Sony is at the forefront of the high-definition revolution, with CEO Howard Stringer promising that 75 per cent of the company's hardware will be HD-compatible by the end of the year. Leading the way is the Handycam HDR-SR8, a camcorder that boasts AVC-HD recording to a gargantuan 100GB hard drive. It's available now for just under £1,000. If that's too much money, you can opt for the 60GB HDR-SR7 for around £850.
Sony knows how to put a camcorder together. This smart black camcorder nestles into the hand like it was born there, its elegant 69mm (2.7-inch) LCD sparkling with life and key controls falling neatly to hand. Not that there are too many of these, as the touchscreen interface handles most functions -- from spot focusing to scene selection -- with aplomb. There's a quick manual wheel near the lens that can be customised to alter focus, white balance or exposure, although not full iris and shutter speed control.
You also get a superb widescreen colour viewfinder, and additional shooting controls on the LCD for flip-over self-portraits and shooting at awkward angles.
The 10x Carl Zeiss zoom lens lacks the sheer magnification of some rivals, but makes up for it with silky smooth operation, split-second focusing and crisp detail. It's also efficiently stabilised using Sony's Super SteadyShot system. Another Sony stalwart is the Super NightShot mode, allowing eerie infrared filming in total darkness.
Choose the highest XP shooting quality (a healthy 15Mbps in the 1080i format) and you'll fit an epic 13.5 hours footage on the 100GB hard drive inside. Clips can be viewed by initial frame or at various intervals, but there's no editing on board.
Full quality AVC-HD movies from its 3-megapixel CMOS sensor are simply breathtaking. Detail is confident, accurate and natural, auto exposure and white balance are utterly reliable and even the 5.1 soundtrack sounds semi-professional. Choose ‘x.v.Colour' for an expanded colour gamut that captures primary tones so luscious you'll want to lick your TV screen.
The SR8 may be staggeringly impressive, but it's not quite perfect. For a start, it's not especially comfortable in low light, where the autofocus hesitates and digital noise adds unwelcome grain to recordings. The photo flash is no substitute for a decent video light, although you can at least add an external lamp via the accessory shoe.
While the SR8 can create decent enough 6-megapixel photos using interpolation, they're soft compared to its razor-sharp HD video. Bizarrely, Sony has split more advanced functions between two completely separate menus -- one in movie mode, the other accessed from the home screen.
Battery life is poor compared to the SR8's potential shooting time -- you'd need 18 batteries (typically lasting just 45 minutes each) to fill up the hard drive. A higher-capacity FH100 battery (giving 3 hours recording) costs around £109.
Finally, for a company keen to drive high definition, it's frustrating not to get even a basic HDMI cable with a £1,000 camcorder, especially since the SR8 uses a less common mini-jack connection that probably won't suit any HDMI cables you already have.
The advent of AVC-HD recording has given high-definition camcorders a shot in the arm. The Sony HDR-SD8 provides a simple, user-friendly introduction to HD movie-making, without sacrificing video or audio quality. Its colours are among the best we've seen from any consumer camcorder and the 100GB drive is fast, silent and capacious enough to suit even the most enthusiastic auteur. An instant HD classic.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide