Sony's first entry into the mini-camcorder arena was 2007's NSC-GC1. That model didn't fare too well in our review, but Sony seems to have learned its lesson, as evidenced by its Mobile HD Snap Camera MHS-PM1 budget camcorder. Available for about £190, the MHS-PM1 follows in the footsteps of models like the Flip Video MinoHD, with a vertical, almost mobile-phone-like, design.
It may not be quite as small as its Flip Video and Creative competitors, but it's compact, measuring 56mm by 102mm by 23mm, and lightweight, at 119g with its battery. It's attractively styled and easily fits into a pocket. Currently, it comes in three colours: purple, orange and silver.
Most notably, the MHS-PM1 records H.264 compressed high-definition video using MPEG-4 encoding in a 1080p resolution at 30 frames per second, as well as the more typical 720p and space-saving VGA resolutions. As we say about all these mini camcorders: while they may be billed as HD models, they really can't be compared with true HD camcorders that cost substantially more. Numerous factors go into creating an image. Most important of these is a good lens -- not just a 5-megapixel CMOS sensor capable of capturing an image at a certain resolution.
The MHS-PM1's other key feature is its swivelling, fixed focal-length lens. It provides shooting flexibility, letting you, for example, record yourself at the same time as you're admiring yourself in the sharp 46mm (1.8-inch) LCD. Another benefit is that, when swivelled shut, the lens is protected and, when you swivel the lens open, the camcorder turns on.
The MHS-PM1 comes with 12MB of internal memory -- effectively nothing -- so you'll have to pay for a Memory Stick Pro Duo card, too. For HD video, you'll want at least a 2GB card, and preferably a 4GB card, which can hold slightly more than 2 hours of video in 720p mode or about 1 hour and 15 minutes in 1080p mode. The length of a clip is limited to 25 minutes, regardless. The camcorder lets you know exactly how much recording time you have left in each mode, which is a pleasing touch.
A removable lithium-ion rechargeable battery powers this model. You can't, however, charge the battery in the camcorder -- it requires the bundled battery charger. Similarly, there's no integrated flip-out USB connector, which means you have to use a cable. Also, the MHS-PM1 lacks the HDMI connector found on some competing models.
Sony has endeavoured to make the MHS-PM1 simple to use, and, thanks to relatively well-labelled and well-placed buttons, it's mostly succeeded. But, when it comes to these types of camcorders, there are degrees of simplicity, and the MHS-PM1 leans towards the more complicated end of the spectrum. Part of the reason is that it includes a few extra features that some competitors omit. For instance, you get a self-timer and four scene modes (sports, landscape, low light and backlight), as well as an auto mode.
The real issue with the interface is that there are two buttons on the side that activate menu options, and a button on the front that appears to be a 'return' button. You have to actually read the documentation to discover that it's for Sony's proprietary Sharemark image tagging, used only by the bundled Picture Motion Browser software. You'll figure things out after some trial and error, but the whole set-up is rather quirky and could have been better thought-out.
If the video quality were outstanding, we'd be willing to overlook those small interface gripes, but it's just okay. We viewed the video and photos on both a computer and an HD television, via the bundled component cable. You can blow up images and video and they'll maintain a reasonable degree of sharpness (although we use the word generously here). As with all mini camcorders, you have to hold the unit very steady to get rock-solid video, or attach it to a tripod via the threaded mount on the bottom.