera wasn't ready. Since the HDV178 records to SD cards, you never have to find or rewind a tape, and the recordings and pictures are stored in individual files, so you can quickly find them and transfer them to your hard drive in any order without having to set up a FireWire connection and scrub an hour of tape for the clip you need. I've found that since I started using a flash camera, I'm recording more impromptu videos than before, and taking still images to accompany the recordings. (my DV camera didn't handle still images well)
This camera is light, the body is plastic, which feels a little cheap, but what I expect given the price. There are textured rubber grips on the whole body. It comes with a belt pouch/case and a wrist strap. It's small enough you can fit it pretty comfortably in your jeans pocket. I wore it all day on my belt at the amusement park and didn't find it uncomfortable. I was impressed with the accessories that came with such a cheap camera. The aforementioned case, a composite TV output cable, a HDMI cable, driver CD with a video CODEC and transcoding software to convert the H264 files into common formats, DVD burning software. I kind of wish there was a snap on lens cap, but no luck there.
Battery life seems good. I haven't run the camera completely out yet, but from what I'm reading on forums you can record almost 2 hours straight on one charge. Which is longer than most SD cards will hold. I'm using a 2GB SD card and I can get about an hour on the HD setting and two hours on the highest standard definition setting. HD video looks good. It's plenty of resolution if you're planning on posting videos to a flash based service like YouTube, Revver, Vimeo, or that kind of thing. I'd say sometimes the HD video from the camera rivals my MiniDV camera, but I think the cheap optics give it away. The fixed lens also means that you can only use digital zoom (which looks pretty good), but you aren't going to get great focus at a distance. I think the still camera feature suffers most from the fixed lenses. The pictures look pretty good, but while the camera is marketed at 5MP, they don't look as good as images taken with a high quality 5MP camera. I love the fact that you don't need to install special drivers to get the video off this camera. You just plug a mini-USB cable in and it shows up as a mass storage device. The TV output also works great. I used it to show video to my parents from the camera, and it looked pretty good on their SD TV.
My only complaints with the camera so far? You have to open the viewfinder to start the camera. The viewer has to open, or folded flat to the side of the camera with the LCD screen facing out to record. It would be nice if you could just hit an on button and shoot without the viewfinder once you had framed your subject. Not a big deal though. The system startup sound is annoying an loud, and can't be turned off with the other system sounds. Some folks will complain about plastic construction, but hey, it's a $99 camera. The mic is on top of the camera, facing up, so you have to lean to control your voice, or you will be way louder than the subjects on camera. A CODEC is required to view the H264 format that this camera records. I had to install it on my laptop to play video, my desktop machine played it fine w/o the codec. I'm guessing that something I installed in the K-Lite CODEC pack can handle the Microsoft version of H264 this camera uses. I'd suggest putting a copy of the K-Lite pack and VLC player on a folder in your memory card just in case you need it to view video on a friend's computer. (or you can just carry the video cable and use their TV)
Even with the short list of "cons" for this camera. I find most of them minor and things that I'll tolerate for the convenience of a hundred dollar camcorder.

*Edit 8/13/08* I have shot comparison videos between the Jazz Elite HDV178 and the Pure Digital Flip Ultra. You can find more in my post: http://macrogeek.blogspot.com/2008/08/flip-video-ultra-vs-hdv178-comparison.html

28 comments:

  1. I just bought this camera and Im charging the battery for the first time now I can't wait to get to use it/ My digital cameras video recording just was not cutting it at all. Nice review

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  2. Can you print still photo's off a video that has been recored?

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  3. @anonymous
    The Jazz doesn't come with a frame grabbing program that I'm aware of. I have a feeling they'd be pretty blurry.

    It does have a still picture button though that makes it act like a normal digital camera.
    You just can't use that while shooting video.

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  4. I have a Jazz HDV178 and I noticed that it has been charging for about 12 hours now. The red light is on but when I unplug it the camera wont go on. How long does it have to charge and how do you know when its done charging?

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  5. Just bough mine and for some reason after many many hours of charging it wont turn on. Did I get a defective battery or is there something I am doing wrong?

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  6. @anon
    I had the same problem. Make sure you have the battery in the right direction. I had mine in backwards the first time. Look at the contacts and make sure you don't need to flip it over.

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  7. I the same problem.after chargin for many hours the camera will not turn the battery is not backwards

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  8. I have this camera and the pictures are blurry and smudgy if you are not completely still...Is there something wrong with mine?

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  9. Can I use an sd card larger than 8gb?

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  10. @Anonymous
    Yes, see my card tests here:
    http://macrogeek.blogspot.com/2008/10/hdv178-microsd-sdhc-card-testing.html

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  11. @Anon - re: picture quality. It's a cheap still camera, and without a dedicated shutter, it's not going to work as well as a real still camera, If you hold it very steady, or use a tripod, then you can get decent stills, but you have to be careful that you don't wobble the camera when you push the still shot button. I tend to brace it on a railing or other object or use both hands to steady it. This isn't unique to the HDV178...same problem on other flash camcorders.

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  12. My wife bought this camera a couple of days ago. My problem is that there is no AC charging cable, and no (apparent) charging input on the camera. How is someone supposed to charge the Li-Ion battery?

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  13. @Anon

    Mine came with a wall adapter that terminated in a mini USB plug. If yours doesn't have that, the I'd probably have the store exchange it.

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  14. Yes, the first battery charge did take a long time. Almost all day. Got a second battery for it and a additional external charger so one battery could be charging while using the other. Had a lot of problems with the file conversion software when using Windows Movie Maker. Still trying to figure it all out.

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  15. When the pics and videos are on my camera they look ok but when uploaded onto the computer they are extremely dark and the quality is the worse I have seen. Any ideas?

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  16. I bougth the Jazz elite 178 the problem I have is I can't see what I'm videoing for the glare on the flip out lense. Any help on this?

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  17. For Blurry pics, which are usually the closer up shots, use macro setting. Same when shooting video at closer distances. If having problems with converting video, why don't you just demux and combine in a new avi file . That way you can re-encode without disturbing original video, but may work better with the video software you like best.

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  18. Just shot my 90 yr old grandfather and played back (after loading to my pc) and video and audio are off! CODEC was downloaded prior to this. Is this film a waste now? Anyone know? THANKS!

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  19. i also have the problem with the battery its not backwords i have been charging it for a few hours via computer but it will not turn on. i got this from a friend he said its a good cam and its in exellent condition a few minor scratches so i know thats not the problem..can you help me? my email is-Soulsteala09@yahoo.com

    thsnk you in advance.

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  20. @Anonymous / Soulsteala - I don't think this camera charges from a computer via USB. There is a power adapter supplied with it that terminates in mini-usb. I think it may supply more current when charging.
    Try the power adapter, otherwise, you may need to contact the manufacturer.

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  21. if you read the instruction manual you will see that in fact it will not charge via a USP port. You have to use the wall plug. Kinda too bad.

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  22. Anyone had problems with the sound recording at live concert? The audio is horrible but other footage I've seen is actually really good and tips on how to improve Live audio?

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  23. Has anyone had any luck charging this camera and keeping it charged using the included cable? Is the only way to get this camera to keep a charge is to charge it using an external charger?

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  24. Its a rip off. Not worth $99. I took it for an important function, downloaded it to my pc and found out the audio and vidio dont rhyme. You wont believe it the words came before the pictures. I hope I dont have to delete what I recorded. ITs sound. Made the whole thing look like some chinese movie. Anyone know how I can synchronize the vidio and audio? I really cant afford to lose what I recorded.

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  25. re: Anon - I think the sound sync issues you are having are one of two issues:
    1. compatibility with your player software or coded. Try installing the K-Lite Code pack or playing the video in a different piece of software.
    2. computer speed. Some lower power computers like netbooks have trouble rendering MPEG4 as fast as the audio...try viewing the video on a higher end system, or transcoding to a easier to play format, like quicktime or MPEG2.

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  26. can you rebuy a adpater cable ? somewhere i lost mine and i cant charge my camera anymore or is there a different way to charge it ?

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  27. I've had this for quite a while. I like it. I have a few neg. comments, but overall I'm satisfied. I don't like the placement of the flashbulb--I often cover it up with my finger without thinking. I also an not too keen on their adjustment settings, with two different forward/backward settings (the OK button and the set underneath. but as far as the quality goes, I'm satisfied.

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  28. i had this camera for a couple weeks and loved it! i was devestated when i found a marble-sized crater in the cheep piece of metal on the side. i still have no idea how it happened but ive been upset about it ever sence. i spent 1 year trying to get another one until i gave up. but today i found it in a box and im back on the search! wish me luck!

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