If you've gone through the menus of your HD camcorder, you probably noticed all of the adjustable settings and modes that you can use, but do you know when to use each of these settings? There are many ways to maximize your video and ensure that your video looks its best. While all of the options can be overwhelming, there are three main things to consider when you set up your camcorder: resolution, frame rate and the landing platform.
While HD camcorders have default video settings that record everything at the best resolution, you should consider which resolution you actually need. Your camcorder allows you to adjust your settings for SD and HD video, but few people still use SD displays. While standard-definition video has a much smaller file size, it looks grainy or pixelated. Instead, you should always use HD resolutions.
All you have to choose between is 720p and 1080p resolutions. Obviously, the best resolution is 1080p, but in most situations, people do not see a difference between the two HD resolutions. In order for these two resolutions to be visibly different, you need a large display, and you need to be sitting up close to it. In other words, the larger the screen and the closer you are to that screen, the more you notice resolution.
For example, if your viewer is watching on a computer monitor from one foot away, they are more likely to notice a difference between 720 and 1080, but if you show your video on a 40-inch TV screen to a room full of people, they probably won't notice the difference. Also, resolution is most obvious when the screen displays text. Most people won't see the minute pixel differences between 1080 and 720 when looking at footage of a mountain.
In other words, if you plan on uploading your video to the internet, you should aim for the highest possible resolution. If you're showing your video in a conference room, you might be able to get away with 720p.
Frame rate is the speed at which the camcorder takes pictures, so you should look into the best rate of frames per second (fps) for your video. The human eye processes just under 30 fps, so you might think that you only need 30 fps in your video. However, digital displays often refresh at 120 fps, and a video at 30 fps looks choppy. Usually, 60 fps looks much smoother on all digital displays.
You might have noticed that your camcorder lists recording speed with an "i" or a "p" next to the number: 30p, 60i, 60p, etc. This is the difference between progressive and interpolated recording. In progressive filming, the camcorder takes a full picture, so a 60p camcorder takes 60 full pictures every second. Interpolated film shoots every other row of pixels each second and combines them, so while 60 pictures are taken every second, they have to be combined to create a full image, meaning that it is really filming at a rate of 30 fps.
Now that you have a basic understanding of the two most important settings on the camera, you need to know the requirements of the video's final destination. If you know the viewing settings of the playback device, you can match your video to those settings. For example, Blu-ray players readily handle 1080p at 60 fps, so you should film in that resolution and speed for that platform. Meanwhile, some online viewing platforms have film limitations and automatically adjust your file accordingly.
At the time of this writing, YouTube allows 1080p resolution, but it only allows 30 fps. If you submit a video in 1080p and 60 fps, YouTube shrinks the file to fit its settings. If you are making videos for YouTube uploads, you shouldn't waste the file space on those extra frames that will eventually be deleted. If your video will be on a giant screen in a sports stadium, you might only need 720p but at 60 fps.
At the end of the day, your landing platform makes most of the video settings decisions for you. However, it's important to know the difference between the optional resolutions and recording speeds so you can make the best videos for your purpose.