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Two tasty top-enders from Sony, the TR680 and TR780 are a pair of well specified Hi8 palmcorders that should appeal to demanding home users, and enthusiasts alike



Sony donít do things by halves, so when they identified a gap in the market for a sensibly-priced Hi8 palmcorder, with enough bells and whistles to please the enthusiasts yet simple enough for a beginner to handle, they came up with not one, but two machines. They are the CCD-TR680 and TR780, due in the shops in the next few weeks. The only difference between them is electronic Ďno-lossí image stabiliser on the 780, which bumps the price up from £900 for the 680 to £1000.


Letís get the stabiliser out of the way first. Yes it works, it irons out moderately gentle undulations (walking shooting from a car etc.) quite well; thereís a very slight change in texture, and shutter speed when itís on, but on the whole there is no reduction in picture quality. Itís there if you want it, personally weíd rather spend the extra £100 on a good tripod, so if youíll excuse us weíll move on and concentrate on the 680 from now on...


In addition to the Hi8 recording system and stereo sound the TR680 has a full-range manual exposure control, 5-mode program autoexposure, fader, digital effect, 24x electronic zoom, a built in lens cover, provision for an external microphone and a Control L edit terminal, what more do you need? The program AE has the usual sports, portrait, high-speed shutter and low-light settings but the digital effects system is new. The options are:

* Mosaic - the picture is composed of hundreds of tiny blocks of colour

* Solarisation -- increased colour contrast for a Ďcartooní like effect

* Sepia -- monochrome with a beige tint

* Black and white -- monochrome recording

* Neg Art -- negative picture

* Slim -- widescreen recording mode with everything stretched vertically

* Wide -- picture stretched horizontally, makes everything look fat...


Apart from wide, which we can think of no use of whatsoever,  theyíre all quite useful or eye-catching, especially the neg art mode which can be used to record still images from photographic print negatives. The orange colour filter on print negs produces can be corrected using a blue-coloured light or filter. The 16:9/slim recording mode is now almost standard across the Sony range and itís most useful if youíve got a widescreen TV. The picture is stretched vertically, so everything looks tall and thin, but when the recording is replayed on a widescreen TV in the Ďwideí mode the picture is stretched horizontally, so it returns to its correct proportions and fills the entire width of the screen. Itís probably no coincidence that Sony are about to get into widescreen TVs in a big way!


A couple of other new features rate a mention. The first is a rather slick menu-driven on-screen display, thatís controlled by a button and a thumbwheel. Press the button to call up the menu, then use the thumbwheel to scroll up or down the list. When the chosen selection is highlighted depress the thumbwheel to call up a sub-menu. Itís quick and simple. The options cover a variety of secondary functions, from the wind noise filter, to disabling the remote control. The AF enable switch also has a nifty press-button function, for momentarily engaging AF whilst in the manual focus mode. Manual focus is controlled by a small thumbwheel close to the mike, a little too close in fact and care needs to be taken not to brush against it accidentally when focusing manually.


The other neat idea is a switchable 5-second record function. Itís like the one on the Vision LCD camcorders; in the normal position the stop/start button has the usual toggle action, i.e. press once to begin recording, press again to stop. In the other position it will make a 5-second recording when the start button is pressed, five blobs in the viewfinder disappear at one second intervals to show how itís going and a bleeper signals that recording has stopped. If you want to keep recording just keep pressing the start button. It makes for much faster paced video movies, no more long boring shots, waiting for something happen, itís worth a dozen fancy digital effects; we hope it quickly becomes a standard feature on other manufacturers machines.


The overall design and layout are quite straightforward. Thereís reminders of other Sony machines, past and present. Its closest relative is the TR750 which the 780 actually replaces. Thereís a smattering of TR3 about this machine as well, with the low-slung microphone, and illuminated control panel for the tape transport buttons. In short itís an easy machine to get along with, the auto systems cope well with most situations, but if they get into trouble, or you want to take control, manual exposure controls are easily accessible. We have only one operational gripe, and thatís the tripod mounting boss which Sony have started putting right at the front of their machines, with the predictable consequence that they tend to tip backwards when mounted on a tripod, it also makes them look slightly ridiculous. Small point, but worth noting...



Aside from the slight difference in image texture on the 780 picture, when the stabiliser is up and running, the two machines have similar on-screen performance. Resolution in the Hi8 recording mode is as near to 400-lines as makes no difference. Colours are crisp and natural looking, with little or no bleed evident, even on areas of high saturation. Picture noise is minimal and the program AE works well, though as most modes involves some shuttering and/or exposure control they work best in good strong daylight.


Stereo sound form the forward facing mike is evenly balanced, maybe a tad trebly but itís well insulated and sensitivity is good.



On paper the 680 looks fairly ordinary but this is a deceptively refined machine, the feature list has been extremely well thought out, thereís everything an enthusiast will want, not too many toys or gadgets, and top-notch performance. Itís simple to use -- fully granny-proof in the auto mode -- and the price is going to take some beating. We reckon Sony could have a winner on their hands. Recommended.



The £900 price segment is looking a bit dull at the moment, though some interesting  machines are on the way. Thereís three LCD cams, from Sony, Sharp and JVC, but theyíre not really in the same league as the 680 as theyíre designed to appeal mainly to technophobes. Hitachiís VM-H37 is worth considering, though itís rather long in the tooth, and doesnít have much in the way of editing facilities. Probably the only other machine worth thinking about is the old Panasonic NV-S70 which combines high-band performance with stereo sound and good editing facilities.



Make/model                               SONY CCD-TR680/780

Recording format              Hi8

Guide price                              £900 (TR780 £1000)



Lens                             f/1.8, 5.4-64.8mm

Zoom                           12x optical, 24x electronic

Filter diameter            37mm 

Pick-up device            0.3in CCD

Min illum                     3 lux   



Long play (LP)                        yes (replay only)               

Max rec time                        120mins

IR remote control                        yes

Edit terminal                        yes


MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                               yes                                          

Manual focus               yes      

Auto exposure             yes                              

Programmed AE                    yes (4-mode) 

Fader                                       yes                  

Manual white balance            no       

Auto white balance                       yes                                          

Manual zoom                           no       

Power zoom                            yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                no       

Audio dub                                no

Character generator                     no                   

Digital superimposer               no       

Image stabiliser                                  no (yes 780)                            

Video light                               no       

Battery refresh                         no                                       

Accessory shoe                 no       




time/date recording, record review, tally lamp, built-in lens cover, digital effects (16:9/slim recording, wide recording, mosaic, sepia, negative, monochrome), 5-second recording mode



Viewfinder                       0.7in monochrome

Viewfinder info               deck mode and status, AE mode, low battery, tape count, fader, focus mode, tape end, time/date, title, zoom position, iris setting



Stereo                                      yes      

Wind noise filter                                         yes                  

Mic socket                                yes                  

Headphone socket              yes      

Mic                                           single-point stereo



Sockets                                    AV out (phono), S-Video out (mini DIN), Control L,

earphone, ext. mic. (minijack)

Dimensions                              195 x 105 x 110mm                      

Weight                         1.1kg (inc tape and battery)



Batteries (nicad 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               yes                  



Resolution                               400-lines

Colour fidelity                           good

Picture stability                         good

Colour bleed                              none

White balance                            good

Exposure                                   very good

Auto focus                                  good

Audio performance                   good

Insert edit                                  n/a

Playback thru adaptor              n/a



Value for money         9

Ease of use                  8

Performance               9

Features                      9



R Maybury 1995 2703





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