Sony DCR-DVD403 DVD Camcorder Review

Just Add Popcorn

Go ahead and put a bag of popcorn in the microwave. No really, do it. We just finished

our review and we have the DVD to prove it.

DVD camcorders like the Handycam DCR-DVD403 make perfect sense for the point and

shoot user with a DVD player. Whether you want to make a camcorder upgrade or you’re tired

of connecting AV cords to the TV, DVD camcorders look better every day.

Nice Fit

Keeping in step with the Handycam line, this camcorder is small, but not too small. It

fits comfortably in your hands and is very lightweight. There is a variable speed, zoom

rocker located on the top of the camcorder as well as an additional zoom control on the

frame of the LCD. The fixed LCD zoom speed is adjustable through the menu system. The

operator must access all of the manual adjustment controls via the touch screen-driven menu

system.

All the buttons and controls are easy to access except the DVD transport, which

lies beneath the hand strap. Swapping discs will be a little bit of a hassle while doing

handheld work.

The widescreen LCD shows pillar bars in 4:3 mode, but the 16:9 format uses the

entire screen. This is not a true 16:9 CCD. Instead, the camcorder uses more area of the

oversized CCD to give a greater angle of view, which Sony is calling "Enhanced 16:9". This

way of achieving a 16:9 frame allows for a higher quality than squeezing and stretching the

frame to fit.

The Super SteadyShot performs exceptionally well. It does not interfere with pans

and tilts, and turns shaky shots into smooth video. Also, the camcorder absorbs a decent

amount of shock before the disc recording is affected.

Escape the Tape

The camcorder records onto 8cm DVD-R/W and DVD+RW discs. The discs are limited to a

1.4 GB recording capacity. It will take 20, 30 and 60 minutes at HQ, SP and LP recording

qualities, respectively, to fill a single disc. To capture at a quality near Mini DV, plan

on spending 2-3 times the amount on media. Don’t expect to save money on media (barring a

large price drop) unless you plan to use the lowest recording quality or rewriteable

discs.

You can also record onto a compatible DVD-RW or DVD+RW disc. These discs can be

erased and used again (up to a couple hundred times). This could offer some savings in media

cost, but make sure to consider a method of backing-up the original footage before erasing

it. Using rewriteable discs also enables some editing features.

The real advantage of the DVD format is its convenience. When you want to view the

footage on a DVD player, just finalize the disc. Once that’s done, drop the disc in your

player, sit back and enjoy. Not all DVD players will be able to play the footage,

however–there are known issues with some older players.

Multi-channel Audio

The onboard microphone is capable of recording stereo 2-channel, 4-channel and Dolby

Digital 5.1. It’s located on top of the camcorder towards the front. Overall it was fairly

sensitive and picked up sound in all directions and didn’t pick up much operator noise.

There is also an option for an accessory shotgun mic for more precision. Unfortunately,

there is no headphone jack.

One of the most interesting features is the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. This

technology will record the audio into a Dolby multi-channel compatible bitstream onto the

DVD. Once you have the DVD finalized, you can play it back on a Dolby Digital 5.1-channel

system.

Capturing in surround sound does provide some new problems and challenges. If you

are prone to narrate as you shoot, remember that the narration will be playing back mostly

from the rear channels from a compatible system, which might seem a little awkward. Where

this technology will offer its best rewards is in venues where sound sources from all

directions are important to record. Playing back a few minutes of vacation footage in the

canopy of a rain forest, for example, will give you an experience as if you were really

there.


Compression Session

The video quality is fairly good considering it’s using MPEG-2 compression. The image

is relatively sharp, but it can easily get muddy from compression while shooting high motion

scenes. If capturing the highest quality video possible is most important, this camcorder is

not the best solution. Additionally, editing the footage on a computer is not easy.

Importing the footage to an editing software program is not digitally seamless and few

programs can edit MPEG-2 video.

Overall, though, the image is still pleasing to the eye. Of all the image

qualities, the color reproduction is the strongest. The colors are very vibrant. The

camcorder’s performance in low light is fair. Consider finding a light to put onto the

Active Interface accessory shoe for dark scenes. The camcorder also includes Super

NightShot.

Finalized

Sony has made many improvements in the performance of DVD camcorders and the

DCR-DVD403 is no exception. This camcorder is simple and fun to use. Point and shoot users

will appreciate the ability to playback their footage almost immediately on their

entertainment systems. With features like Enhanced 16:9 and 5.1 Surround Sound, it should

make your family videos an exciting experience.

TECH SPECS

Format: DVD-R/RW, DVD+RW

Number of CCDs: 1

Size of CCDs: 1/3"

Pixels on CCD: (k) 3310K

Video Effective Pixels (k): 2048K

Focus: auto/manual

Shutter Speed: auto/manual

Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/4000 (AE Mode)

Minimum Shutter Speed: 1/4 (AE Mode)

Lens f Stop: 1.8-2.9

Program Exposure Modes: 7

Optical Zoom: 10x

Focal Length: 5.1-51 mm

Image Stabilization: Electronic

Manual White Balance: Yes

Viewfinder: Color 123K

LCD Monitor: 2.7" Widescreen 123K Pixels

Progressive Scan: no

HD Modes: no

Video In: AV

Video Out: AV, USB

Mono/Stereo Recording: Yes, 5.1 Surround Sound

Microphone In: no

VU Meters: no

Manual Audio Level Controls: no

Headphone Jack: no

Speaker: yes

Still Shot Media: no

Memory Card Included: n/a

Flash: yes

Wireless Remote: yes

External Battery Charger Provided: no

Battery Type: InfoLithium

Tape Loading Configuration: DVD transport on hand held side

Onboard Video Light: no

Accessory Shoe: Yes, Active Interface

STRENGTHS

  • Ready for your DVD player
  • 5.1 Surround Sound
  • Widescreen LCD

WEAKNESSES

  • Slightly visible compression
  • Short media capacity
  • No S-Video connector

SUMMARY

  • This is a great performing DVD camcorder that’s easy to use, but beware of its editing limitations and cost inefficiency.

Mark Montgomery is Videomaker’s editorial assistant and has worked on nationally televised productions.

$1,000

Sony Electronics, Inc

16765 W. Bernardo Dr.

San Diego, CA 92127

(800) 222-SONY

www.sonystyle.com

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