- Excellent picture quality -- especially for fans of vibrancy, Above-average stills mode, Plenty of features
- Format requires a compatible player to watch DVDs
While not quite the prime grade beef of the industry, DVD camcorders have improved by leaps and bounds. If you have the technology to support it, this is a very solid product.
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It might not be obvious at first glance, but the first generation of DVD camcorders shared a surprising amount in common with McDonald's cheeseburgers. In addition to being made from plastic, they offered consumers a similarly fuss-free product endorsed by a highly recognised brand name - and like Ronald's signature dish, they left a nasty taste in a lot of people's mouths. Although the ability to make instant DVDs was an alluring prospect, the technical limitations of the format meant that video was hopelessly compressed and editing capabilities were nearly non-existent.
Thankfully, DVD cameras have come a long way since these dubious junk food beginnings, with many models now outclassing previously superior formats. Sony's latest addition to the DVD fold, the HDR-UX5E, brings a whole swag of super-sized improvements to the table, including the ability to record for an hour on one disc in vibrant 1080i HD. Fitting snugly between the HDR-UX1E and HDR-UX7, it manages to combine the convenience of a DVD handycam with the exacting image quality of a professional camera. However, to truly get the most out of this product, you will need to upgrade your DVD player to fit in line with the next generation.
The HDR-UX5E is capable of recording footage in the new AVCHD video standard, which compresses footage more efficiency than the MPEG-2 format. Unlike previous DVD video cameras, it allows you to burn a substantial amount of high definition video onto a disc without compromising the image quality. You can therefore record up to an hour of AVCHD data onto a single DVD+R DL disc, which puts it in line with DV tapes. (If you choose to shoot in standard definition, the recording time is boosted by a further fifty minutes.)
It is important to note however, that the AVCHD format requires a Blu-ray player or other compatible device for DVD playback. In other words, you won't be able to watch your home movies on a regular DVD player. Those who've yet to make this technological leap (i.e. - nearly everyone) will need to hook their cameras up to a television via HDMI -- which kind of defeats the purpose of buying a DVD camera in the first place. If you're determined to watch your videos on an old DVD player, you can always elect to shoot footage in standard definition, but again, this diminishes the entire point of owning a HD camera. Having said that, anyone who plans to upgrade their player in the future will be able to get some use from the HDR-UX5E in the interim period.
If you want to edit AVCHD footage on a PC, you'll need some software capable of tackling high definition video. Most major editing packages offer HD support in their latest editions, including Sony Vegas Movie Maker 7, Ulead Video Studio 11 and Adobe Premiere Pro CS3. Like any DVD camera though, the HDR-UX5E is primarily designed for in-camera editing - mini DV and hard disk-based units offer a far more streamlined process in this area, which is something to bear in mind if you plan to edit a lot.
When it comes to image quality, the HDR-UX5E definitely justifies making the move to a high-def player, producing razor sharp visuals with stunningly brilliant colours. In fact, some may find the colour reproduction to be a little too vibrant, especially when using the X.V.Colour enhancer, yet those who want their footage to really pop off the screen and get noticed will be more than satisfied.
Another area in which the UX5E excels is its stills mode, which can store images to Memory Stick with a resolution of up to 4Mp. Unlike the vast majority of camcorders, the still images this unit produces are impressive enough to make 6x4in prints. While it naturally can't compete with a dedicated stills model, those after an affordable hybrid device could do a lot worse than the HDR-UX5E.
Design-wise, the UX5E is a classy looking camera that fits well in the hand. We like how the DVD drive is slightly raised above the unit's ribbed metal body, which allows you to wrap your fingers around the edge for a firmer grip. Like the rest of Sony's recent Handycam range, the majority of buttons have been replaced in favour of a touch screen interface. Personally, we're huge fans of this approach, and much prefer it to the directional sticks and rotating dials that many other vendors seem reluctant to relinquish.
In terms of modes and features, most of the usual suspects are present and accounted for, including adjustable shutter speeds, manual focus, digital picture effects, white balance modes, programmable AE modes, and a dedicated Easy button which takes care of everything on this list for you.
All up, the HDR-UX5E is a solid high-definition DVD camera - and therein lies the conundrum. The AVCHD DVD format is only worth buying if you own or intend to buy a DVD player which can support it. Anyone else is better off sticking to HD HDD or HD DV.
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GGG Evaluation Team
First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.
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