Hitachi DZ-MV230A DVDCAM
1855 Dornoch Court
San Diego, CA 92154
The explosion in popularity of the DVD format and record-breaking penetration of DVD players in consumer households has motivated the chefs at Hitachi to serve up yet another option in the video format buffet. Home video buffs now have the option to record directly to a DVD Recordable disc using one of three affordable Hitachi DVDCAMs. While the initial DVD ramcorders were pricey novelties over a year ago, Hitachi hopes the new cameras will break into the mainstream. The DZ-MV230A is their mid-priced model and is best suited for the intermediate level early adopters, computer buffs and gadget geeks.
Sleek and Sexy?
We were very enthusiastic about getting our paws on this camera. Our first impression was that the conventional exterior of the camera belies its innovative interior. The modern silver-plating on the left side has very organic looking circular buttons for the menu and disc navigation. While shooting, the controls are easy to reach, with your index finger controlling the zoom lever and your thumb comfortably resting on the record button. The menu button on the left side features a joystick type knob used for playing, rewinding, selecting and editing video clips.
The DZ-MV230A has a decent 12:1 optical zoom that produced a clear and crisp image. The zoom controls were fluid and smooth and allowed us to vary the speed from fast to very slow. The auto focus of the DZ-MV230A was very fast as we pointed at different subjects and it held up well while panning and zooming in low light conditions. We literally gave the image stabilization a thorough shake down, intentionally trying to see if the DVD would skip as we recorded our video. Our vigorous shakings did not make the DVD skip at any time, but the test did reveal how fantastic the electronic image stabilization on the DZ-MV230A performs.
The DVDCAM's stereo microphone is located at the front base of the camera and produced adequate results. The position is ideal because it is less likely to pick up breathing sound like some other cameras, but the whine of the disc spinning in the transport was audible on every shot. Fortunately, this model includes a jack for an external microphone.
In Camera Editing
As we shot with a rewritable mini DVD-RAM disc, a video clip with a thumbnail image was created every time the recording was paused. The first frame of each clip generates the thumbnails and are visible when the disc navigation button is pressed. After shooting, you select clips using the disc navigation joystick. There is a noticeable-but-slight pause as the camera seeks and accesses the selected clip. Clips can be played back in the order they were shot or the thumbnails can be re-arranged via the built-in editor. The in-camera editing features were satisfactory and provided a good way to do minor editing on the fly. The actual data on the disc is not rearranged. Instead, the table of content of the disc is changed to reflect the edits and to create a new playback order.
Shoot to Disc
The DZ-MV230A produced crisp and bright images that were very pleasing. Under normal conditions, the highest-quality video played back to a television via the S-video jack was indistinguishable from comparable Mini DV or MICROMV camera footage.
On the surface, shooting directly to DVD sounds like a great idea. Most people do not have Mini DV players, MICROMV decks or Hi8 VCRs. Indeed, many of our friends don't even have a standard VHS VCR hooked up to their televisions anymore, but almost everyone has a DVD player.
The camera shoots to 8cm (3-inch) DVD discs that hold 20-60 minutes worth of video, depending on the quality settings. The DZ-MV230A is compatible with two DVD media formats, DVD-RAM and DVD-R, which determines the camera's functions. For example, although this camera has 1.1 megapixel still capabilities, it will only work while recording on a DVD-RAM disc, as do the in-camera editing features.
If you want to share what you shoot, you use a write-once DVD-R disc, which can play back on PC computers with a DVD-ROM drive (but not on our Mac) and some standalone living room DVD players. A quick trip to Circuit City at the time of this review revealed that about 5 out of 15 of their current crop of DVD players will actually support and playback DVD-R discs. This will get better with time as newer DVD players are moving to support consumer-authored DVDs. DVD-R discs must be finalized before they can be used outside of the camera. Wall power is required for disc finalization. If you shoot five minutes of video, you will need to spend about 15 minutes finalizing the disc. If you fill the disc with 20 minutes of high-quality video, finalization will only take a few seconds.
Shoot-n-Send or Edit
You may need to fundamentally rethink your use of video with this camera. When shooting DVD-R discs to share, you are likely going to be sending the master to your friends. While this might seem like a negative at first, it's not if you shift your thinking. Instead of elaborate productions with extensive editing, this camera encourages creating impromptu, durable video letters. As the price of discs fall and as more compatible standalone DVD players make it into the living room, the shoot-n-send, informal, instant video letter becomes a very real and fun possibility.
Editing video is also possible using this camera. The compressed video is easily transferred to the computer over a USB connection, making most computers video-ready. After editing, you can burn your edited movie back to disc.
Although we praise Hitachi for their innovation and forethought, the reality is that compatibility is still a big issue when working with the DVD format. This very specialized camera will keep the early adopter or intermediate hobbyist busy and entertained, as the inclusion of DVD authoring software and DVD recording capabilities aren't available with other cameras. The fun factor cannot be ignored: you may share your videos with more people than ever before.
Format 8cm (3-inch) DVDRAM / DVD-R Disc
Lens f=4.1mm-49.2mm, 12:1 optical zoom, F/2.0, 37mm filter
Image Sensor 1/4-inch CCD (720,000 pixels)
Viewfinder Black and White
LCD Viewscreen 2.5-inch color
Focus auto, manual
Image Stabilization electronic
Maximum Shutter Speed 1/4000 sec
Exposure auto, manual
Program AE Modes 5
White Balance auto, hold
Digital Effects 2 (fades)
Audio MPEG Layer 2, linear PCM, Dolby Stereo AC3
Inputs AV, 1/8-inch microphone, USB
Outputs S-video, composite, USB
Edit Interface USB
Other Features Built-in Editing, 1.1 Megapixel camera
Dimensions (inches) 3-1/4(w) x 4(h) x 5-5/8(d)
Weight (sans tape and battery) 670 grams
Software DVD Movie Factory and PowerDVD XP
Pause to Record: 0.31 seconds
Power-up to Record: 4.59 seconds (17 seconds first time)
Fast forward/Rewind (60 min): n/a (random access)
Tested Horizontal Resolution: 415 lines