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Sharp VL-DC1 & Sony DCR-PC7 Digital LCD Camcorders

 

Why are they here?

The new digital video cassette (DVC) format is about the most exciting thing to have happened to camcorders in a very long time, suddenly theyíve become interesting again. DVC has two big advantages over the VHS-C and 8mm analogue formats: firstly picture and sound performance are nudging broadcast quality, and second, the tiny tapes lend themselves to equally small deck mechanisms. The first DVC camcorders from Sony and Panasonic were aimed mainly at enthusiasts and serious video movie-makers, but JVC surprised everyone with their pocket-sized DV1, a fully featured machine no larger than a personal stereo. Since its launch last Summer it has become an instant hit, especially with gadget freaks. It was inevitable that Sharp would launch a digital version of their ViewCam camcorder, with a built-in LCD screen, but Sony found themselves in the unusual position of having to respond to a new trend, not of their making, hence the PC7.

 

Any unique features? Sharpís VL-DC1 follows pretty much the same pattern established by their analogue ViewCams, with a swivelling camera module attached to the deck and screen assembly. Itís a point-and-shoot machine, designed for maximum ease of use. It has a few creative facilities, but it is designed to appeal to family users, who want to be able to make video movies with a minimum of fuss and bother, and play back their recordings, on the spot, to a small audience. The major advance on this model, apart from the new recording format, is the 4-inch LCD, which produces a clear bright image, even in strong ambient light, but for our money the most important innovation is the smudge resistant screen. Normal LCD screen look really horrible after a few minutes use, this one is somehow immune to sticky fingermarks.

 

The PC7 is both smaller and neater, with two colour LCD screens. The one on top is a conventional viewfinder; the other one is on the side, itís 2.5 inches across and itís on a hinge, so it opens out to face the user. It can also be turned towards the subject, the image is automatically inverted, so itís the right way up. On the side of the deck thereís a tiny speaker, so you can hear whatís going on as well. It has three program auto-exposure modes, and an image stabiliser, but none of the creative facilities of the JVC machine, or, to a lesser extent the digital ViewCam. It does however have some advanced editing features and a digital video (DV) output or ĎFireWireí interface, that will allow it to download images into a PC, equipped with a suitable adaptor card. Sony are currently the only company to market then, they sell for around £500.

 

How do they perform? Both machines work extremely well, with picture resolutions of over 460 lines. That compares with around 250 lines on the best 8mm and VHS-C camcorders, and 400 lines on S-VHS/C and Hi8 equipment. Recordings look exceptionally clean, with hardly a trace of luminance or colour noise. The newly developed CCD image sensor on the PC7 has slightly better low light performance, and colours look a shade crisper but both of them cope well with artificial light, and difficult lighting situations.

 

Sharpís 4-inch LCD screen is one of the best weíve seen, very detailed, and colours look almost natural. The Sony screen isnít so bright, and colours can be a little vague at times. The LCD viewfinder isnít much better, and itís fairly coarse too, unable to resolve the fine detail needed to for manual focus adjustment in poor light.

 

The PCM digital stereo soundtracks on both machines produce a crisp sound unusually good treble and bass response -- compared with most analogue camcorders -- though the forward facing microphone on the ViewCam produces a more realistic soundfield. The microphones on the PC7 are on the top, and they tend to pick up sounds from all around, and below, including some motor whine and handling noises.

 

ViewCam is a little bulkier than the PC7 and really needs to be held with both hands for maximum comfort; the Sony machine is a little more convenient, though the box-like shape isnít ideal, and some of the controls are tricky to get at one-handed.

 

Verdict: Sony win hands down when it comes to the cuteness factor, and the top mounted viewfinder makes it a little more flexible. The extra editing facilities and digital output means it will probably appeal more to serious users. The ViewCam is more of a fun Ďn family camcorder, great for snapping and almost idiot-proof, with superb picture quality.

 

Sharp VL-DC1

Features: manual iris override, time/date recording, record search, high-speed shutter (5-speeds), instant zoom (12x optical, 30x digital), interval recording, timecode recording, slomo replay, snapshot recording, image stabiliser, remote control

 

Sockets: headphones and external mic (minijack), DC power, AV output

Picture quality            ****

Sound quality              ****

Build quality               ****

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ****

 

COMPETITORS

JVC GR-DV1             £1800            HE38

Sony DCR-PC7     £2000            HE42

 

Sharp UK Ltd., telephone 0161-205 2333

 

Sony DCR-PC7

Features 3-mode program AE, time/date recording, fader, x10 optical/x20 digital zooms, snapshot recording, image stabiliser, record review, tally lamp, remote control, FireWire interface

 

Sockets            AV & headphone output (minijack), S-Video out (mini DIN), DV out, power/control/AV (proprietary multi-pin)

Picture quality            ****

Sound quality              ***

Build quality               ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ***     

 

COMPETITORS

JVC GR-DV1             £1800            HE38

Sharp VL-DC1    £2000            HE42

 

Sony UK Ltd., telephone 0181-784 1144

 

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” R. Maybury 1996 0311

 

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