These days, there is all but the dilemma of choosing the right recording format for anyone contemplating a camcorder. Compounding to the difficulty of having to choose DV tape, DVD or Hard disk recording media is that each media offers its own set of advantages that appear more compelling than the others when considered. At the end of the day however, it just boils down to a decision of either going for picture quality or storage capacity. Ideally, it would be great to stuff a camcorder with the ability to record onto all three media, but realistically, it would be easier and cheaper to just come to a compromise.
With this understanding, Sony and Panasonic have come together to develop a new compression format that could finally put a stop to the longstanding dilemma. The new Sony Handycam HDR-SR1 is a small hard disk-based camcorder and new about it is the new compression technology called AVHCD on which it is built upon. This immediately gives the lightweight camcorder up to 11 hours worth of video recording time in 1080i HD resolution out of the box, a feat that is currently unmatched.
Of the HD camcorders available in the market today, the HDR-SR1 is arguably one of the smallest that offers 1080i recording. In fact, the HDR-SR1 is not any bigger than most ordinary SD camcorder. The same can also be said of its weight even though a 30GB HDD has been fitted within. Housing of the camcorder is mainly made out of plastic, which explains its handy weight. A large 3.5-inch touchscreen allows for quick access to key recording functions. This also swivels so you’ll never lose framing even when recording from awkward angles. You can even choose to power down the LCD screen and use the optical viewfinder to further conserve battery power.
Dolby Digital 5.1 recording comes courtesy of a multi-directional microphone located at the top of the camcorder and there’s even a dedicated microphone jack for clearer voice recording in instances such as interviews. Accessories for the HDR-SR1 can be hooked up via a proprietary hot-shoe below the microphone.
The key difference between traditional SD camcorders and HD models such as the HDR-SR1 is recording resolution. Where SD footages of 480p recorded by SD camcorders will appear coarse and pixilated on HD-ready TVs, there is no such issue with the HDR-SR1. What you’ll notice instead is an immediate improvement in video details and overall sharpness. Facial features in particular will be more noticeable.
Using the new compression format, the SONY HDR-SR1 is able to record HD video at up to 15Mb/sec MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) and the end result is almost as good as DV tape. Not only did the built-in 30GB HDD offer storage capacity for up to 11 hours of video, it also made editing and deleting of unwanted segments much easier than tape-based camcorders.
Overall, we enjoyed our experience with the HDR-SR1 but lament that software support for this new format is still very limited. At point of review, AVHCD was not supported by popular video editing applications such as Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premier. Instead, editing was done using Sony’s Vegas application. We are certain AVHCD will be widely supported in the foreseeable future but that doesn’t mean you have to wait till then to consider getting the HDR-SR1 and start enjoying the convenience of HDD-based HD recording.