JVC has long been making affordable 1080p camcorders, though the end result is typically a camcorder whose quality is found wanting compared to its more expensive peers. The JVC Everio X, however, bucks that trend. It's a very attractive, high-quality 1080p camcorder that also sports an incredibly powerful design concept. Perhaps the smallest, lightest 1080p camcorder currently available, the Everio X doesn't sacrifice quality for portability.
The JVC Everio X, also known as the GZ-X900, records full 1080p HD video to Secure Digital High Capacity cards. There's no internal memory, it's all to the card. It can also shoot 9-megapixel still photos, and features three special "high-speed recording" modes for super slow motion video clips.
Design: A Bold, Compact Concept
Though 1080p is nice, it's really the design that is going to help the Everio X stand out among the competition. The camera is very, very compact, a thin brick whose portability is very attractive. The camera weighs only 0.66 pounds, and though JVC claims you could slip it in a shirt pocket, that's something of an exaggeration. A pants pocket, yes, a shirt pocket, no. Hyperbole aside, the Everio X is smaller than just about any other 1080p camcorder that I've seen (at least those that are truly capable of shooting 1080p and aren't frauds).
The squared-brick shape of the Everio X might present some ergonomic challenges to users at first. It takes a little time to get comfortable with the severity of the camcorder's design. It's not designed to conform to the shape of one's palm like many camcorders; it's designed to be small first and comfortable second. Rather than hold it like a traditional camcorder, it might be easier to hold it in the reverse position, with the thumb on top and the fingers underneath, cradling the camcorder and tilting the LCD bezel upward. This way you're looking down at the camcorder rather than holding it in front of your face and looking at it head on. It's less straining for the hand, arm, and neck this way.
The LCD bezel contains the menu controls, and the Everio X features the same "laser touch operation" scroll bar that I saw (and disliked) on the JVC HD300. It's very flashy, but actually using it to navigate menus, tap for buttons, and otherwise explore the camera is not ideal. Too many mishits and too many simple mistakes. It does allow the camcorder to be smaller and less cluttered with buttons, however, so it can be seen as a necessary evil that allows the rest of the camcorder to excel.
The Everio X has an HDMI output, for direct connections to an HDTV, located on the body of the camera, underneath the LCD bezel.
A Nice Surprise: Great 9-Megapixel Still Photos
Anyone who has tried to take a still photo with a camcorder knows that, no matter what claims a manufacturer might make, the quality is generally pretty poor. So imagine my surprise when the Everio X managed to produce rather good 9-megapixel stills. Now, of course, they aren't what you'd get when using a 9-megapixel digital camera that's specifically tuned to produce excellent stills, but they're pretty darn good. In the photo gallery on the right-hand sidebar of this article, you can see that the pictures are clear, crisp, and vibrant, without any significant distortion, blurring, or pixilation.
Under the microscope, you can see that the images are noisy and not nearly as precise as those of a digital camera. Still, for a camcorder, the Everio X is heads and shoulders above the competition when it comes to still photography.
Performance: Good Video Quality
NOTE: Video clips are not shown in their native format, as YouTube and other video hosting services do not yet host AVCHD-formatted video files. Actual video quality is superior to that shown in the included clips, which are presented in the WMV format.
In general, the video quality of the JVC Everio X was impressive. I had expected to see big sacrifices in quality owing to the camera's small size, but the Everio X exceeded my admittedly low expectations. In terms of a comparison with other "1080p" camcorders, I would place the quality of the Everio X firmly between that of the (lower quality) JVC HD300 and the (higher quality) Panasonic TM300. Appropriately enough, the Everio X also sits between those two cameras on the price scale. When it comes to 1080p, you truly do get what you pay for.
The two videos presented in this section are, unfortunately, not presented at their full resolution, and for that I apologize. One of the problems with AVCHD is that, because it is still a relatively new video format, it is not universally supported yet. Neither YouTube nor Vimeo are capable of hosting AVCHD videos in their native format, and most video playback programs require an extra codec download to support AVCHD. Many Blu-ray players, however, can view AVCHD files that have been burned to a disc. The difficulty of sharing and editing AVCHD videos is something to consider when looking to purchase a camcorder, but the growing ubiquity of the format (and its many advantages in quality and capacity) make it difficult to resist.
The videos here convey the abilities of the Everio X to convey color, focus on subjects, and zoom smoothly. They also demonstrate some irritating issues with the camcorder's stereo microphones, as the wind noise is more prevalent when zoomed. All I can say is that the resolution and detail of the original AVCHD videos is superior to that of the converted WMV clips hosted on YouTube.
High-Speed Recording: Really Disappointing
JVC calls the "high-speed recording" ability of the Everio X a "key feature." In reality, it's a somewhat perplexing experience. The Everio X has three high-speed recording modes, capable of shooting at 120, 300, and 600 frames per second. For comparison, consider that a typical video is shot at 30 frames per second, at most 60. Each high-speed mode has a limited recording time. The Everio X can record 120fps for four seconds, 300 fps for a little less than that, and 600fps for 2.4 seconds.
The resolution of the high-speed modes is also limited. 120fps clips are shot at a resolution of 480 x 270 pixels, 300fps clips at 480 x 116 pixels, and 600fps clips at 640 x 72 pixels. Those are pretty small, making the high-speed modes more of a novelty than a useful feature.
At left, we present a video of the Everio X's 600fps high-speed recording mode. Unlike the previous HD videos, this video can be seen in its true resolution if you click through the video to YouTube. There, it appears exactly as intended. The video quality is incredibly poor, highly pixilated, and difficult to watch. 300fps and 120fps modes are not much better, only a little bigger. It's hard to see how one could derive much value from video clips of such short length and low quality.
Conclusion: Expensive, But Worth It
At just under $1,000, the Everio X is more expensive than JVC's previous 1080p offerings, but the extra cash is worth the improvements they've made to both image quality and design. This is the most satisfying JVC camcorder I've reviewed, and the experience was as pleasant as those I've had with higher-end camcorders, even if the image quality didn't quite match up. For the money, the Everio X provides great video, good photos, and a level of portability that will surely win over consumers once they see it.