Sony HDR-HC1: A Quantum Leap For Video Buffs

Summary And Conclusions: Sony HDR-HC1 - A Milestone Among HD Video Cameras

After several weeks of trial use our conclusions are clear: DV video is yesterday's choice, with HD video delivering better quality by all measures. The level of visual detail is noticeably higher, as are sharpness and contrast. Even the color saturation can wow viewers used to SDTV (despite colorspace compression). Hard-core videomakers can even create their own ambience using the camera's manual settings. The electronic image stabilizer (Steady Shot) actually works, and shows its effectiveness on handheld footage. All of these attributes make it easy to recommend the Sony HC1 for video buffs already planning an upgrade from DV to HD resolution.

We still believe, however, that beginners would do better to gain their first video experiences with a DV camcorder. Nevertheless, this camera offers four different image resolutions in addition to SDTV (NTSC) - and at an affordable price. For just over $1,200, video fanciers can create high quality HD videos. DV camcorders cost about half that amount, but the video quality they deliver is worlds apart from that of this camera. From that standpoint, purchasing a DV camera is a waste of money, because the increased resolution of HD video offers so much more to viewers. The Sony HDR-HC1 records in both DV and HD video formats as the user prefers, and can thus play back "old" DV cassettes as well as new ones.

As attractive as high resolution appears, it also demands a steady hand while taping, so a stable tripod is a must for optimal recording quality. We also observed that the somewhat impractical zoom function runs in jerky fits and starts. The cause is its tiny zoom control lever, which operates too quickly and forcefully. By the same token, Sony could easily have omitted the digital camera function - and its built-in flash - from this unit, because those who want to take high-quality digital photos will reach for a real camera like the Nikon D70s/D200 or the Canon 20D.

Video editing software is not yet completely free of problems when it comes to handling HD video. Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0 lacks a usable MPEG-2 plug-in for video export. Competitor Pinnacle Studio Plus 10's 10.5 update appears to be problem-free at last, making it a video editing solution that enables simple, logical and quick creation of quality videos.

Smart video makers who like to use chroma key should know that Pinnacle works readily with a light-green background. You can buy such a backdrop, along with the package, for under $100 total, including software that supports HD. Adobe Premiere goes for at least $850, and that's without a backdrop!