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Those are really tough questions for the crowd here. I think the least expensive camera I currently own rings in at around $1,500, and I haven’t looked much at the consumer grade stuff really recently.
Canon and Sony are both good. Stick with MiniDV. The DVD burners are a neat idea and all, but editing the mpeg format on DVD discs is a pain in the butt, let me tell ya. So if you’re going to do any editing at all (this even includes adding background music or cutting parts short), stick with MiniDV, or some other popular tape format, as your video will be much better quality.
As far as 5.1 surround audio recording, believe me, there’s more hype than anything else there. Those cameras have the same crappy camera mics every other camera does, and there is software that can convert audio into 5.1 on the market which will do a lot better job than the chips in those cameras.
As far as HD goes, all I can say is for under $1,000 you might find the lens for an HD camera to exceed this number. Besides, the whole market is still in a war over which HD platform will become standard. If you’re serious about HD, give it 3-5 years, and see who’s still standing after the dust clears. A miniDVD disc could hold roughly a minute or two of HDV, so until/unless Sony’s blu-ray technology becomes an industry standard, you’re not going to see true HDV on a disc burner.
Hope that helps some 🙂