Hitachi DZ-MV380 test and review

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Hitachi DZ-MV380

Hitachi's DZ-MV380 addresses many criticisms of previous-generation DVD-based camcorders. It's a far smaller model, with better controls, and comes with software in-pack. But does it offer a faster or better route to making watchable DVDs than a MiniDV camcorder?

Hitachi's MV270 DVD camcorder, was a far more attractive proposition than its predecessor, the MV100, with better picture quality, more features and the ability to record to DVD-R, not just DVD-RAM. With the introduction of Hitachi's latest DVD camcorder range, led by the MV380 reviewed here, things have moved on a further step. The 380 has much the same specs and functionality as the 270 but is far smaller - about the size of many current-generation MiniDV camcorders. Some other shortcomings of the 270 have also been sorted out with the 380, which, despite costing considerably less, comes with DVD authoring software - a £100 optional extra with the 270.
As with all consumer DVD models, the 380 records to 8cm discs of 1.4MByte unformatted capacity per side, rather than to full-size 12cm discs. It uses double-sided DVD-RAM discs or single-sided DVD-Rs. Each must be mounted in a reversible caddy, but this is smaller than the previous design - helping Hitachi shrink the disc-drive mechanism and the camcorder.
The caddy is a clever, cheap-to-make clamshell design. It flips open about 100 degrees to expose the naked disc and stays open when put down. Disc-swapping is far simpler than with the previous design used for DVD-RAM, and reduces the likelihood of putting finger marks on the disc surface. But, even in their simpler caddies, 8cm discs remain much more expensive than full-size discs and are stocked in only a few outlets. Demand is limited, since only a few DVD camcorders are available. Panasonic has the VDR-M30, a clone of the Hitachi 350 - the 380's cheaper sister - and Sony sells the DCR-DVD100 and DCR-DVD200, which write to naked 8cm DVD-RW and DVD-R discs.
The 380 is not only a smaller and more convenient camcorder than the 270, but also a better one. We welcome the inclusion by Hitachi of DVD editing and authoring software at no extra cost, but have major reservations about the programs provided.
If they're not to be thought of as just a gimmick, disc-based camcorders need to provide some real benefits. The most attractive one, in our view, is to offer users a way of conveniently producing good-looking DVDs that play in set-top machines - and one that allows discs to be created in substantially less time than it would take using a tape-based camcorder as the video source.
In all three regards, Panasonic's DVD-MovieAlbumSE and Sonic Solutions' MyDVD fall flat. They're not able to produce DVD Videos with menus that look particularly good, they're not convenient and they're not fast.
We're also concerned at the continuing high price of 8cm DVDs, even while believing that most people who use the Hitachi are likely to end up recording to just a few rewritable DVD-RAMs and putting their final projects onto cheaper, larger-capacity 12cm write-once discs. And why does the camcorder come with a single DVD-R, rather than one or more DVD-RAM discs?
As we concluded with the MV270, we think that ambitious camcorder users who intend to heavily edit their footage would do better to buy a MiniDV model instead, since Hitachi-produced MPEG video can't be edited to frame-accuracy. Hitachi, though, is targeting users who only want to do basic editing, something for which the 380 is well suited - or would be if supplied with half decent software.

Bob Crabtree

Read the full review in March 2004's Computer Video magazine.


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Hitachi DZ-MV380
Pinnacle Instant VideoAlbum
Pinnacle InstantCD/DVD V8

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