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Sharpís top of the line View Cam has been back to the drawing board for a radical refit, weíve been trying out the new VL-H410S



In spite of our initial scepticism its is clear View Cam is here to stay, and barely eighteen months after the launch it has created an important new niche market, that Sony and JVC clearly believe in, and theyíre not alone, other manufacturers will almost certainly seek a piece of the LCD camcorder action.


Sharp are not about to give up their commanding position though, and the View Cam range is being continually updated, though so far the changes have been fairly minor and largely cosmetic in nature. The new top of the line Hi8 VL-H410 changes all that, itís the recently announced replacement for the H400, which was the very first View Cam, but apart from sharing a similar general specification these are two quite different machines. The most important change, from an operational and design standpoint is a Lithium Ion re-chargable battery. Sharp were already ahead of the game with the HL400, which was powered by a nickel metal hydride battery, but changing to a Lithium ion pack has enabled them to make some very worthwhile size and weight savings, without sacrificing running time; it looks a lot better too, not as clumsily top-heavy as its predecessor.


The 3.6 volt, 2.4Ah battery is incredibly light and it lives inside the hand-grip, thereís plenty of space for a larger, higher capacity pack. The standard one looks a lot like the Sony pack, (also used by Canon and Hitachi), but there are significant differences in the contact and mounting lug arrangements, so itís almost certainly incompatible. Brilliant, thatís just what we need...


The battery can be charged in-situ, by placing the machine on the purpose-designed docking station -- they call it a Viewcamport of all things... -- a set of contacts on the underside mate with a connector plate on the charger unit; audio and video connections are also handled by the contact plate and these emerge as a set of standard phono and S-Video sockets on the back of the unit. Batteries can also be charged separately, the mains power supply module detaches from the docking station to aid portability. The Viewcamport has a small folding stand on the underside whilst tilts it, and the machine sitting on top, so that the screen is at a comfortable angle for table-top viewing.


The H410ís docking system has been designed to be used by other devices. One we know about already, itís their ĎTeleportí video telephone interface, which was shown publicly at Live 94 last year. The second one, we can exclusively reveal, is a new low-cost video printer which has been selling like hot cakes in Japan. No official UK launch date or price has been announced but we understand itís selling in Japan for a little under #500.


Another new feature is an electronic zoom, this doubles the magnification of the optical zoom, to a maximum 16X, or it can be used to give an instant 2x enlargement at any zoom setting. Itís not too bad, though there is a marked increase in grain at higher zoom settings. The world-time clock is new too, itís a lot like the one used by Sony and it can be set to show the time anywhere in the world; weíre much more impressed by the simple summer/winter adjustment, though. The most welcome change, for us at least, is the re-designed stereo microphone. You may recall that we complained bitterly about the H400ís mike. For some reason that we still canít fathom it was mounted sideways, so instead of normal left/right channel separation, it produced somewhat bizarre up/down sound channels. The mike module on the H410 is mounted horizontally on the tape deck. It has improved rear sensitivity as well, making it easier for the user to give a running commentary.


Sharp say the LCD screen on this model performs better in bright ambient light, to be honest we couldnít see much difference, and the image is still largely washed out in direct sunlight, and the anti-reflective coating still looks a mess if you get any finger marks on it. Theyíve changed the image sensor as well, the H400 had a 0.3-inch CCD, the H410 has a 0.25-inch device. Low-light performance is about the same but the optics are slightly different, giving a marginally narrower field of view.


The rest of the features are more or less the same as the H400. It has a digital image stabiliser, itís an older type with a noticeable reduction in picture quality, and a marked change in image size, when it is engaged. As usual Sharp have made good use of the screen; itís used by  a menu-driven on-screen display system for the secondary functions, hence the comparatively low button count, and it displays control labels for the row of multi-function buttons along the bottom of the screen. Clever though it is weíre not impressed with the somewhat lengthy procedures involved in making some things happen; accessing manual focus, for instance, is not something youíd want to do in a hurry.  



We grumbled about the bulky shape and unwieldy two-handed shooting position on the H400; the H410 is slightly better, still not great, but definitely an improvement, both in handling and looks. The small reduction in weight makes it a little easier to hold it one-handed, but it soon becomes tiring. Control accessibility is about the same, though we notice theyíve moved the buttons for the five-second snap, strobe and stabiliser further down the hand-grip, so theyíre less prone to accidental operation.


Stripping the machine of AV sockets and putting them all on the Viewcamport probably seemed like a good idea at the time but it makes TV playback a lot less convenient. Itís okay at home, but if you want to take H410 on holiday, the Viewcamport has to come too, if you want to watch playback on a TV that is; itís not the sort of thing you can easily squeeze into an accessory bag... A clip-on AV connector module is available as an optional accessory but we reckon it should be supplied as standard.



The change to a quarter-inch CCD doesnít seem to have affected resolution unduly, itís still around the 380-line mark. Thatís fairly ordinary for a Hi8 machine but itís a big improvement on a normal 8mm machine. Speaking of which, low-band recordings have a resolution of 250-lines, and thatís about as good as it gets. Low light performance is so-so, noise and grain are evident on indoor shots, the gain-up mode helps, but this machine works best in good natural light. In ideal conditions colours are bright and well-defined, though you have to wait for TV replay to confirm that as the image on the LCD screen is not good enough to accurately judge white balance, itís just as well the machineís auto white balance system is reasonably efficient, and WB lock is rarely needed.  


Stereo separation is rather narrow, but it sounds a whole lot better than the H400. The side by side microphones give a far more convincing spatial effect. Forward sensitivity is reasonable so overall it doesnít sound too bad at all, at least no worst than the competition.



A big improvement. The H410 looks and feels like a completely new machine, though the Viewcamport business could have been better thought out. Itís still very much a View Cam though, with all that implies. View Cam and its imitators have helped introduce a lot of new people to video movie-making, and thereís no denying it looks a lot more approachable than a regular camcorders. Itís fun and easy to use, great for family and friends but thereís a but. The price puts it well beyond the reach of most first-timers, and itís debatable whether many people with 1400 to spend on a camcorder would want one with so few creative facilities.  



The only other high-band camcorder with an LCD screen is the Sony SC7. Itís a good deal cheaper, but it is even more basic than the H410. However, if youíve got #1400 to spend thereís plenty of really excellent machines to choose from, and all of them are just as easy to use as the H410, honest! The only thing they lack is that screen... At the top of our list would be the Panasonic NV-S90, closely followed by the cute little Sony TR3. Outdoor types would be well advised to look at the tough little Hitachi VM-H70 Weathercam.






Make/model                               Sharp VL-H410S

Recording format              Hi8/8mm

Guide price                              £1400



Lens                             f/1.8, 4.5-36mm

Zoom                           8x optical, 16x electronic

Filter diameter            37mm  

Pick-up device            0.25in CCD (470k pixels)

Min illum                     6 lux   



Long play (LP)                        no

Max rec time                        120mins (SP mode only)

IR remote control                        yes

Edit terminal                        yes


MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                               yes                                          

Manual focus               yes      

Auto exposure             yes                              

Programmed AE                    no       

Fader                                       yes                  

Manual white balance            yes      

Auto white balance                       yes                                          

Manual zoom                           no       

Power zoom                            yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                no       

Audio dub                                no

Character generator                     no                   

Digital superimposer               no       

Image stabiliser                                  yes                                          

Video light                               no       

Battery refresh                         no                                       

Accessory shoe                 no       




time/date recording,  high-speed shutter (5-speed up to 1/10,000th sec), record review, still/strobe recording, Ďcinemaí mode, gain up, self record, Ďsnapshotí recording, fold-out table stand



Viewfinder                       4-in TFT active matrix colour LCD

Viewfinder info               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, shutter speed, fader, focus mode, tape end, time/date, title, zoom position, dew, lamp failure



Stereo                                      yes      

Wind noise filter                                         no                   

Mic socket                                yes                  

Headphone socket              yes      

Mic                                           single point stereo



Sockets                                    microphone & earphone (minijack) power, AV etc                                     multi-way connector on base

Dimensions                              193 x 140 x 91mm                      

Weight                         1.25kg (inc. tape and battery)



Batteries (lithium ion and lithium), straps, AC charger/power supply,

AV lead                        yes      

video light                   no                   

remote control            yes      

cassette adaptor            N/A                  

RF Converter             no       

SCART adaptor                        no                   



Resolution                               380-lines

Colour fidelity                           good

Picture stability                         good

Colour bleed                              none

White balance                            good

Exposure                                   good

Auto focus                                  good

Audio performance                   average

Insert edit                                  N/A

Playback thru adaptor              N/A



Value for money         7

Ease of use                  8

Performance               8

Features                      8



R Maybury 1995 1001





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