by Larry Lemm
DCM-M1 MiniDisc Camcorder
Park Ridge, NJ 07656-8003
When most people think of digital video for consumers, they think Mini DV or Digital8. Both of these formats provide great picture quality, and allow easy transfer to a computer to allow for nonlinear editing. But what if you could skip a step and have a camcorder that allowed for in-camera nonlinear editing? Then you’d have the Sony DCM-M1 MiniDisc camcorder, a disc-based camcorder targeted at shooters who want to edit short productions without having to invest in an editing system.
MiniDisc has had a rocky start as an audio format. Audio MiniDiscs pack the same amount of music onto a smaller disc by compressing the data more than a standard sized CD. However, Sony is now pushing a new MiniDisc format for video, and it has its advantages. By not using a tape, and instead using a disc-based format, this camcorder allows you to skip to any point in any shot on the tape in virtually no time at all. It is this versatility that allows for its built-in nonlinear editing. However, because you are using a disc with a very limited amount of data storage, this format has a weakness that will be glaring to many people: a limited record time.
From the Outside
The DCM-M1 looks very much like any other compact-sized camcorder, but has a slightly thinner profile. When you hold the camcorder with your right hand, your thumb can easily access any of the important buttons for recording – mainly the zoom control, record/pause button and the button to switch between automatic and manual focus. In manual focus mode, you adjust the focus with an electronic manual focus ring located outside of the lens. On top of the camcorder, there is a shoe for attaching microphones, lights or other camcorder accessories.
To insert a MiniDisc you have to first flip open the LCD monitor. The LCD display itself is a touch screen control panel that serves as the primary control interface to navigate through shooting options and for the built-in nonlinear editing features (more on this later). To navigate through the menu system, you can use the menu wheel, or just touch the button on the screen that represents the function that you want to activate. To keep your beautiful LCD screen clean and free of grubby fingerprints, Sony included a plastic stylus that fits neatly underneath the LCD screen.
Once you insert a MiniDisc, you are ready to go out and shoot a quick video. Why a quick video? Well, this camcorder can record only 10 minutes of video in standard record mode, or 20 minutes in LP mode. This might seem ridiculous at first, but in reality, most people dont shoot more than 10 minutes of video highlights on a typical outing. The buyer should be aware that this camcorder is designed for short projects, not long events.
Using the disc does have a bonus: there is no tape. There is no such thing as dropout. No need to pack your tapes. No more fast forward, no need to rewind. Just put in the disc and hit record. Hit the pause button and do it again. To play a clip, just click the icon on the touch screen. Simple, and very cool. Each clip is stored as a file with it’s own name and location in the disc.
The picture quality of the DCM-M1 was good, comparable to Mini DV. In our tests, this camcorder produced 400 lines of horizontal resolution, and it dropped to 375 lines on playback. Digital artifacts were not particularly bad with this format. Yes, there were some, but artifacting was subtle and the overall quality compared well to Mini DV.
The zoom control on this camcorder worked well. With a 22:1 optical zoom, it provided crisp zooms. There is also a 40:1 digital zoom, which performed well enough to actually use. It is more sensible than the 100x, 200x or even 400x digital zooms that you see in some other camcorders. You could easily control the speed of your zooms with the lever. The autofocus did a good job too. This camcorder also lets you use manual focus, which is controlled by an electronic focus ring.
You can use full auto exposure with this camcorder, a variety of presets, or go into manual exposure mode controlled by a small wheel on the back of the camcorder. There is also a backlight compensation button that worked well in keeping your subject properly exposed with a bright background.
Nonlinear Editing Right in the Camcorder
Perhaps the most evolutionary feature of this camcorder is the in-camera nonlinear editing. That’s right, in-camera nonlinear editing. When you switch the camcorder into playback/edit mode, you are presented with all of your shots displayed as thumbnails. Using the storyboard interface, you can trim each of your clips and change their order. You can also add a variety of special effects filters to the individual clips, or insert transitions between them. There is also a drawing feature that lets you draw over your video ala John Madden’s Telestrator. The titles were rather chunky, but the camera allows you to create titles that roll, crawl or slide across the screen. This part of the titler is cool, and above and beyond other in-camera titlers that we’ve seen.
The camcorder features a variety of transition effects, including wipes and dissolves. When performing a transition between two scenes, the camcorder freezes the last frame of the first clip. The following clip rolls at full speed. The edits worked extremely well. We were slightly disappointed that the camcorder lacks the ability to insert a second stereo channel for background music or narration in addition to the audio recorded with the video. Considering what the camcorder does do, these complaints are admittedly rather picky.
Network Ready, Freddie
The DCM-M1 has one of the more interesting features ever put into a camcorder. The camera includes a 10BASE-T network port located in the AC power adapter. This allows you to connect your DCM-M1 to a TCP/IP local area network (LAN). Simply set the IP addresses in the camcorder, and it is ready to plug right into your LAN via a 10BASE-T cable. When you hook the DCM-M1 into a network, you can view your clips as QuickTime video files. It won’t, however, be a good way to transfer footage to the computer for editing with another NLE solution. This system is designed more for simply moving low-bandwidth QuickTime videos to the computer to put on the Web.
Sony’s disc-based DCM-M1 camcorder is a groundbreaking release that will go down in comsumer video history. The inclusion of touch screen nonlinear editing functionality puts this model in a class by itself. Great job, Sony. You may very well have released the most innovative camcorder of the year. -LL
Sony DCM-M1 MiniDisc Camcorder
Lens 10:1 zoom, 40:1 digital zoom, f=3.3-33mm, 30mm filter diameter
Image Sensor 1/4-inch CCD, 680,000 pixels (approx. 340,000 effective)
Viewfinder 3.5-inch color touchscreen LCD monitor, color viewfinder
Focus auto, manual
Maximum Shutter Speed
Exposure auto, manual, 8 AE modes
White Balance auto, manual, 3 preset modes
Digital Effects sepia, B&W, mosaic, slow-motion, drawing tool, picture-in-picture, 2-picture, 9 frame sequence
Audio stereo 2-channel, 44.1kHz
Inputs mike, remote, audio line in (with AC adapter)
Outputs S-video, A/V jack, headphone, 10BASE-T (Ethernet, with AC adapter)
Other Features built-in nonlinear editor, digital still photo, audio recording, Audio MiniDisc playback,
Dimensions 2 19/32 (width) x 4 3/8 (height) x
4 21/32 (depth) inches
Weight (sans tape and battery) 1 pound, 8 ounces
Video Performance (approx.)
Horizontal resolution (camera) 400 lines
Horizontal resolution (playback) 375 lines
Pause to Record 0.4 seconds
Power-up to Record 0.4 seconds
Fast-forward/rewind (10 min. disc) N/A