Consumers are racing to replace their aging televisions with high-definition TVs. Trouble is, many are still using devices and services that can’t fill those HDTVs with enough visual information to make them look their best.
Sony hopes to smooth the transition with the introduction of the HDR-CX7 Handycam ($1,199), a tightly designed video camera that can record images at high definition.
Even if you think it’s overkill for the kid’s soccer game or the family picnic, you’ll appreciate the crisp resolution as opposed to spreading standard-definition images over your big HD screen.
I used the new Sony camera for a few weeks and liked some things, but despised others.
The HDR-CX7 records to Sony’s proprietary MemoryStick media, and Sony loaned me a 4-gigabyte card that sells separately for $89.99. It holds about 35 minutes worth of footage at the highest quality setting, and about 85 minutes at the lowest. The unit can also record in standard definition for up to 160 minutes on a 4-gigabyte MemoryStick.
The camera itself is a joy to hold and fit my hand like a glove. The 2.7-inch flip-out LCD panel on the left side showed me what I was aiming at, as usual, but also doubled as a touch-sensitive navigation tool for togging around the menus and settings. That was fun to use and much easier than pressing the tiny recessed buttons found on most camcorders.
The menu options were easy to understand.
I used the included docking cradle to connect the unit to my computer (a PC running Windows XP) through a USB 2.0 connection. From there, the protocol was to press a menu button on the LCD screen to establish the connection after I had installed the provided Picture Motion Browser software.
That’s where things came to a crashing halt. We’re talking a major pile up on the information interstate.
The software recognized the camcorder as an additional hard drive, but not as a camcorder. Thus I could not transfer my high-def footage to the desktop for editing or viewing.
The fix only came after I spoke with Sony and was issued a replacement 4-gigabyte MemoryStick flash card. It seems the one provided with the test unit had some formatting problems Sony could never quite fully diagnose nor explain to me.
The second memory card made everything better, and all of my recorded content transferred smoothly to the desktop.
After a little nonlinear cutting and editing on the desktop, I viewed my footage two different ways. I burned a sample clip to a DVD and played it on a traditional DVD player and viewed it on a 32-inch HDTV. I also watched the video by connecting the camcorder’s MemoryStick to the card reader slot on my Sony PlayStation 3.
The result? It looked great both ways, though it was dumbed down from the camcorder’s top 1080i resolution (1,080 interlaced lines) to 720p (720 progressive lines of resolution) thanks to the display capabilities of my Sony Bravia HDTV.
Even at 720p (a resolution still considered high-def) the image quality was stunning. The colors remained true as I moved from light areas of my home to darker locations. The resolution really shone when I zoomed in on the faces of my subjects in outdoor settings. The unit also held the focus nicely, avoiding the frustrating affair of auto focus confusion when the lens struggles with near and far portions of the viewing field.
The battery life was good (I never ran out of juice and it charged when docked), and the 10x zoom was sufficient for most common shooting. According to Sony, the camcorder can record up to 5 hours on a single charge.
One problem: Because the HDR-CX7 is so compact and light, it’s difficult to keep steady when shooting. This was mainly an issue when I zoomed in tight on subjects.
Sony’s software really was the poor-performer here. I just could not get over how badly the video import functions performed. If the unit was confused about the format of the memory card, it should have told me so with a proper error message instead of none at all.
Beyond that, the Picture Motion Browser application has a poor interface for trimming and weaving together video clips.
For a $1,199 unit with top-notch recording capabilities, Sony really didn’t hold up its end of the deal with the software. It should have included their popular HD-friendly Sony Vegas editing software instead of a bare-bones application.
Ron Harris can be reached at email@example.com