First Look: Sony’s DCR-1P5 and DCR-1P7BT Camcorders

Sony has two MicroMV-based camcorders coming out this month. The first, the DCR-1P5, retails for $1,299 and weighs in at only 12 ounces. The tiny size — it’s only slightly larger than a deck of cards — means it’s much more portable than any previous video camera. It includes a 10x optical zoom, Carl Zeiss lens, image stabilization, and a small but useable 2.5-inch color LCD screen, along with a viewfinder. We found that although small, the camera was easy to learn to use and simple to operate.

The image itself has 500 lines of resolution, and a 12 Mbps bit-rate. By comparison, MiniDV and Digital8 use a 25 Mbps bit-rate. Still, the images were quite good in our tests. However, even though it uses MPEG-2 compression — the same compression scheme DVDs and digital satellite systems like DirecTV use — the video is not necessarily compatible across different MPEG-2 systems. That means you’ll need to do conversion to, say, burn your own DVDs on one of the cool new DVD burners coming out from Pioneer, Philips, and others. Sony’s previous digital formats, DV and Digital8, used a compression scheme that operated on each frame of video independently, essentially treating each frame as a separate still image. MPEG-2, by contrast, works across 15 frames, retaining and compressing only the changed video information on frames 2 through 15.

The second new Sony camera, the DCR-1P7BT, adds Bluetooth connectivity and a Memory Stick slot. Compressed video or still images can be shot and stored onto a Memory Stick, Sony’s own flash memory format. The video stored onto the Memory Stick is much smaller, only 320×240. It’s stored in a format called MPEGMovie AD, which specifies 30 frames per second. About five minutes of video can be stored on an 8MB Memory Stick.

The Bluetooth connection lets you transfer video or still images to the Sony’s ImageStation photo-sharing site via a special POTS-to-Bluetooth adapter or a Bluetooth-enabled cellphone. The camera also includes a Web browser and email client, which let you attach video and audio to email messages. It’s an interesting feature, but the small screen size, coupled with slow phone-line or cellular connectivity, make it more of an oddity than a utility.

Moving video around and editing it are the big shortfalls of Sony’s new camera. Although equipped with an i.Link (aka FireWire, 1394) port and USB, you’ll need to load a special driver onto your PC to grab the video because the camera uses Sony’s own hybrid MPEG-2 video compression. Only Sony’s bundled video-editing software, MovieShaker, knows how to operate the video. If you want to use Adobe Premier, Vegas Video, or other PC-based editing software, you’ll first have to save the video in the DV format — which will result in additional lost picture information due to compression incompatibility.


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