Easy to operate, Sony's DCR-DVD408 DVD Handycam produces great-looking movies in widescreen (16:9) format. The Sony DCR-DVD408 DVD Handycam's DVD media lets you record video and then play it back on most DVD players, without any need for a computer or knowledge of video editing.

The Sony DCR-DVD408 DVD Handycam feels solid, fits comfortably in your right hand, and is easy to operate with thumb and forefinger. The well-placed switches include a smooth, variable-speed lever to control the camcorder's 10X optical zoom, a still-shot button and a dual-function switch that lets you quickly turn the unit on or off - or flip from video to still shooting - with one hand.

You manage most of the Sony DCR-DVD408 DVD Handycam's other settings via the 2.7in, wide-format LCD touch screen. The Sony DCR-DVD408 DVD Handycam's LCD panel also includes a second set of zoom and start/stop buttons, although you're unlikely to use these unless you've turned the LCD toward yourself for a self-portrait. A small number of dedicated buttons let you switch from wide-screen to standard (4:3) format, set backlight control, and jump into playback mode.

One other button sets the Easy mode, which turns off most of the Sony DCR-DVD408 DVD Handycam's menu options and sets the Sony DCR-DVD408 DVD Handycam to full automatic - a good choice if you're a camcorder newbie.

We awarded the Sony DCR-DVD408 DVD Handycam a PC Advisor grade of Superior for video quality, and it earned high audio-quality marks as well. Even casual clips looked quite pleasing.

Using the Sony DCR-DVD408 DVD Handycam, handheld video of kiteboarders using a 30-knot wind to skim quickly across water in blazing sunlight, images had crisp details, attractive colours, and outstanding exposure accuracy. The electronic image stabilisation worked well, too, despite the stiff breeze.

The Sony DCR-DVD408 DVD Handycam's still images were a mixed bag. Shots of flowers came out detailed and colourful, but outdoor photos taken in daylight using the camcorder's automatic white-balance setting suffered from a subtle yet off-putting blue cast. Overall, we awarded the Sony DCR-DVD408 DVD Handycam a score of Good for its still images. One irritant is that you can't record still images directly to DVD; instead you have to save them to a Memory Stick Pro Duo card, which you must purchase separately.

Another wart on the Sony DCR-DVD408 DVD Handycam is the LCD screen's disappointing reflective coating, which should have improved visibility in sunny conditions. Unfortunately, the screen has to be positioned at a precise angle to the sun to work at all - and even then most of the colours wash out.

The coating did make the menus easer to read, however. The redeeming feature for work in bright sunlight is the Sony DCR-DVD408 DVD Handycam's bright and sharp eye-level viewfinder, which can tilt upward to about 50 degrees, making it more comfortable to use than a model that's fixed at 0 degrees.

With the Sony DCR-DVD408 DVD Handycam, recording time on a dual-layer DVD mini disc is roughly 35 minutes per side at the camera's highest video quality. Using Sony's extremely limited Picture Motion Browser software, you can download movie clips to your Windows PC before finalising the disc - a process that prevents further recording on the disc, but makes it playable on most standalone DVD players.

The barebones software works only on Windows 2000- or XP-based systems, and the Mini DVD discs can't be slid properly into a Mac's slot-loading disc readers.

Sony DCR-DVD408 DVD Handycam: Specs

  • 1/3 inch 3.31 megapixel CCD (movie mode: 2050K effective pixels / still mode: 3050K effective pixels)
  • CZ Vario-Sonar T* lens (filter diameter: 30mm)
  • High resolution 16:9 widescreen recording
  • SteadyShot
  • 2.7 inch 123K dots Wide Hybrid LCD
  • Intelligent flash
  • Super NightShot
  • Easy Handycam
  • 123K dots wide colour viewfinder
  • Touch panel (active menu)
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 Creator (Centre Mic.Ready)
  • Memory Stick Duo Slot
  • DVD-R/-RW/+RW compliant
  • PictBridge
  • Supplied accessories: power cord, AC adapter AC-L200, AV cable, InfoLITHIUM battery NP-FP70, CD-ROM (Picture Package + Nero Express 6), wireless remote control and cleaning cloth
  • 1/3 inch 3.31 megapixel CCD (movie mode: 2050K effective pixels / still mode: 3050K effective pixels)
  • CZ Vario-Sonar T* lens (filter diameter: 30mm)
  • High resolution 16:9 widescreen recording
  • SteadyShot
  • 2.7 inch 123K dots Wide Hybrid LCD
  • Intelligent flash
  • Super NightShot
  • Easy Handycam
  • 123K dots wide colour viewfinder
  • Touch panel (active menu)
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 Creator (Centre Mic.Ready)
  • Memory Stick Duo Slot
  • DVD-R/-RW/+RW compliant
  • PictBridge
  • Supplied accessories: power cord, AC adapter AC-L200, AV cable, InfoLITHIUM battery NP-FP70, CD-ROM (Picture Package + Nero Express 6), wireless remote control and cleaning cloth

OUR VERDICT

Its limitations notwithstanding, the Sony DCR-DVD408 DVD Handycam deserves a place on anyone's short list of camcorder contenders - but be prepared to purchase a good video-editing package that can handle DVD files to go with it.

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