With its sub-$1,000 street price, HD video support, hard-disk-based recording, and Sony provenance, the Handycam HDR-SR5 certainly seems like a bargain. Mostly, however, the SR5 simply confirms my belief that decent HD video will still run you more than $1,000. (But spending another $300 or so to upgrade from the 40GB SR5 to the 100GB SR5C, doesn't count.)
If you discount the small touch-screen LCD and lack of an eye-level viewfinder, the SR5 has a perfectly serviceable design. With its shiny silver-and-matte-black duotone body, it lacks the sophistication of the 7-series models, but that's pretty typical for the camcorder B-list. At about 1 pound, 3 ounces, it weighs down a jacket pocket but is pretty comfortable to hold during extended shooting. As you'd expect for the money, it feels solidly built, with nice touches such as a sliding jack cover, an electronic lens cover, and a sturdy tethered hotshoe protector.
The rest of the controls on the body sit in the places you'd expect to find them: zoom switch, photo shutter, and power/mode switch fall under your index finger, while the stop/start record button lies under your thumb. A tiny button for turning on the flash (for still photography) sits between the power and record controls. On the left side of the gripping ridge formed by the hard disk enclosure is the NightShot switch. Underneath the LCD you'll find the buttons for for completely automatic operation (Easy), cycling through the display options, and launching thumbnail views, plus the slot for the Memory Stick Pro Duo that's required for shooting still photos.
Also typical--at least for Sony--you operate almost all of the camcorder's functions via the touch-screen menu system. As I've said before, and will repeat ad nauseam, the 2.7-inch LCD is too small for comfortable touch-screen operation. You have to press the tiny navigation icons with the very tips of your fingers, something that gets even more difficult in colder climes. Thankfully, there are larger, easier to press icons for adjusting exposure compensation, white balance, focus, and choosing scene modes. (For more comments on the design, see the slide show.)
Along with its duo of siblings--the tape-based HDR-HC5 and the DVD-based HDR-UX5--the SR5 uses Sony's 1/3-inch, 2.1-megapixel ClearVid CMOS sensor, recording video at 1.4-megapixel (HD) or 1.1-megapixel (SD) resolution before upsampling and encoding to 1080i HD (1,440x1,080) or SD (720x480), respectively. The 40GB model will hold almost 5.5 hours of best-quality video, while the 100GB model will hold 13 hours. It also shoots photos at native 1.4-megapixel (16:9) or 2.0-megapixel (4:3) resolutions, despite the grandiose 4-megapixel claim on the body, which refers to a maximum interpolated resolution. It sports a 10x zoom Zeiss T*-coated lens and 5.1 Dolby surround-sound recording.