Hitachi DZ-MV270 test

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Hitachi DZ-MV270

Hitachi's DZ-MV270 offers closer integration with set-top DVD players and far better picture quality than its predecessor. But just how good is this DVD-based camcorder?

Hitachi's first DVD-based camcorder, the MV100, received a lukewarm reception, due to poor picture quality, limited features and the fact that it recorded only to DVD-RAM, which is incompatible with most set-top (and PC-based) DVD players.

The company's latest-generation models, led by the MV270 reviewed here, are much more attractive. They offer better image quality and integrate better with set-top players, because they can use write-once DVD-R discs, as well as rewritable DVD-RAM.

To keep the size down, Hitachi uses 8cm discs, rather than full-size 12cm ones. DVD-RAM is double-sided, offering a maximum capacity of 2.8GBytes. DVD-R discs are single-sided and provide 1.4GBytes of storage space. Both types of disc must be mounted in their caddies for use with Hitachi's camcorders.

The discs we used came in caddies - removing discs from their caddies and replacing them was simple and painless. But 8cm discs aren't cheap compared to full size discs, and can be tricky to find at the moment.
Even the small discs used by the MV270 are substantially larger than MiniDV tapes, and that means there's a limit to how small a DVD camcorder can be.

Certainly, the MV270 is bulky compared to modern consumer DV models, and we donít think Hitachi will be able to make them much smaller in years to come. It's also important to note that thereís currently only a small handful of DVD camcorders out there, and that means little mainstream demand for blank media.

Layout and design

The MV270 is fairly large, and looks boxy and heavy - a far cry from the pocket cams being produced in the consumer DV arena. Some users, though, may like the larger chassis, with bigger, more controllable buttons. A quick once-over is enough to show that this is an entry-level camcorder at heart.

The front has a built-in microphone, along with an IR receiver for the remote control. The lens barrel has a textured surround, making it look like a focus ring, but doesnít move. Manual focus is possible - though menu driven. The left-hand side has a generous 3.5in colour LCD panel, behind which is a small speaker for monitoring playback with sound. There are also controls here for LCD brightness and display properties, as well as buttons for adjusting the speaker volume. Manual focus and exposure buttons are tucked away here, too - making them inaccessible when the panel is closed. Towards the back of the left side are controls and toggles for menu navigation and disc access. These also double for video playback.

The right side has the hand strap and disc mechanism (which loads from the back), plus a zoom control, a start/stop button, a switch to toggle between movie and stills modes, and an S-video port hidden under a small rubber cover. Round the back is the battery compartment, along with the eject switch, viewfinder, and sockets for DC power input, an external microphone, AV in/out, and data transfer via USB. Up top is a powered shoe attachment, while the base carries a standard tripod thread. There's no media card support on this camcorder, but that's one of the beauties of using recordable DVD - stills and video are recorded to the same source rather than divided between two very different media formats. On a negative note, we were annoyed to see that the MV270's battery charges on board the camcorder rather than on an external charger. This prevents users from using one battery while charging another, but is a fairly common feature among camcorders these days.

Conclusion

We were pleased to see how much better the picture quality was from the 270, compared with its predecessor. Hitachi has got a lot right with this DVD camcorder. Unfortunately, the format itself imposes limitations. Trying to keep the machine small enough to be useable ñ even though it's not small by today's standards - requires the use of small discs and, with DVD technology as it is, that means relatively short recording times. However, media management between the PC and camcorder is excellent, as is the ability to use the cam as an external DVD burner.

DVD-RAM does provide a good degree of versatility for the user, but DVD-R is the format most home users will want ñ for its compatibility with set-top players - yet operation of DVD-Rs in the camcorder is sluggish and somewhat restrictive.

We were initially concerned about difficulty in finding any sellers of blank 8cm discs, but even though our worst fears were misplaced, discs are still costly - even from specialist media sellers - and not likely to get much cheaper unless these models take off, or other firms launch 8cm DVD cams.

Ultimately, the MV270 delivers much the same as most budget DV camcorders, so ambitious users who intend to heavily edit footage would be better off buying a DV machine - especially since IPB-frame MPEG video isnít ideal for frame-accurate editing. But Hitachi isn't really targeting serious editors, it's after users who want to top and tail short videos and quickly make watchable DVDs - and that's something that the 270 certainly can do - though we think the optional PC kit should have been included as standard, not sold as an extra costing nearly £100.

Peter Wells

Read the full review in February 2003's Computer Video magazine.

 


 

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