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Digital camcorders are making inroads into the top end of the market but there’s still plenty of life left in the old Hi8 dog yet. We’ve been taking a look at Sony’s latest high-band Handycam, the TR810



There’s no mistaking the CCD-TR810’s family background; ignore for a moment the two-tone silver/grey livery and it’s a dead ringer for it’s all-black low-band stablemate, the TR610. It shares a lot of features and personality with that machine, most of them good, but there is one we could have done without. That’s deck instability, when the machine is in the record or playback mode the picture will wobble or jump if the machine is tapped, or rocked to and fro. Even quite gentle movements cause the picture to move.


The feature list is intended to have a wide appeal, there’s plenty for enthusiasts and serious video movie-makers to get their teeth into, but in the full-auto or programmed auto-exposure modes it’s as docile as a lamb. There’s a good selection of picture options too, enabling the creatively inclined to add special effects and titles, at the touch of a button. They include a blocky mosaic pattern, black and white or sepia recording, to give your recordings that authentic olde-tyme Victorian home-movie look... Solarise and pastel modes mess around with colour and luminance contrast levels with interesting results; negative art reverses colours, slim and stretch compress and expand the picture respectively. There’s a couple of cinema options as well, the first superimposes  black bars at the top and bottom of the screen, the other one is 16:9 anamorphic compression, that enables recordings to fill the screen on a widescreen TV.


Sony have put a lot of effort into the machine’s exposure systems. There’s a full manual iris plus six Program AE modes, that vary the electronic shutter speed, and set exposure, focus and colour balance for various shooting conditions. The portrait mode creates a narrow depth of field, so the subject appears to stand out against a soft-focus background. Spotlight mode compensates for a brightly-lit subject against a dark background. Sports Lesson selects a higher shutter speed, to reduce playback blur of fast-moving subjects; Sunset & Moon modes are optimised for low-light scenes with bright lights, such as neon signs and fireworks. Beach and Ski overcome exposure problems when the subject is brightly lit from below and behind, and Landscape sets the focus for shooting distant objects through a window or screen. There’s also a separate backlight button, to adjust exposure, for subjects standing against a bright light.


Other creative facilities include a 15x optical zoom, extended to 30x with digital picture processing. It has an electronic image stabiliser, 2-page title generator, a proper insert edit system, tape optimisation and index marking. A timebase correction facility on playback reduces jitter on noisy or second generation recordings. RC timecode and data recording are key features for serious movie-makers; codes can be written on previously recorded tapes. The data is read by an edit controller, via the Control L/LANC edit control link. Under ideal conditions this machine could be used for near frame-accurate editing. The 810 can replay NTSC tapes, with the added bonus of stereo hi-fi sound, though only on SP speed recordings.


The 810 is powered by one of Sony’s ‘infolithium’ battery packs, or an ‘emergency’ dry-battery pack (supplied), that is filled with 8 AA-sized pencells. The lithium ion battery is a new type, that talks to the camcorder, allowing the machine to give a fairly accurate forecast of recording time remaining. The 810 has a frugal appetite for power; our sample managed to record for almost an hour, with a typical amount of stop/start operation, zooming and messing around with the various exposure modes



Control layout is straightforward, most of the buttons, switches and thumbwheels are readily accessible. The menu-driven on-screen display is quite easy to use, with selections and settings controlled by a clever click-action thumbwheel.  On the front of the machine, there’s a rare sight, an accessory shoe, perhaps they’re making a comeback? The playback controls are on the top, in the form of an illuminated touch-sensitive membrane. The lens is protected by a sliding cover, connected to the main mode switch on the side of the lens.


On the underside of the machine there’s a sliding cover protecting a set of contacts. These appear to be the same as those on several other Sony machines, designed to allow the camcorder to connect with a docking station, thought here’s no mention of this in the instructions.



The deck on our sample was quite touchy and it only took a small amount of movement to disrupt the picture whilst recording, or during playback. A light tap on the side of the case had a similar effect.


Picture quality is generally good, resolution is just over 380 lines. Picture noise levels are a little below average with MP tapes. Colour noise is also low, and accuracy good in both natural and tungsten light. There’s a slight yellow tinge when shooting under fluorescent light, but it’s not serious.


The stereo soundtracks are clean and well defined. Channel separation is fine up to around four metres from the front of the machine. The microphone has been efficiently insulated, motor whine and handling noises are at a very low level.



Picture and sound quality are fine, it’s not going to break any records but recordings looks clean and detailed. It has a good assortment of creative features, including one of two that will appeal to serious users, but in the end we have to say the deck mechanism was a disappointment.



There’s only a handful of camcorders in the £900 price, and the Canon UC8 Hi is still our favourite. The JVC GR-SX1 is getting a bit long in the tooth, but it is still worth considering, if the price is right. The best deals for anyone with £900 to spend on a Hi8 camcorder with a few creative facilities, are likely to come from the ranks of older machines, that have been replaced, and are now selling well below their original launch price.



Make/model                               Sony CCD-TR810

Recording format               Hi8/8mm

Guide price                                £900



Lens                             f/1.4, 4.1-61.5mm

Zoom                            15x optical, 30x electronic

Filter diameter            37mm  

Pick-up device            0.3in CCD

Min illum                       2 lux    



Long play (LP)                        yes                  

Max rec time                        240mins (LP mode)

IR remote control                        yes

Edit terminal                        yes (Control L)


MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                                yes                                          

Manual focus                 yes      

Auto exposure               yes                              

Programmed AE                          yes (6-mode)  

Fader                                        yes      

Manual white balance no        

Auto white balance             yes                              

Manual zoom                             no        

Power zoom                              yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                  no        

Audio dub                                  yes

Character generator                       yes                  

Digital superimposer                 no        

Image stabiliser                         yes                                          

Video light                                 no        

Battery refresh               no                                        

Accessory shoe             yes      




manual exposure, time/date recording, record review, retake, tally lamp, RC timecode recording, index record, built-in lens cover, picture effects (mosaic, solarise, monochrome, sepia, negative, pastel, slim, stretch), ORC tape optimisation, cinema/16:9 recording modes, backlight compensation, info lithium battery, NTSC replay



Viewfinder                       0.6 in monochrome

Viewfinder info               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count/ timecode/data, AE mode, fader, focus mode, tape end, time/date, title, zoom position, picture effect, dew, condensation



Stereo                                       yes

Wind noise filter                         yes                  

Mic socket                                yes                  

Headphone socket              yes      

Mic                                           single-point stereo



Sockets                                    S-Video out (min-DIN), AV out (phono), headphone,

microphone & Control L


Dimensions                               104 x 109 x 202mm                      

Weight                          0.9kg (inc tape and battery)



Batteries (Lithium ion and lithium), straps, AC charger/power supply, dry battery pack

AV lead             yes      

video light                      no                    

remote control            yes      

cassette adaptor n/a                   

RF Converter             no        

Scart adaptor                 yes                  



Resolution                                 <380-lines

Colour fidelity                           good

Picture stability                         fair

Colour bleed                              negligible

White balance                            average

Exposure                                   good

Auto focus                                  average

Audio performance                   good

Insert edit                                  clean

Playback thru adaptor              n/a



Value for money         7

Ease of use                  7

Performance               8

Features                      8



R Maybury 1996 1507





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