DVD-RAM Camcorder Review:Hitachi  DZ-MV380A

$1,100

Hitachi

1855 Dornoch Court

San Diego, CA 92154

(800) 448-2244

www.hitachi.com

The third time is definitely a charm for Hitachi’s re-designed tapeless camcorders. Home DVD players are now more common than ever and Hitachi has taken a leadership role in the evolution of disc-based cameras. The third-generation DZ-MV380A shoots directly to mini 3-inch (8cm) DVD-RAM or DVD-R discs that should play back in many home DVD players. This camera will appeal to anyone who would like to shoot and share DVDs, without editing and without dubbing to archaic VHS tape.

Small, Lighter, Better

The DZ-MV380A is nearly half the size and twice as sexy as last year’s models. The engineers at Hitachi did a great job of not only shrinking the camera by 40%, but also giving it a high-tech design that should turn a few heads. The most obvious clue that this camera is a little different than others is the round panel on the right side where the DVD is loaded. Blank DVDs fit into a caddy that slides into the camera. You remove the disc from the caddy to play it back in a DVD player.

On the left side of the camera you will find a silver metallic casing with blue accents and an embedded flip out 2.5 inch LCD screen. Unfortunately, the notch for opening the LCD is on the bottom of the camera, and, along with the battery release, cannot be accessed when the camera is on a tripod.

Mega-Stills

The smaller size definitely adds to the cool factor, but it also makes the controls a little harder to maneuver, especially for those with large hands. The disc navigation controls (a tiny joystick) are on the left side of the camera and give you instant, random access to scenes and in camera editing. You may find (as we did) that your nose gets in the way when you try to look through the eyepiece, which does not extend back far enough (or angle up at all). All in all, however, this was a nice little camera that was fun to use.

The 1.1 mega pixel CCD still camera is a welcome addition and produces a 1.1 mega pixel image (1280×960). DVD-RAM (but not DVD-R) discs can store stills, but there is the option of capturing stills to an SD memory card (although no media is included). Each DVD-RAM disc can record 999 still images, although there will very likely be space left on the 1.5GB capacity disc.

Shooting Discs

Shooting onto DVD is radically different than shooting onto tape. The Hitachi DVDCAM supports recording to DVD-R and DVD-RAM. DVD-R is a write once media, meaning that once you shoot on it, it’s permanent, there is no going back and shooting over or deleting what’s on the disc. As of this writing, blank DVD-R media is tough to find and also a bit pricey ($8 a disc, although we expect this price to go down as more brands of 8cm DVD-R discs enter the market). It’s definitely not the media you want to record your most embarrassing moments on. On the other hand, the Hitachi DVDCAM with DVD-R media would be perfect for shooting and sending video postcards to your friends and family that own DVD players. All you would need to do is shoot the footage, finalize the disc and mail it (postage will run about $0.80). To play it back, just pop it into a DVD player just like they would any other DVD. Newer DVD players are much more likely to be compatible with home-burned DVD-R discs, including the ones from this camera. Older DVD players may or may not play the discs without error.

The other format that the DVDCAM supports is DVD-RAM, which is a rewriteable format. You can record still images, rearrange movie clips and delete unwanted stills and takes using the in-camera editing tools. The drawback to DVD-RAM is that it cannot be played back in a standard home DVD player; they must be viewed on a computer. This may not be a problem, especially if your intentions are to export the footage to your PC for editing or authoring your own DVD. Current low prices for 8cm, dual-sided DVD-RAM discs are about $6 a disc.

Editing

The camera connects to your computer via a USB 2.0 port, which has a data transfer rate high enough for video. The camera shows up as a DVD drive and you can burn 1.5GB DVD-RAM discs with any kind of data from your computer (we saw about a 16.4Mbps data rate). Transferring still images on and off the disc is a drag-and-drop operation.

Video is a little different. Movie Album SE is the application you’ll use to work with video on a DVD-RAM disc. It is quite easy to explore the disc’s contents and rearrange clips, but you can’t just drag video off of the disc to your computer. Exporting video from the disc to standard MPEG-2 files on the computer takes about 132% of real time (e.g. a one minute video will take 1:19 seconds to export). After the export is complete, you use Sonic MyDVD 4.0 authoring software to create an attractive menu for your project and then burn your DVD back to a blank DVD-R in the camera. You are limited to about 18 minutes of content, but most home movies should be shorter than that anyhow.

Shoot ‘n’ Share

So is the DVDCAM right for you? The third-generation Hitachi DVDCAM is a specialized camera that is beginning to catch on, and other manufacturers (such as Panasonic) have their own DVD camcorders. Player compatibility is a serious issue, but that will diminish with time. Folks who simply want to shoot and share DVDs will find this camera irresistible.

TECH SPECS

Format: 8cm (3-inch) DVD-RAM / DVD-R Disc

Lens: f=3.8mm-38mm, 10:1 optical zoom, F/1.8, 37mm filter

Image Sensor: 1/3.8-inch CCD

Gross Pixels: 1.02 million pixels

Video Effective: 400k pixels

Viewfinder: 0.44-inch color (110k pixels)

LCD Viewscreen: 2.5-inch color (120k pixels)

Focus: auto, manual

Image Stabilization: electronic

Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/4,000 sec

Exposure: auto, manual

Program AE Modes: 5

White Balance: auto, hold

Digital Effects: 2 (fades)

Audio: MPEG Layer 2, linear PCM, stereo Dolby Digital

Microphone Input: 1/8-inch stereo mini

Headphone Output: none

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): 2-3/8(w) x 3-11/16(h) x 5-13/16(d)

Weight: 505 grams (sans tape and battery)

Software: DVD Movie Factory and PowerDVD XP

STRENGTHS

  • Dolby stereo audio
  • In-camera editing
  • Fast USB 2.0 data transfer
  • Doubles as DVD burner for PCs

    WEAKNESSES

  • No OS X support
  • 8cm discs still pricey/hard to find

    Performance

  • Tested Horizontal Resolution: 400
  • Field of View: 32-degrees

    SUMMARY

    The latest Hitachi DVD camcorder is a winner for the casual home enthusiast who wants to shoot and share DVDs.

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