Panasonic NV-MX500B

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Panasonic NV-MX500B

Panasonic's NV-MX500 three-CCD MiniDV camcorder is in direct competition with Sony's acclaimed TRV950. We check out how it performs

Increased pixel power is the big feature of Panasonic's NV-MX500 - a replacement for the NV-MX350 model. Although the older version had larger CCDs - 1/4in, rather than 1/6in - the new model is said to have more effective pixels in each smaller block - 640,000 for video and 700,000 for stills - rather than 570,000 for each.

As a result, the MX500 is said to record three-megapixel JPEG images at a maximum resolution of 2048 x 1494 - compared to 1.8 megapixel stills at 1568 x 1152 with the MX350. The SD (Secure Digital) solid-state memory card supplied with the MX500 is 16MByte.

Any consideration of the MX500 also has to take into account Sony's three-CCD (1/4.7in) DCR-TRV950 camcorder. Each of the three models has a built-in flash for taking stills in low-light conditions, but the Sony, like the MX350, has a 12x optical zoom lens, rather than the slightly shorter 10x lens fitted to the MX500. The TRV950 also boasts better low-light sensitivity - 7 lux, against the MX500's 10 lux. On the plus side, though, the MX500 comes ready for use as a webcam, with MPEG-4 recording capabilities.

The MX500 can be used as a webcam for video conferencing using Microsoft NetMeeting 3.01 - an internet and intranet communications tool provided with Windows XP and 2000.

The camcorder - connected via USB - must be set to Camera (without a tape in it) and the Web Camera button behind the LCD monitor pressed. To access NetMeeting under Win XP, we clicked on Start>Run and entered Conf.exe, then ran through the NetMeeting and Audio Tuning wizards to set-up and load the program - which then appears as an icon on the desktop.

We entered Tools>Options>Video in the program and selected the MX500 under Video camera properties. After closing this window, clicking the play/pause button brings up the camcorder's output on the interface monitor.

To make a call, either choose the name of the person from the directory in the program's drop-down menu, or enter an IP or email address. When the call is accepted, the other person's camcorder output is seen in the interface monitor. A picture-in-picture effect is possible, so that the MX500's output can be monitored. This is done by pressing the button next to the play/pause key. It's not possible to record to tape or card while using the MX500 as a webcam.

The NV-MX500 is a welcome improvement over the MX350 and, at £300 less than the Sony TRV950, good value.

Video quality is good, on the whole, with sharp pictures and plenty of detail. The stills side of things works well, too. Still images are sharp and well detailed. The flash gun is also welcome, as is its output control.
MPEG-4 recording capabilities are useful for sharing clips via the Internet or email, and using the MX500 as a webcam will appeal to some users - though, in our view, it's better to use a dedicated webcam rather than tie-up a camcorder that's hugely over-spec'd for the job.

There are downsides, though. Notably, these include the inconsistent automatic white balance; a tendency to over-expose in auto; noise picked up from the zoom slider; and the iffy performance of the built-in mic in zoom mode.

But, for those with a budget of around £1,000, and who fancy a decent three-CCD camcorder with good stills capabilities, a Panasonic NV-MX500 would be money well spent.

Lisa Keddie

For the full review, see the April 2003 issue of Computer Video.

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