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Sony seems intent on dominating the High Definition camcorder market before any other company has even joined in. Although Canon has released a competitor to Sony’s top-of-the-range professional HVR-Z1 (the Canon XL-H1), there’s nothing at all to compete with Sony’s offerings below that in the UK. We thought Sony’s first attempt at consumer HD was pretty stunning (see HDR-HC1E review ). But scarcely six months later, Sony is upping the ante once again, this time breaking below the magical £1,000 barrier – well below. So what has been removed to get the new HDR-HC3E’s price nearly £300 lower than its predecessor?
The HDR-HC3E is considerably different in appearance to the HC1E. It’s a lot more compact, and weighs 600g, which is 180g less. The image sensor at its core is different too. Although it’s still a 1/3in CMOS rather than the more usual CCD found in camcorders, the gross pixel count has dropped from the 2.97Mpixels in the HC1E to 2.1Mpixels. That’s still more than enough for full-resolution HDV, which has a resolution of 1,440 x 1,080 so only requires about 1.56Mpixels. Despite the lower-resolution CMOS, Sony is actually claiming 4Mpixel stills quality, which clearly uses a hefty amount of interpolation. These stills are captured to MemoryStick Duo, although none is supplied in the box. But more on that later.
The HC3E has lost most of the HC1E’s prosumer-oriented features as well. Where the latter offered microphone and headphone minijacks, for external audio sources and sound quality monitoring, the HC3E has neither. It does still have an accessory shoe, but like the HC1E this is of the Sony proprietary ‘Active Interface’ variety. So only Sony-branded video lights and microphones can be attached. All of its AV connections bar FireWire are output only, but you do get quite a selection. Proprietary connections provide composite, S-video and audio AV in one, plus a second socket for analog component. A USB plug can be found under the LCD for downloading still images or using the HC3E as a tremendously expensive webcam.
But the HC3E has one entirely new connectivity trick up its sleeve, or rather under a plastic flap. This is the first HDV camcorder ever to incorporate the consumer digital AV connection, HDMI. This will allow you to connect the HC3E to your HD Ready TV or projector using a digital link, and is also backwards compatible with DVI using the appropriate adapter. We hooked the HC3E to a DiBoss 40in HDTV and an Optoma HD72i projector, with stunning results in both cases.