I’ve just done some quick research on Digital Video Cameras for some relatives. It seems to me that the main feature that is necessary is Full HD (1920*1080) resolution as everyone seems to be getting 1920*1080 resolution monitors (getting smaller doesn’t save enough money to be worth-while). Resolutions higher than 1920*1080 will probably available in affordable monitors in the next few years, so the ability of programs like mplayer to zoom videos will probably be required even for Full HD video soon. Saving maybe $300 on a video camera while getting a lower resolution doesn’t seem like a good idea.
The next feature is optical zoom, most cameras are advertised with features such as “advanced zoom” to try and trick customers, cameras which advertise 60* or better zoom often turn out to only have 20* zoom. I think that about 20* optical zoom should be considered the minimum, not that there is anything special about 20* zoom, it’s just that there is a good range of cameras with better zoom capacity.
Image stabilisation is a required feature, no-one can keep their hand perfectly steady and the typically a DVC only gets hand-held use – most people who own them don’t even own a tripod! Digital image stabilisation is apparently not nearly as good as optical image stabilisation, and image stabilisation that involves moving the CCD is apparently somewhere in between.
Finally it’s good to have the ability to take quality photos as few people will want to carry a Digital Camera and a Digital Video Camera.
I did a search for DVCs on the web site of Ted’s Camera store (a chain of camera stores in Australia that generally provide good service at a competitive price – but not the cheapest price). The best of the Ted’s options seems to be the Panasonic SD60 HD Video  which does 25* optical zoom, 1920*1080i video, 5 megapixel still photography, and optical image stabilisation – it costs $750 from Ted’s.
The next best option seems to be the Sony Handycam HDR-CX110 HD  which does 25* optical zoom, 1920*1080i video, 3.1 megapixel 2048*1536 still photography, and digital image stabilisation. The Panasonic seems to be a better option due to having optical image stabilisation and a higher resolution for still photographs. It is also $750 from Ted’s.
Now there’s the issue of how well the cameras work on Linux. A quick Google search indicated that the Sony cameras present themselves as USB card readers and can be mounted on a Linux system, I couldn’t discover anything about the Panasonic. If I was going to buy one I would take my Netbook to the store and do a quick test.
I don’t have enough information to recommend either of those cameras, they may have some awful defects that are only apparent when you use them. But in terms of features they seem pretty good. The Panasonic SD60 HD Video should be a good benchmark when comparing cameras in the store. If nothing else the camera store staff seem to not be very helpful if asked generic questions such as “which camera is best”, but if asked questions such as “how is this other camera better than the one I’m looking at” they can usually give good answers.
If anyone has any other advice for purchasing a DVC then please let me know. Either generic advice or specific examples of Linux-friendly DVCs that have been purchased recently.