By Matthew Henry in Osaka

OSAKA, JAPAN: Panasonic has launched its first range of consumer high definition camcorders, announcing late last week at a launch in Japan, that two models using the new AVCHD video format including an SD card and DVD version will be available in Australia in 2007.

The launch marks Panasonic’s entry into the consumer HD camcorder segment, with the company joining other leading brands including market pioneer Sony as well as recent entrants Canon, JVC and Sanyo.

For its debut HD range, Panasonic has looked in-house to the AVCHD video codec co-developed with Sony, which allows for highly efficient encoding of HD video on a variety of non-tape media including hard disk drives, conventional DVDs and flash memory cards.

Panasonic Australia will launch the HDC-SD1, which records around one hour of 1440x1080i HD video (13Mbps) onto a 4GB SDHC card, and the DVD-based HDC-DX1 to the Australian market next year, but has not confirmed pricing or avaiability.

The DX1 will record around 40 minutes on Panasonic’s new dual-layer DVD-R discs. However, discs will not play on a conventional DVD player – consumers will need to upgrade to Blu-ray to watch  discs directly from the disc, or can connect the camcorder to a TV via AV or HDMI.

Both models use the 3CCD imaging system and feature a Leica Dicomar lens, optical image stabiliser, Crystal Engine image processor, large 3-inch widescreen LCD display, 5.1 channel Dolby Digital audio with five dedicated microphones and a zoom mic mode which eliminates background and ambient noise as the user zooms in.

Sony recently became the first brand to release an AVCHD camcorder range with a HDD-based and DVD-based model. While the AVCHD codec is open to other manufacturers, Panasonic and Sony are the only two brands to have publicly supported the format through product development.

Panasonic’s bold move to SD/SDHC cards has been made in anticipation of a significant increases in card capacity coupled with falling prices, which the brand expects will soon put multi-gigabyte cards within the reach of most consumers.

“SD media is becoming more accessible in large capacities, and in 2009 or 2010 our target is around that one hour should be around $US10,” Panasonic general manager – video camera business unit planning group, Nobuhiko Okamoto, told at the Osaka launch last week.

“Right now SD is a temporary media, but year-by-year we try to develop more efficient compression technology so our SD department is developing higher capacaties at lower price. Our target is that the SD card becomes the media for the future because it is easier, small and tough.”

In the meantime, the new SD1 will also make its appeal on size as the smallest high definition camcorder on the market.

While Panasonic and Sony cooperated in the joint-development of  AVCHD, Panasonic claims its 3CCD system gives its camcorders the edge in picture quailty over Sony’s single CMOS sensor models.

Panasonic expects the high definition camcorder market will continue to expand in line with growth in high definition flat panel TV penetration. HDTVs are expected to account for 70 per cent of sales in the USA next year, and even higher in Japan.

“Consumers have high definition TVs and it is only natural that they would like to enjoy shooting material at HD quality,” said Panasonic senior coodinator – overseas sales and marketing group Asia, Africa, Middle East and Oceania, Tateshi Nishigaki.

"In 2010 at least 40 per cent of the total camcorder market will become high definition, so in order to capture this trend we are launching now with these HD camcorders with excellent features," Nishigaki said.