Cutting-Edge Camcorders Page 5

The Short Form
SONYSTYLE.COM / 877-865-7669 / $2,000 / 2.875 x 3.75 x 7.5 IN / 1.75 LBS WITH BATTERY, TAPE, AND LENS CAP
•Superb high-definition image quality. •Records on standard DV tape. •Easy-to-use menus on LCD touchpanel. •Reasonably priced for an HD camcorder.
•No bundled capture/editing software. •Some problems with bright, saturated highlights. •Bass-shy recordings from internal mike.
Key Features
•$2,000 •Records 1,440 x 1,080-pixel high-def video •LCD viewscreen/control panel •Captures 1,920 x 1,440-pixel still images to Memory Stick Pro •10x optical zoom •Pop-up flash for still-camera function •Stereo microphone •input/output i.Link for digital A/V; LANC jack for control of compatible devices; Active Interface Shoe for video light or external microphone •input external mike •outputs multiconductor component video (1080i/480i); composite video and stereo audio; S-video; USB 2.0; headphone
When used in its fully automatic exposure mode, which serves the image well most of the time, the HDR-HC1 had problems with the intense, highly saturated colors in, say, neon signs and Christmas-tree lights. The colors get washed out in the light source itself, which becomes whitish, with fully saturated color only on surfaces surrounding the light. This effect, which occurs even with the best professional camcorders, can be reduced, but only through experimentation with exposure settings.

The only other notable performance weakness was limited bass in the pickup from the built-in mike, which is intended to reduce the noises produced by wind and camera handling. But you also miss the body-shaking rumble of a passing subway train - a switchable wind filter would have been a better solution.

EDITING Unless you're really good at in-camera editing - setting up, starting and stopping your shots precisely - you'll eventually want to "capture" (transfer) your footage on a computer for editing. Alas, neither the HDR-HC1 nor the big HDR-FX1 comes bundled with capture/editing software. Both cams connect to any computer with an i.Link (FireWire, IEEE 1394) connection, but you'll need a video editing program like Sony's Vegas that specifically enables HD capture (Mac users will need at least iMovieHD). The typical standard-definition video capture/editing software you may already have - including Windows Moviemaker - will not be able to transfer the HDR-HC1's high-def footage. However, if you use the camcorder's internal convert-to-standard-definition function when dubbing, you'll end up with standard-def computer files that are great for making your own widescreen DVD productions.

Computer capture of HD material is doubly important given my experience with tape/machine compatibility problems when playing an HD tape in a camcorder it was not recorded in. I don't want to be alarmist, but all my tapes made in the three-chip HDR-FX1 - recorded on blanks from several manufacturers, Sony among them - played with intermittent stuttering (frozen frames, audio dropping out every few seconds) in the HDR-HC1. Both cams were review samples, and I don't know what kind of abuse they may have suffered before I received them. But each played its own tapes without problems. The solution, if this is a real problem, is to play your HD footage in the camcorder it was recorded in, capture it in HD to a computer hard drive, and then burn unedited DVD-ROMs for future editing on any computer.

BOTTOM LINE Given the HDR-HC1's striking image quality, filmmaking friends I've shown it to seemed quite willing to put up with hassles like buying a new HDTV able to display native 1080i signals or archiving their footage to DVD-ROM (a good practice in any case). If you want to capture scenic vistas in full high-def glory or if any of your (very) deserving gift recipients has any aspirations to filmmaking, the HDR-HC1 is the camcorder for you and for them. I've used all the consumer HD camcorders on the market, and the HDR-HC1, despite its minor limitations, has a winning combination of performance, features, usability, compactness, and price. It is by far my favorite.