Review: Sony DCR-PC120BT Camcorder with Bluetooth
$2,000

Sony Electronics Inc.

1 Sony Drive

Park Ridge, NJ 07656

(201) 930-6972

www.sel.sony.com

The long line of Sony PC-number camcorders stretches back to the early days of Mini DV. From PC1 to PC115, we have seen advances in CCD technology, optical quality and more recently, megapixel still-image capabilities. The DCR-PC120BT is in most ways the logical sequel to the PC115 and the PC110, except for one radical new feature – Bluetooth. If you just have to own the latest gizmo, it’s time to get out your credit card.

The Camera

The PC120BT is a good video camera even without its Bluetooth features (more on these later). Small yet solid, the video image displays the same sharpness that is characteristic of Sony camcorders. Manual focus is easy to engage and we really liked the focal-plane distance indicator in the viewfinder. General exposure control is one-button convenient and does not require annoying LCD menu navigation. You do not, however, have specific iris or shutter controls with this camcorder. Therefore, we didn’t have enough manual controls to play with fancier depth-of-field photographic techniques (a disappointment at this price point). Manual white balancing required a trip to the LCD menuing system. Of course, the PC120BT had many extras, including infrared night mode, which can be amazingly revealing in zero-light situations. We also liked the timed interval recording that produced time-lapse video.

The 1.5 megapixel CCD delivered excellent 1352×1028 still images enhanced by an automatic pop-up flash. There was a significant delay (not uncommon in digital still cameras) of more than a second from when we pressed the Photo button until it captured an image. And it was another three seconds before we could take another snap, with the still image quality set to the highest level (which we recommend).

Bluetooth

OK, interesting as they are, the imaging aspects of the PC120BT are only marginally different from the current PC110. The really interesting part of the PC120BT is the "BT" part of its identity. We have to admit up-front that the idea of sending bandwidth-heavy Max Headroom video files over a 56KB connection, reading e-mail and browsing the Internet on a 2.5-inch LCD screen, and navigating the whole thing with a four-position thumbed joypad was not appealing. But that was before we actually tried it out.

To use the Bluetooth aspects of the camera, you need to set up an Internet account with So-net, complete with dial-up and e-mail. Coverage for local numbers is pretty good at this early stage, with local access available in many small towns. Currently, Sony only offers the service in the United States, so uploading live vacation video from Athens, Greece is not possible (see www.usa.so-net.com/localaccesspoints.jsp for more info). There are two plans available: 20 hours a month for $10 or 150 hours for $20.

Bluetooth setup was fairly complex, involving no less than three Web sites, a random 16-character alphanumeric product registration number, a different random 16-character alphanumeric customer ID number, an eight-digit password and a member name. But the 16 pages in the manual that covered setup were easy to follow and covered every step. This process is best accomplished using your computer and not the tiny screen and thumb joypad on the camcorder itself.

Once we were set up, we plugged the small, included Bluetooth receiver and modem (powered by two AA batteries) into a standard telephone jack, turned on the PC120BT and were logged on in only a few minutes. The image and video uploading features were easy to use, but be prepared to wait for the 56K connection to do its job. Two images totaling 1.4MB took about 13 minutes to upload and a one-minute postage-stamp-sized (160×112) MPEG-4 video occupying 1.4MB took a little over 11 minutes to upload in our tests. (A minute of 320×240 video would be 8MB.) A free Web site is set up at www.imagestation.com, where you send your Memory Stick images and video and organize your media into albums to share with the world.

The e-mail feature was also pleasantly simple, utilizing a Web interface that was surprisingly clear, with images and video from the Memory Stick easily attached to outgoing mail. The Web browser had a few simple navigation buttons and a convenient bookmark/favorites list.

We’re not going to say that browsing is fun or easy with the PC120BT, and entering URLs is a chore, but it did work better than we expected. And despite the size of our LCD screen, we could actually read and navigate our favorite Web sites like cnn.com and videomaker.com. If you want to travel as light as possible with your camcorder and need to check e-mail and perhaps the day’s top stories and weather, it can be done.

Bluetooth Cam Analysis

By itself, the PC120BT is a quality camcorder that advances Sony technology without being revolutionary. The $2,000 MSRP price tag pays for a host of new Bluetooth technology, including all of the hardware you need to get going. Add on another $10 a month for service and you rapidly come to the conclusion that you had better need wireless Bluetooth e-mail and image uploading to justify the cost of this camera. One application we can think of is real estate. You could take some snapshots of a home and have them online before you even leave the property, all in a package that weighs less than 2 lbs. If Bluetooth takes off and becomes mainstream, you wouldn’t even need the tiny Bluetooth modem, but could utilize an existing Bluetooth network in a mall or an airport; that day is still in the future. If you don’t need (or want) Bluetooth, this is not the camera for you. If you want a cool new toy to impress your friends, and money isn’t an issue, go for it.

TECH SPECS

Format: Mini DV

Lens: fl=4.2 to 42.0mm; f/1.8; 10:1 optical zoom, 37mm filter

Image sensor: 1/4-inch CCD; 1.55M pixels (video effective: 970,000)

Viewfinder: .44-inch color (180,000 pixels)

LCD viewscreen: 2.5-inch color (211,200 pixels)

Focus: auto, manual

Maximum shutter speed: 1/4,000 sec. (automatic)

Exposure control: auto, manual

White balance: auto, manual

Digital effects: 14

Audio: 12-bit or 16-bit stereo

Inputs: IEEE 1394 (i.LINK), S-video, composite, RCA audio, mike 1/8″ mini

Outputs: IEEE 1394, S-video, composite, RCA audio, USB, headphone

Edit interface: LANC, IEEE 1394

Other features: Bluetooth receiver and PCMCIA 56KB modem, 8MB Memory Stick, 1352×1028 still-image capture, pop-up flash, MPEG-4 movie capture

Dimensions: 2 1/4(w) x 4 3/4(h) x 4 1/2(d) inches

Weight (sans tape and battery): 1 lb. 8 oz.

PERFORMANCE TIMES

Pause to Record: .39 sec.

Power-up to Record: 4.33 sec.

Fast forward/Rewind (60 min. tape): 2 min. 39 sec.

Tested Horizontal Resolution: 495 lines

STRENGTHS

  • Bluetooth
  • Pop-up flash
  • Timed-interval recording

    WEAKNESSES

  • Bluetooth
  • No individual iris or shutter controls

    SUMMARY

    An incrementally improved version of the long running Sony PC-number line of cameras with networking capabilities.

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