Note: This page was written a few years ago and should be read in that context. Newer camcorders have since replaced DVD camcorders.
In recent years some manufacturers have made a big push to promote camcorders which record directly to DVD disc. Most notably, Sony has all but phased out tape-based camcorders in the consumer market (their professional cameras still use tapes or the XDCam disc system).
The advantage of DVD camcorders is convenience — the disc comes straight out of the camcorder and into the DVD player. Unfortunately that's the only significant advantage and the rest is all bad news. DVD camcorders are very inconvenient if you want to do anything other than play your raw footage exactly as you shot it. Basically, DVD camcorders are fine for those who have no desire to edit video (except in-camera editing) but are pretty much useless for everyone else.
Let's be clear about this: We strongly recommend against buying a DVD camcorder.
Confusion and Frustration
One of the worst things about DVD camcorders is the general lack of reliable information. Most store assistants don't understand the issues, consumers are not told of the limitations, even company representatives are vague and contradictory.
In our forums and email inbox, we regularly hear from angry buyers who have been sold camcorders which are no use to them. Our advice is to stay angry and do something about it — return the camcorder and demand your money back. Also, make sure you contact the manufacturer directly and express your displeasure.
The DVD Camcorder Format
DVD camcorders record on a smaller version of a DVD disc (8cm / 3"). Discs must be finalised before they can be played back in a DVD player or read by a computer. If a disc is inserted into a DVD player or computer before being finalised it will not be recognised.
As with regular DVDs, the underlying compression format is MPEG. This is not an ideal format for editing but most good editing applications can deal with it.
Editing Footage from a DVD Camcorder
DVD is a distribution format, not an editing format. Indeed, the format is specifically designed to be difficult to retrieve and edit.
You cannot just copy files from your DVD camera to your PC. Instead you need to "rip" the files using a special software application. In keeping with the theme of making things difficult, camcorder manufacturers often do not provide any such software and it's up to you to find something.
Sony does usually provide ripping/editing software to use with their camcorders. Sony Vegas also supports ripping from Sony camcorders. However we have heard of numerous problems and conflicts with this software. If you are having trouble, try completely uninstalling all Sony software as well as any drivers for the camcorder, then start again. If you still have trouble, contact your camcorder supplier or Sony directly.
If/when you do manage to rip your DVD footage, be warned that there may be a loss of quality.
DVD vs DV vs HDV vs HDD Camcorders
DV was created to make editing easy, consistent and high quality. DVD was not. There is no comparison between DV and DVD — if you are at all serious about creating good video, DV is the way to go.
HDV is another discussion altogether. In short, our advice is to go with HDV if you can afford it, but be aware that you may find it more difficult to use than DV. It also requires a lot more computer resources.
Yet another option is the hard drive camcorder (HDD) which records directly to an onboard hard drive. This is a relatively new technology but may become more popular with video enthusiasts as tape-based systems are phased out.
There is nothing inherently wrong with disc-based recording (XDCam is great), but in our opinion DVD is a poor choice for acquisition.