Once the DVD is burnt, you can make copies of it using your computer or using a stand-alone DVD copier. Alternatively, you can plug the Hitachi into a home video recorder and dub down to VHS as you would with a Hi8 camera. There's even some decent editing software built into the camcorder itself.
This Hitachi is perfect if you want to record home movies -- childrens' birthdays or family holidays. For casual use, there is no better way to shoot video than a DVD camcorder. But if you're into computer editing, or thinking of getting into it in the future, we can't recommend the £450 Hitachi. You'll be driven mad by the lack of Firewire and true high-resolution video.
Imagine a gun-sight stuck through a doughnut and you have the basic shape of the Hitachi. Ergonomics here were largely determined by the fact that the camcorder accommodates a DVD burner. Hitachi has done an excellent job of integrating the burner into the DZ-MV580E. The circular shape of the drive mechanism neatly matches the curvature of your hand when the camcorder is gripped for shooting.
The weight of the Hitachi is not far from a similarly sized MiniDV camera. Weighing in at 500g is no mean feat, considering that DVD burners are typically heavier than tape mechanisms.
The shooting position on the Hitachi is comfortable, the hand-strap is strong and the record button is where you'd expect it -- under your thumb. The zoom control is slightly counter-intuitive, rocking from left to right rather than forwards and backwards, but we quickly got used to this.
Serious buttons are concealed beneath the fold-out LCD screen. This screen seemed very sturdy compared to those on many camcorders we've tested. The LCD pivots to allow you to check yourself out while you're filming, and will also flip 180 degrees and fold back against the camcorder body.
The buttons on the camcorder are clearly labelled and most have a very intuitive function. The eye-piece has a focus adjustment for those with impaired vision and a rubber surround that keeps out some ambient light. However, you do need to press your eye up against the camcorder to get a perfectly dark viewfinder in which to frame our shots.
Loading DVDs is a slightly tacky procedure. We'd have preferred a slot-loading DVD drive, because the caddy system the Hitachi uses is unnecessarily complicated. To load a half-size DVD you have to place it in a small and extremely flimsy plastic caddy and then insert it into a clamshell loading mechanism. There's no real benefit to be had from the caddy -- there's such a huge opening in the side of it that it doesn't protect your DVDs from scratches or dirty fingers.
The Hitachi uses a 570,000 pixel, 0.25-inch CCD to capture your video. We were impressed by its ability to eke out detail even in low light. Because video is compressed by the DV-MX580E before it's written to DVD, you're not going to achieve the crisp edges and minimal artefacts of MiniDV.
We found that the Hitachi couldn't achieve quite the same quality of image a MiniDV camcorder can. This is because DVD camcorders compress video using MPEG-2, which is a fairly lossy format. The Hitachi compresses 'standard quality' video at a fixed rate of 5.24 Mbps. In contrast, MiniDV camcorders compress video at a fixed rate of 25 Mbps -- storing over four times more picture data than a DVD camcorder. This difference is more drastic on paper than in reality because MPEG-2 is a very good-looking compression method, but it is noticeable.
An on-screen display shows the information you'd expect from all camcorders: time, date and battery level. White balance is simple to adjust and there's a range of other settings you can tweak using the Hitachi's on-screen menus. Notably, you can change the level of compression applied to your footage before it's recorded to DVD. Higher compression means a lower quality picture, but a longer record-time per DVD.