The LCD is reasonably sharp, but at 211,200 pixels, it doesn't even display standard-definition content at full resolution, much less HD. It's very bright, though, with accurate colour representation, and is visible even in direct sunlight.
The built-in stereo microphone offers clean sound. It's sensitive enough to pick up subtle sounds, yet it didn't pick up motor noise from the camera.
Battery life is average, offering between an hour and 90 minutes of recording time, depending on how often you start, stop and review footage. Sony's InfoLithium technology is very accurate at reporting remaining battery life.
The Sony Handycam HDR-HC3's high-definition video quality is excellent. The detail in our shots was a dramatic improvement from the best DV cameras we've tested. Though the HDV format uses MPEG-2 compression to fit footage on MiniDV tapes, we didn't notice any of the compression artefacts, sparkles and other issues that we've seen on DVD and hard disk camcorders that use the same compression. Shown as footage on a 21-inch computer screen, it looked flawless. When watching video on a 56-inch DLP HDTV, the only issue we could detect was an occasional blurring at the edge of high-contrast areas when panning. With a direct connection to a Sony KDS-R60XBR1, the HDMI output yielded a significantly better picture than the i.LINK and component options.
Colour balance was solid overall. Video appeared a bit oversaturated but not distractingly so. Indoor footage in typical room light shows a very subtle grain. Only in very dim conditions does graininess start to become an issue, but even then, it's far less noticeable than on standard-definition cameras.
Poor dynamic range is probably the HDR-HC3's biggest quality flaw. For example, in bright sunlight, it blew out large areas of the face of a very light-skinned child. Manually exposing for the face resulted in a lack of detail in shadows.
In DV mode, the HDR-HC3's video quality remains good, with reasonably good detail, accurate colour and sharp images in outdoor shots. Indoor shots in dimmer light were grainier than the HD footage shot in the same conditions. After shooting in HD, we downconverted the footage to DV format before transferring it to the computer via i.LINK, and the results were poor. Though the image had good detail, we saw very noticeable stair-step jaggies on the edges of many objects. Our best standard-def footage quality came from using Vegas+DVD to transfer the movie in HD format, then render the final video at DVD resolution, but that's a slow process even on a fast dual-core computer.
Photo quality was surprisingly good, particularly considering that the HDR-HC3 must interpolate a 4-megapixel image from a 2-megapixel CMOS sensor. Images lack some detail compared to those from dedicated still cameras, but overall, they're sharp enough for acceptable 100x150mm (4x6-inch) prints, and they boast decent colour. Indoor shots with flash looked good as well, but frames we grabbed inside while shooting video were grainy and muddy, since the flash can't fire while the camcorder is recording.
Edited by Lori Grunin
Additional editing by Kate Macefield