The shine seems to have gone off 3D a little over the last six months, but that’s partly because of its ubiquity. Every TV above the budget level appears to have the capability, and every movie release a 3D edition – for a few pounds extra per ticket. Camcorders offering 3D are still at quite a premium, however. This is particularly the case with Sony’s HDR-TD20VE, which costs a lot but lacks few features.
The HDR-TD20VE is rare, like the JVC Everio GS-TD1, in that it is built for 3D from the ground up. Instead of requiring any kind of 3D accessory, as with Panasonic's 3D-capable models such as the HC-X900, the TD20VE can shoot 3D whenever you like – simply flip a switch on the rear. The TD20VE incorporates two identical lens paths leading to two identical CMOS sensors, each 1/3.9in in size with 5.4Mpixels apiece and sporting Exmor R technology. This is Sony's equivalent of back-side illumination, which gives sensors greater light-sensitivity for improved image quality, particularly in low light.
Another welcome feature for a 3D camcorder is the use of the AVCHD 2.0 recording format. This second iteration of the most widely used HD camcorder file type adds native support for 50p, data rates up to 28Mbits/sec, and MVC. The latter records 3D as interleaved streams of frames, so each one has the full resolution. Essentially, this means the TD20VE records two streams of 25p Full HD, one for each eye, and alternates them to form a 50p stream. Software that supports AVCHD 2.0 will decode and separate the streams so you can view the 3D image; software that only supports AVCHD 1.0 sees just one stream and one eye's view. Footage is captured to the healthy 64GB complement of on-board storage, but on the offchance this isn't enough, there's a dual-format memory card slot capable of accommodating either MemoryStick or SD media.
A further benefit of the twin lens paths is that the TD20VE can offer a decent optical zoom in either 2D or 3D mode. The base factor is 10x, but an Extended option boosts this to 17x in 2D mode and 12x in 3D mode. This uses extra pixels on the sensor to provide an electronic tele conversion which doesn't involve the loss of resolution normally associated with digital zooms. Image stabilisation is optical, too, as you would expect at this price, and it has a more powerful Active mode. This works across the zoom range in 2D mode, but only when zoomed out in 3D mode.
There's a host of manual settings available, when you delve into the menus within the touchscreen. However, the leading feature for the enthusiast is a little knob near the lens. By default, this adjusts the depth of the 3D effect (also known as convergence), which is a key capability if you're serious about your three dimensions. But it can also be set to adjust manual focus, exposure, iris, shutter speed, AE shift, or white balance shift. It's not as ergonomic as a full lens ring, but far more effective than using fiddly touchscreen sliders. It's also worth noting that direct shutter speed adjustment hasn't traditionally been available on many Sony camcorders, so it's great to see this as an option, although it would be even better to be able to switch the knob between functions rapidly using a mode button, as is possible with the lens ring on Panasonic's top models.