Join me, if you will, along the slow march toward the obsolescence of tape in video. We've definitely got a long road ahead of us, but it's fun to notice how much camcorders have changed already.
Though it's been on the market in various camcorders for a while now, the AVCHD format has been slow on the uptake in software for editing and playback. Ultimately, the easiest way to watch your HD video is still a direct connection to your HDTV, but there is a modest, and slowly growing, list of software out there if you like to watch on your computer or edit your footage.
For an AVCHD camcorder, this Sony Handycam HDR-CX6EK does produce very nice video, and will likely blow your socks off if you're used to a standard-definition camcorder. Be ready to pay for it, though, as the HDR-CX6EK retails for around £800.
Sony's designers definitely made the most of the fact that the HDR-CX6EK records its video to MemoryStick Pro Duo cards. The camcorder is little more than a lens and LCD screen in terms of size, though that's both a positive and negative thing.
Sure, you can fit the CX6EK into almost any bag, and even a large jacket pocket, but the ergonomics of the grip are a little off. It's certainly more comfortable to hold than Panasonic's SD-based HDC-SD1, but since there's no eye-level viewfinder, we held it higher than we would some camcorders, and at a slightly odd angle.
Also, since your hand basically covers the right side and top of the CX6EK, Sony was forced to put a handful of buttons on the left side, behind the LCD screen. That's never a very good move, since you can't readily see that spot when you're shooting, and if you do need to use one of those buttons while capturing video, you'll likely shake the camera horizontally while pressing it.
Of the buttons placed there, the backlight compensation button is probably the most worrisome, since it's highly likely you'll use it on the fly, while most of the others would be used before or after shooting.
As usual, the HDR-CX6EK's main interface is its LCD touchscreen. Even though the LCD is 69mm (2.7 inches) in size, it still felt a bit small as a touchscreen interface.
The main virtual buttons are big enough, but ancillary buttons, such as the OK button in the upper-left, or the X (cancel) button in the upper-right of some screens are rather tiny.
On more than one occasion, we accidentally hit one of the bigger buttons when trying to hit the tiny ones. Combine that with the fact that the touchscreen requires such an extensive tree of submenus, and the thrill of a touchscreen interface starts to wane pretty quickly. Still, some people say they like this kind of interface, so make sure you try it out in a store first to see if you like it before you buy.
Following a recent trend in camcorders, the CX6EK doesn't include a minijack microphone input. If you want to add an accessory mic, you have to use one of Sony's in the CX6EK's Active Interface Shoe -- aka proprietary hot shoe -- which provides an interface and power for accessories.
You have two options to send video to your TV directly from the camcorder. You can either use a mini-to-full-size HDMI cable, or use the composite AV breakout cable included with the CX6EK. Given that they are rather rare right now, it would've been nice for Sony to include the special HDMI cable, as Canon does with the HG10.