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A tale of two halves

Pix of Panasonic's new concept camcorder

As promised last week, PC Advisor can now reveal what Panasonic's split-personality camera looks like.

Digital video cameras have long boasted the ability to double as digital still cameras. For some time, however, users wishing to take advantage of this feature have always faced one major hurdle: despite technology shrinking the size of standalone video and still cameras, the former were always larger because of the bulky tape cassette deck they must incorporate. Until now.

Matsushita, better known as Panasonic, unveiled today a concept digital video camera that has the ability to be separated into two pieces, so users can leave behind the cassette deck when they want to take still images.

The most immediate and obvious advantage this brings is in the areas of size and weight. With the tape deck and basic battery attached the camcorder weighs 570g, and this is cut to 360g when the tape deck is removed — a 37 percent decrease in weight. Size is also reduced, with the height of the device cut from 11.5cm to 7.7cm without the tape deck.

One advantage digital video cameras have usually had over their still camera cousins has been in their optics, and that is true of Matsushita's new camera too. Fitted with a Leica Dicomar lens, the camera features a 10x optical zoom and digital zoom up to 100x. In contrast, most digital still cameras offer optical zoom up to 2x or 3x.

The CCD (charge-coupled device) pickup is a 1Mp (megapixel) unit and the camera offers two resolutions for still picture taking: 640x480 or 1,200x900. Images can be stored in Jpeg format on SD (secure digital) memory cards and viewed using the built-in 2.5in LCD (liquid crystal display).

In video-taking mode, the camera can either record on a conventional Mini DV (digital video) cassette or directly to the SD memory card. In case of the latter, video is recorded in Mpeg-4 format at 176x144 resolution, which means a 64MB SD card can store 65 minutes of video, according to Matsushita.

The company plans to begin selling the camcorder in Japan on 1 September for the princely sum of 205,000 yen — equivalent to £1,167. Launch plans for other countries have not been decided.

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