Caught on video

A high definition video phone is the new needlessly high-resolution camera. But can a smartphone really record video that looks high-def? Is there any point to the latest status symbol for your mobile? Is the WTF-ing YouTube massive going to appreciate my shaky-handed video art?

Yes, yes, and, as with all geniuses, probably after I'm dead. I've been using the Sony Ericsson Vivaz HD for the last few days and it's one of the top two video camera phones you can get today. (Actually, its video cred has less to do with the high definition and more to do with a great continuous focus feature you'd find in a standalone camcorder... but more of that in my official review, up later today.)

I'm getting much better video from this new breed of phone but much like last year's somewhat fruitless megapixel wars, the resolution is just one factor. For video quality to really match up to a standalone, image sensors and lenses have to be better. 

Which is where it gets interesting. I just spoke to Stuart Robinson from Strategy Analytics, an expert in the hard stuff - mobile technology. High definition video phones currently offer 720p video capture and playback - in other words, video with a widescreen ratio of 16:9 and a resolution of 1280×720 pixels. In other, other words, would look great on the flat-screen of your choice - if only those lenses could catch up.

Well, according to Stuart, there's a huge amount of research into new lenses, and the image sensors to support them - for example, 'backside illumination' (hold fire, internet jokers) which increases the quality of image possible to get on the small sensors found in smartphone cameras. Meanwhile, chipsets in development plump for even higher resolution video capture and playback - 1080p to be exact, or a full-HD, widescreen image with 1920×1080 pixels.

In three or four years, Stuart says, mobile HD video will be ubiquitous and every smartphone will have a 1080p capture and playback processor. YouTube is already the landing point for millions of grainy homespun videos, so this isn't exactly going to be a hard sell. But what about video phones now?

Like Samsung's excellent i8910HD, the first phone to shoot 720p video, my new Vivaz can shoot high-def video and play it back on a big screen at the same quality. But since the quality isn't excellent to start with, it still doesn't look like I shot it on an HD camcorder. There's always going to be that compromise though - a device meant to do about a million things versus one thing properly. My videos look great on a monitor and on YouTube - and that's the point. Being able to whip out your phone and record something as it happens is the real draw, and now you can do it prettier in high-def.

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