Keywords: hc1 light
Description: The Sony HDR-HC1 is a groundbreaking camcorder that brings the ability to record high definition video down to the level of consumers, albeit high end ones at current prices. It's not perfect,
The Sony HDR-HC1 is a groundbreaking camcorder that brings the ability to record high definition video down to the level of consumers, albeit high end ones at current prices. It's not perfect, especially with the additional outlay this requires for Sony's omissions in battery life and editing, but.
The Sony HDR-HC1 is a groundbreaking camcorder that brings the ability to record high definition video down to the level of consumers, albeit high end ones at current prices. It's not perfect, especially with the additional outlay this requires for Sony's omissions in battery life and editing, but it's one of those rare gadgets that actually lives up to the hype. Given the breakthrough it represents it deserves 5 stars.
Size and features are the first thing you notice. At 1.5 lbs (closer to 2 with the larger battery), this rests comfortably in my hand with only the lens portion sticking out beyond it. Even if it's substantially longer than miniDV models, I've actually stuffed this in a large Bermuda shorts pocket and it and a belly pack seem perfect for each other for hand free carrying. Kudos to Sony for recognizing that all the technology in the world doesn't help if your toy is sitting at home and you're not. This is also well designed for ease of use. The basic controls (record, shoot still, zoom/widen, and power/function) are all accessible using your thumb and index finger, and the touchscreen LCD lets you select any of the plethora of menu controls. As far as filming, point and click works perfectly fine, and the steady cam feature noticably helps up to about 4-6x zoom (go past that and you'll need a tripod as the camera is so small even slight twitches will ruin your shot.)
Most importantly, picture quality is quite good. It's not IMAX-quality, but even on my brutally demanding Sharp LC-45GX6U recordings from the HDR-HC1 are equivalent to much HD content currently available - think of it roughly like an HD show segment shot out in the field someplace rather than with fixed million dollar cameras. With 1 rather than 3 CCDs like the FX1, there had been some worry about performance at lower light levels, but it's actually not that bad. The only thing I've noticed is a slight lack of color gradiation; I recently filmed a magnificent red sunrise and while the HDR-HC1 got the main reds in marvelous detail, it did miss some of the subtle differences in the reds that were turning to pink. Unless you're an aspiring filmmaker, not a big deal. (If you want to film at no light levels, turn on the infrared nightshot mode - it's like using nightvision goggles, along with the drawbacks that a light source overwhelms the shot and you're limited to a smaller area in which you can film.) Sound quality is surprisingly good for a couple of small embedded mics. The 2.8 MB still camera is good enough to leave your Cybershot at home unless you're a dedicated photographer and 10x optical zoom from it beats most everything on the market, although it does lack some of the features of the camcorder like digital zoom.
Where I'd take a star off if this weren't such a technological breakthrough is that by omitting some necessary items Sony seems intent on you spending several hundred dollars more on accessories to get full functionality from this. To start, you'll need a second and preferably third generation Memory Stick Duo Pro (the second generation sticks out from the side, the first doesn't work) to use still camera features as it includes only a paltry 16MB card - good for all of about 11 pictures in 1920x1440 mode.
More serious are issues with battery life and editing. You'll need at least the medium and preferably the large optional batteries (the expensive Sony OEM versions, since aftermarket ones don't fit) as despite its touting of CMOS this chews them up. (The only good news is the heavier battery provides better balance to the front-heavy aspect of this.) Second, editing HD video streams on your PC is painful as most video editing programs on the PC don't coexist well with HDV's native mT2 streams. Windows Media Encoder crashes when I've tried to directly edit them despite my use of a three month old dual-processor monster for this. (Mac users as usual seem to be reporting a bit less of a problem).
Why is editing on a PC such a big deal? Well, despite another review claiming otherwise (along with gratuitous HD bashing they got a number of features wrong) HD video shot on this isn't stuck on the DV tapes forever. The inclusion of a Firewire output here means you can output HD video easily. (Although as pointed out elsewhere, yet another 'optional accessory' is the required 4 pin to 4 pin Firewire cable - see my reviews to find a good one for cheap.) The problem is that while you can store HD video from this easily and forever on a D-VHS recorder (see my reviews again if you're not familiar with the technology), you can't transfer it directly to there for some highly technical reasons (too high transmission rate from the camera versus what the recorder will take, apparently). So then, the 80% of people who aren't using a Mac but who are using this for HD recording have no choice but to turn to using a PC-based editor as you HAVE to put this on a PC before archiving it to D-VHS. That becomes an issue as you'll have a. find an editor that accepts mT2 (potentially a several hundred dollar outlay since the demo versions are usually crippleware), b. convert the stream to something more editing friendly (time and processor consuming), and c. then finally archive it to D-VHS or a 10 GB file (that you can split across DVDs in HD format) This is why the lack of a good editor isn't nitpicking but vastly reduces functionality here, as without one you're basically stuck displaying raw HD video stuck on DV tape. So, yes, the lack of included PC editing capability here is a big drawback on several levels.
Despite the fact you'll likely have to drop another few hundred dollars getting this up to where it's fully functional, don't get me wrong. This is one of the best gadgets I've bought in a long time. I'm sure in a decade we'll be laughing at how complicated and funky this was compared to something that could record on 2nd generation Blu-ray and edit on the fly, but despite these limitations this is a truly groundbreaking camcorder. I view the progression here as almost akin to moving from Super 8 to VHS for the consumer, which brought the modern age of camcorders to be. Despite the two minor omissions, highly recommended, especially for preserving images of older loved ones for the next 50 years in a format your unborn grandkids will not view as antique. One final note: dealer cost on this is rumoredly $1500-1600, so be very careful about those offering to sell you one or two for half that price!