There's something unnerving about unwrapping Panasonic’s most advanced HD camcorder yet, the SD1. Huge, barrel lens: check. Giant 3in screen: check. But hold on, where's the unsightly bulge where the tape deck, DVD burner or hard drive should be?

The answer is, there isn't one. Through the magic that is AVCHD the tiny SD1 can record to miniscule SD cards. A 4GB one's included, which manages a meagre 40 minutes in highest quality. Better get hold of a spare.

Colour me good

Despite its compact form, the SD1 manages to cram in 3CCDs for impressive colour. Video quality matches Canon’s HV20 in most respects, though a fine grain of noise is detectable due to the higher compression used.

Surround sound and 1080i is a killer home cinema combo, and the SD1’s compact 5.1 mic does a pretty amazing job of pinpointing audio. It can also home in on sounds as the lens zooms by automatically boosting the front channel.

Transfer news

Footage is also relatively easy to transfer to a PC. You can do it using drag and drop, although AVCHD is not nearly as widely used as HDV tape or MPEG2. The bundled software in near useless and Windows Movie Maker won't touch it so bag yourself one of the 3rd party apps that now supports it – a list that sadly doesn't include iMovie or Final Cut Pro if you're a Mac user. It's times like these we're grateful for Boot Camp.

Still, compensation is provided by the excellent video quality, which is aided by superb Optical Image Stabilisation. Start-up is also incredibly quick at 1.7 seconds, and the huge 3in LCD compensates for the lack of a viewfinder. For output quality and convenience, the SD1 is nigh-on untouchable in the camcorder kingdom.

Stuff says... 

Panasonic HDC-SD1 review

The SD1 looks stunning, and performs even better. If this is what AVCHD delivers, then we’re totally sold