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I bought my first camcorder when my son was born, nearly 10 years ago. I went for a Canon UC30 Hi, a Hi8 model that had what I considered a great virtue at the time; it was very small and light compared to most competition. I went for Hi8 as I liked the superior quality of the pictures on playback, and you only get one chance to capture that moment. Nearly ten years on and that gadget finally packed up, leaving me with nothing to record with and nothing to playback on now I had a collection of tapes. I also wanted to copy them to a digital medium so I could cut video cd's. So my requirement was to be able to play back the old Hi8 stuff and record new in digital. That rather narrowed the field to Sony Digital8. Digital 8 is a bridging technology between 8mm and miniDV. It makes use of the same physical media as Hi8 tapes (and the drive mech) but places digital code (DV) on the tapes rather than analogue. In most of the range it also enables old analogue tapes to be played back (so you only need one gadget to bridge the gap). The downside is that a 90 min Hi8 tape used to record DV only gives 60 min, and the format is larger than miniDV, making the gadget larger. Checking out the Sony range I was driven by this minimum spec and cost. This lead me to the DCR-TRV238 at £389 delivered. Its' features are listed in the features section below. I've had it a few weeks now and it's been field tested. Yes, it does everything it says on the tin and one important extra that is not advertised. Things I like: The zoom is smooth and variable speed. The display is bright and crisp (and more pixels than the next model down). It has all the functions I need, especially the standard, yummy, DV facilities such as excellent video quality. The digital connections all work plug and play and the included software is easy to use. Not only does it play back 8/Hi8 tapes but the output is available via the digital ports as well as analog.
This not mentioned in the features but meant that I didn't have to do a separate analog to digital conversion in my PC but just downloaded via the DV cable (IEEE1394, I-link). The internal A/D conversion was such that I could not perceive any loss of quality. The steady shot works a treat. I wondered what was the point of a megapixel CCD when only ~400k are used until I realised that that the excess pixels were used by the digital steady, and it works well. The nightshot mode seems ok as does the slow colour shutter. I've not bothered with the Super Nightshot yet (that's where an infa red LED is turned on to illuminate things within a meter or so in the dark) as I'm not into watching things in the dark. The batteries are great. I was used to the old NiCd but these NiMh thingy's are the business, the standard one lasting over an hour and telling you how much time is left. Editing: the ability to control the main functions of the camera from the PC through the DV cable is great and saves a lot of fiddling between devices. I don't like: It's relatively heavy compared to most miniDV. The optical zoom is 25x and is fine but I don't see the point of the 700x digital zoom as the pixellation renders the image useless. The USB streaming; is this intended for videomail only? You can only get 15fps in half resolution so I don't see much other use. I'll stick with the far superior 1394 (maybe both will be made redundant by USB2 soon). By the way, I only paid £20 for my 3 port 1394 card, INCLUDING a cable, so it's worth getting (3 Port D-Link DRF-A3 FireWire card Retail inc. cable + software from scan.co.uk) . Things I've not tried: Half of the functionality is more than I'll ever touch. Such as the ability to add standard and custom titles, a dozen or so visual effects and the ability to capture still shots. Another function is that the camcorder can control your VHS VCR via IR to en
able fully controlled editing. SUMMARY: Being Digital8, this dev ice is a compromise between an older physical tape format and digital technology. The good thing for me is that it is a good compromise that allows me to playback my old tapes whilst recording in the DV format; AND IT'S CHEAP! Where else can you get a Digital camcorder with these functions at this price? In real terms it cost me HALF what I paid for the Hi8 nearly 10 years ago, so I'm happy. FEATURES: 2.5" LCD Screen (123k dots) USB Streaming PC-application accessory supplied, USB cable, Driver software, Image Mixer LP recording (ST8 tape) Super Steady Shot (540k) Super NightShot-Colour Slow Shutter <br>I.Link (DV out) Digital Program Editing 700x digital zoom (25x optical) Built in infra red light for night shot playback zoom Advanced titler Manual focus LCD indicator Remote control InfoLITHIUM battery System Plays back Video8-Hi8 tapes Intelligent accessory shoe PRICE: I paid £390 (all in) from PRCDirect.co.uk. Elsewhere the price averages £430.