Sony Aims High With New Camcorders

Sony is expanding its lineup of high-definition camcorders to quickly transition its Japanese sales from standard-definition to HD, the company said Wednesday.

The two new camcorders are also the first based on the AVCHD format, which was recently developed by Sony and competitor Matsushita Electric Industrial (Panasonic). They are promoting AVCHD as a camcorder industry standard and allows for storage of high-definition content on conventional 8-centimeter DVDs. The standard also applies to image storage on hard-disk drives and memory cards.

The cameras both look similar to Sony’s HDR-HC3 that was launched earlier this year. That camcorder recorded onto DV tape. The new cameras round out Sony’s initial line by recording onto hard-disk drive (HDR-SR1) and 8-centimeter DVD (HDR-UX1).

Sony Headquarters
Sony Headquarters

Both hard-disk drive and DVD camcorders are fast catching on among consumers because of their random access capability. Combined sales of standard-definition camcorders based on the two recording media make up more than half of Japan’s camcorder market.

Users will derive maximum recording time from the HDR-UX1 by using a dual-layer DVD+R disc. In the camera’s highest-resolution recording mode, about 27 minutes of video can be stored on one disc. In long-play mode, this increases to 60 minutes. Using an 8-centimeter DVD-R, recording time is between 15 minutes and 32 minutes. The HDR-SR1 can store up to four hours of video in its highest-quality mode, and up to 11 hours in the lowest-quality mode on its 30GB drive.

The DVD-based HDR-UX1 will go on sale Sept. 10 in time for Japan’s summer school sports season. Camcorder sales typically jump by three to four times during this period, making it a key sales period. The hard-disk drive-based HDR-SR1 will be available one month later on Oct. 10. They will cost 170,000 yen (US$1,452) and 180,000 yen, respectively. In the United States, they will be available at about the same time for US$1,400 and $1,500, respectively.

Consumers will initially be restricted to playback of the AVCHD discs on personal computers. While conventional DVD players can read the 8-centimeter DVDs, the AVCHD specification is not supported by any players at present. Some new players are expected to include AVCHD playback support while software will be available for computers.

Sony is hoping the cameras will help it push its sales ratio of standard to high-definition camcorders to around 1-to-1 by the end of this year. In 2005, about 30 percent of the camcorders it sold recorded in high-definition, and the company is keen to push this higher as part of its "HD World." Self-produced high-definition content is one of the last segments of the HD World vision to be realized now that TV broadcasting has made the switch to high-definition, and prerecorded video is available on Blu-ray Disc.

Later this year, Sony plans to add gaming to this vision with the launch of the PlayStation 3. The games console will also support playback of AVCHD discs, said Sony.

Both cameras have 10X optical zoom, a 3.5-inch widescreen liquid crystal display monitor, can record high-definition video at 1080i and sport a high-definition multimedia interface. They weigh 660 grams for the DVD model and 640 grams for the hard-disk drive model, and can comfortably be held with one hand.

-Martyn Williams, IDG News Service (Tokyo Bureau)

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