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Following the launch of the highly innovative TR8 Sony are now offering a version with a colour viewfinder, called the TR1, but is it worth an extra 100?



The popularity of colour viewfinders in Japan, where no self -respecting camcorder can be launched without one, might explain why Sony launched the CCD-TR8 in Europe four months before the CCD-TR1. Sony clearly reasoned that an innovative Hi8 palmcorder with a black and white viewfinder would be easier to swallow at 1,000, than 1,200 for one with a colour viewfinder, no matter how good the viewfinder might be. Subsequently the TR8 has risen to 1,100 but that still means a price differential of  100.


Apart from the viewfinders, and the price, the TR1 and TR8 are virtually identical and as we comprehensively reviewed the TR8 earlier in the year we'll skip lightly over the finer details. One of the most interesting features of these two machines are their lithium ion batteries. They've allowed Sony to reduce the overall size and weight of these machines -- the battery is inside --  and they're  purported to be immune from the dreaded memory effect. One other side benefit of the lithium ion battery is the more gradual discharge curve which allows the camcorder and charger to have meaningful charge indicators. Is this the future? We'll have to see,  time, and our faithful readers will tell! Before we move on it's just worth mentioning that as the battery fits inside the machine there's little or no scope for fitting higher-capacity packs -- even if there was such a thing -- they're also comparatively expensive and thus far no other camcorder manufacturer uses them, so it's unlikely to have much of an effect on the rest of the camcorder market, in the short term at least.


Of more immediate importance is the clever 'Handycam Station' which is a combination charger, power adaptor and AV converter. It does away with the need for separate power and AV leads, simply dock the machine on to the station and all of the connections are made at once by a bank of contacts on the underside of the machine, the battery can even be charged, without having to take it out. All of the audio and video sockets are conveniently grouped together on the back of the unit; it's very neat, other manufacturers please copy.


The general specification should appeal to all high-end users. It has a manual iris and passable manual focus, accessed via a small thumbwheel on the right side of the machine; there's a three-mode programmed AE system (portrait, sports, high-speed shutter), and a neat lens cover which flips out of the way when the machine is put into the record mode. Sony have dared to be different with the zoom control, it's mounted sideways on, near the back panel. Varying the pressure on the lever varies the zoom speed, from sedate to lively. There's IR remote control receptors on the front and  back of the machine, and a world time clock for those who get out and about.


On the debit side the tape loading hatch is cumbersome, the flap covering the tape transport controls is flimsy, and there's no manual shutter or white balance controls, the latter the more irksome because it has a colour viewfinder. When we reviewed the TR8 we commented that the manual iris control was noisy, but put this down to newness, the TR1 is similarly afflicted, though this time its more of a scraping noise.



The TR1's colour LCD viewfinder is one of the better ones at the moment with a 120k  pixel display, that compares with the 80-90k pixels on the first wave of camcorders with colour viewfinders. In short the more pixels there are the clearer the picture will be, and it's worth remembering that the LCD colour viewfinders on some camcorders are like looking through a vegetable strainer! The display on the TR1 is good, very good in fact but we still have to say that the picture is not a sharp or well-defined as a monochrome viewfinder and manual focus in dim light is still unnecessarily vague.



Our test results have confirmed that the TR1 is indeed a worthy sibling of the TR8 and off-tape Hi 8 resolution was just a tad short of the magical 400 lines. Colour bleed, which seems to come and go with the seasons on Sony camcorders was not in evidence this time. Noise levels were acceptably low and in spite of not having a manual white balance control, colour accuracy was generally good. As before the AF system is quite agile and usually dependable in good light, it's just a shame that the time when you're most likely to need manual focus -- in poor light -- the colour viewfinder makes life difficult.


Only one gremlin surfaced during our tests and that was some mechanical instability; the off-tape picture jumped whenever the machine received a light knock. It wasn't disastrous but certainly not the kind of  thing we expect from a Sony machine.


The stereo sound system is very good, plenty of depth, though the stereo sound stage is fairly narrow, plugging in a good quality accessory mike improves matters considerably.



We rather liked the TR8, and there's no reason to change our opinion with the TR1, though as regular readers will know we're no great fans of LCD colour viewfinders, which at the moment are little more than a marketing fad. The only discordant note, then, is the price and you, like us, may feel that 100 is a lot to pay for the privilege of seeing what you've just shot in colour, but without the facility to adjust it in any way.



Make/model                   SONY CCD-TR1

Recording format           Hi8/8mm

Guide price                     1,200



Lens                               f1.4, 5.9-47.2mm

Zoom                              8x (variable speed)

Filter diameter               37mm  

Pick-up device               0.3in CCD (470k pixels)

Min. illum. (lux)             3



Tape speed (mm/sec)     20.051(SP), 10.026(LP)

Max. rec. time                120 mins (LP mode)

Remote control              full-function IR  

Main facilities                auto/manual focus and exposure, 3-mode program AE),  auto white balance, world time/date recording, built-in lens cover, table 'stand', record search



Viewfinder                       1in LCD colour (120k pixels)

Viewfinder info.              deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, focus mode, tape end, time/date, zoom setting, exposure indicator, dew, head clog



System                           stereo hi-fi

Microphone                   single-point stereo



Sockets                          composite video out, stereo audio out (phono), S-Video out, Control L, external mic, external power (minjacks)

Size (mm)                       92 x 102 x 173

Weight                            0.86 kg (inc. tape and battery)



Batteries, (lithium ion, lithium and alkaline), straps, AC charger/power/coupler, AV leads, remote handset



Resolution                      380-lines (high band S-Video), 240 lines (low band comp)

Colour fidelity                very good 

Picture stability              average 

Colour bleed                   none

White balance                fair

Exposure                        very good

Autofocus                       good

Audio performance       good

Insert edit                       manual inserts clean

Playback thru adaptor  N/A



Value for money         8

Ease of use                 8

Performance               9

Features                      8



(c) R Maybury 1993 1304



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