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Sony DCR-DVD408 DVD Handycam

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At a Glance
  • Sony DCR-DVD408 DVD Handycam

Easy to operate, Sony's DCR-DVD408 DVD Handycam ($630 as of April 24, 2007) produces great-looking movies in wide-screen (16:9) format. Its DVD media lets you record video and then play it back on most DVD players, without any need for a computer or knowledge of video editing.

The DCR-DVD408 feels solid, fits comfortably in your right hand, and is easy to operate with thumb and forefinger. The well-placed switches include a smooth, variable-speed lever to control the camcorder's 10X optical zoom, a still-shot button, and a dual-function switch that lets you quickly turn the unit on or off--or flip from video to still shooting--with one hand. You manage most of the other settings via the 2.7-inch, wide-format LCD touch screen. The LCD panel also includes a second set of zoom and start/stop buttons, though you're unlikely to use these unless you've turned the LCD toward yourself for a self-portrait. A small number of dedicated buttons let you switch from wide-screen to standard (4:3) format, set backlight control, and jump into playback mode.

One other button sets the Easy mode, which turns off most of the camera's menu options and sets the camcorder to full automatic--a good choice if you're a camcorder newbie.

The PC World Test Center awarded the DCR-DVD408 a grade of Superior for video quality, and it earned high audio-quality marks as well. Even casual clips looked quite pleasing. Handheld video of kiteboarders using a 30-knot wind to skim quickly across water in blazing sunlight, images had crisp details, attractive colors, and outstanding exposure accuracy. The electronic image stabilization worked well, too, despite the stiff breeze.

The DCR-DVD408's still images were a mixed bag: Shots of flowers came out detailed and colorful, but outdoor photos taken in daylight using the camcorder's automatic white-balance setting suffered from a subtle yet off-putting blue cast. Overall, the PC World Test Center awarded the DCR-DVD408 a score of Good for its still images. One irritant is that you can't record still images directly to DVD; instead you have to save them to a Memory Stick Pro Duo card, which you must purchase separately.

Another wart on this camcorder is the LCD screen's disappointing reflective coating, which should have improved visibility in sunny conditions. Unfortunately, the screen has to be positioned at a precise angle to the sun to work at all--and even then most of the colors wash out. The coating did make the menus easer to read, however. The redeeming feature for work in bright sunlight is the DCR-DVD408's bright and sharp eye-level viewfinder, which can tilt upward to about 50 degrees, making it more comfortable to use than a model that's fixed at 0 degrees.

Recording time on a dual-layer DVD mini disc is roughly 35 minutes per side at the camera's highest video quality. Using Sony's extremely limited Picture Motion Browser software, you can download movie clips to your Windows PC before finalizing the disc--a process that prevents further recording on the disc, but makes it playable on most stand-alone DVD players.

The barebones software works only on Windows 2000- or XP-based systems, and the Mini DVD discs can't be slid properly into a Mac's slot-loading disc readers.

Its limitations notwithstanding, the DCR-DVD408 deserves a place on anyone's short list of camcorder contenders--but be prepared to purchase a good video-editing package that can handle DVD files to go with it.

Tracey Capen

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At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Top-notch video quality
    • Touch screen eases menu navigation

    Cons

    • Can't record stills to DVD
  
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