VIDEO CAMERA 1997

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DIGITAL DOPPLEGANGER

 

STANDFIRST

Following a recent price cut the Sony DCR-TRV7 pocket digital camcorder is now head to head with the Panasonic NV-DS5, things are starting to get interesting...

 

COPY

They say great minds think alike but the similarities between the Panasonic NV-DS5 and Sony DCR-TRV7 pocket-sized mini DV camcorders are quite uncanny. A suspicious person could construct all kind of conspiracy theories but the most likely explanation is that the designers at both companies arrived independently at what has to be the most logical and practical layout for a mid-range digital camcorder.

 

The resemblance between two machines is most remarkable, indeed, were it not for the makers badges, it would be quite difficult to tell them apart, head-on. In fairness to Sony, they pioneered the idea of a side-mounted, fold-out LCD monitor screen on the TRV range of 8mm and Hi8 camcorders; it has been carried across to the DCR-TRV7, which has a 4-inch display, just like the one on the Panasonic DS5. Both machines also have a top-mounted, pivoting colour LCD viewfinder, 10X optical zoom, moreover they have a similar layout, general specification and cosmetics. 

 

The list goes on, but letís not get carried away. The DCR-TRV7 has its own distinct personality, the question is, how does it compare with the DS5, which we gave an almost unconditional thumbs-up to a couple of months ago? Weíll save that for the summary, but first a few words about what it has to offer.

 

Behind the lens thereís a 0.3-inch CCD with a low light sensitivity of 3 lux, (the DS5 has a 0.25-inch sensor rated at 7 lux). The TRV7 has an electronic image stabiliser plus a range of creative effects, that include staples like pastel, neg-art, sepia, B&W, solarise, slim and stretch, but theyíre not quite as extensive as the DS5, which also has some useful wipe and mix options. The Sony machine has a full-range manual iris but unlike the DS5 no manual or white balance or shutter adjustments. There are six program AE settings. They cover most tricky lighting situations with Spotlight, Sports mode, Sun and Sand, Sunset and Moon, thereís also a Portrait setting and a landscape mode, for shooting through glass. 

 

Features specific to the DVC format include the essential FireWire DV output, for loss-free data transfer to other digital devices. Thereís a choice of two 12-bit PCM stereo soundtracks, one of which is dubbable, or one 16-bit stereo track, that compares well with audio CD, in terms of audio quality. The two 12-bit soundtracks can be heard independently, or mixed together in varying proportions. Time and data codes are recorded on the tape as a matter of course and it has a snapshot mode, for recording high quality stills.

 

This is the second Sony machine to have the new LaserLink cordless AV connection to a TV or VCR, though this depends on an optional receiver module that costs a further £100. Eventually, weíre told,  LaserLink receivers will be built into Sony products, though weíre not aware of any in the shops, or the pipeline at the moment. 

 

Controls are sprinkled around the machine in small clusters. The menu button is on the side, behind the monitor screen, but selections are made using a thumbwheel on the back, which is a nuisance as the screen has to be opened to gain access to the long list of secondary functions. The main transport keys are hidden away on a little pop-up panel, underneath the zoom rocker, that just asks to be played with. Hopefully itís built to last as it would be most inconvenient if it became stuck! Manual focus is controlled by a thumbwheel next to the microphone, itís a little too close in fact and great care has to be taken to avoid scuffing the mike when focusing. The controls on Sony camcorders are normally quite well thought out, but these take a bit of getting used to.

 

The AV output socket arrangements are a bit unusual too. They live behind a hinged flap on the bottom left hand side, thereís a DV output jack and S-Video socket, but composite video and stereo audio output are handled by a minijack. It has an accessory shoe on the top and this has a set of contacts for a range of optional accessories, including microphones and video lights.

 

Editing facilities include a Control L/LANC jack and there are sockets for an external microphone and headphones. It has a simple character generator, with the usual assortment of twee ready-made titles (Happy Holidays, Our Sweet Baby etc., ) and the provision to create custom titles, though only when using mini DVC cassettes which store data and titles on a built-in memory chip. On the subject of editing, itís worth pointing out that the TRV7 has a significant advantage over the Panasonic DS5 in that timecodes can be read by any suitably equipped edit controller. Timecodes generated by the DS5 are only accessible on Panasonicís own most recent controller.

 

The lithium ion battery pack clips on the back of the machine, the release button is a little awkward to get at and the viewfinder has to be tipped up to remove and insert the pack. We havenít actually had a chance to try it yet, but it looks like thicker, high-capacity batteries will prevent the viewfinder from lying flat. A full charge should be enough for at least an hour of recording time, under normal stop/start conditions. Using the LCD screen, instead of the viewfinder will reduce running times by around a third.

 

PERFORMANCE

Thereís barely a whisker between the two camcorders when it comes to on-screen performance. Resolution on the TRV7 is possibly a line or two up on the DS5, though we wouldnít want to swear to it in a court of law, and it could easily be accounted for by variations between samples. In any event we defy anyone to tell the difference on a normal moving image. Thereís nothing to choose between them as far as noise levels are concerned either, colour fidelity and registration are both very good. The extra program AE modes on the TRV7 provide a little more flexibility, but the DS5 has a wider range of manual options, for those who want to stay in control. Low light sensitivity is a little better on the TRV7, but this only amounts to a smidgen more grain, when shooting indoors under available room lighting.

 

The 12 and 16-bit soundtracks on the TRV7 are almost indistinguishable from one another when using the on-board microphone. Forward sensitivity is good, though the stereo image is rather shallow and virtually disappears when the subject is more than three or four metres from the lens. Background noise levels are very low in both recording modes, the variable mixer facility between the two 12-bit tracks is a very good idea.

 

THE VERDICT

The Panasonic DS5 set new standards for DV pocket LCD cams, so maybe it is a little unfortunate that we saw it before the TRV7; it had a lot to live up to. However, even if we had seen the two machines the other way around, the outcome would be the same, the DS5 retains pole position in the sub £2000 price band. There is nothing to choose between them as far as day-to-day AV performance is concerned, such differences as there are cancel each other out, though the extra manual controls on the DS5 are worth having when the going gets tough. Even after a recent price cut by Sony the Panasonic machine is still slightly cheaper than the TRV7, and it is just a little bit smaller, lighter and neater. Itís not all one-sided, though, and the balance swings back in the TRV7ís favour when it comes to editing flexibility. All things considered the DCR-TRV7 is a brilliant little machine, that you should not hesitate to consider if you have £1800 to spend on a digital camcorder, but do make sure you see the DS5 as well. 

 

THE RIVALS

There is only one, and thatís the Panasonic NV-DS5. Itís amazing how quickly things change, though. A couple of months ago we would have urged you to look at the JVC GR-DVX as well, it is another outstanding DVC pocket cam, and at £1600, quite a bit cheaper than the TRV7, but that was also eclipsed by the DS5. If you can rake together £2000 the outstanding Panasonic NV-DX100 -- the 3-CCD version of the DS5 -- is the one to go for.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                                     Sony DCR-TRV7       

Recording format               mini DVC

Guide price                                £1800

 

OPTICS

Lens                             f/1.8

Zoom                            10X manual, 20X digital

Filter diameter            37mm  

Pick-up device            0.3 in CCD

Min illum                       3-lux    

 

VIDEO DECK

Long play (LP)                        yes                  

Max rec time                        120mins (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               n/a                                       

Accessory shoe             yes      

 

effects (pastel, neg-art, sepia, B&W, solarise, slim, stretch

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording, record review, tally lamp, digital effects (pastel, neg-art, sepia, B&W, solarise, slim, stretch), built-in speaker, snapshot mode, Laser Link timecode and data code recording, 5-second record mode, backlight compensation, anti-ground shooting, soundtrack mixing

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.6 in colour LCD, 4-inch colour LCD monitor

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

 

AUDIO

Stereo                                       yes (2 x 12-bit or 1 x 16-bit PCM)          

Wind noise filter                         no                   

Mic socket                                yes                  

Headphone socket              yes      

Mic                                           single point stereo

 

GENERAL

Sockets                                    AV out, microphone, headphone & edit terminal (mini

jack), S-Video out (mini DIN), DV/FireWire out (DV jack)

Dimensions                               96 x 109 x 183mm                       

Weight                          0.96kg (inc tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

Batteries (lithium-ion & AA cells for remote), straps, AC charger/power supply,

AV lead             yes

video light                      no                    

remote control            yes      

cassette adaptor n/a                   

RF Converter             no        

SCART adaptor            yes                  

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                                 >470-lines

Colour fidelity                           very good

Picture stability                         excellent

Colour bleed                              none

White balance                            average

Exposure                                   very good

Auto focus                                  very good

Audio performance                   very good

Insert edit                                  manual inserts clean

Playback thru adaptor              n/a

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money            9

Ease of use                   8 

Performance                  9 

Features                       9

 

---end---

R Maybury 1997 2210

 

 


 

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