Normally, my product reviews begin with a discussion of, well, the product. In this case, however, the fact that the Sony Handycam HDR-UX1 is quite a nice camcorder seems completely beside the point.
What is the point? Let's start with the two warnings on Sony's support site.
1. "DVD discs containing AVCHD-formatted video are not compatible and should not be used with standard- or high-definition DVD players/recorders. The disc may fail to eject or all the contents of the disc may be erased without warning."
2. "DVD discs containing AVCHD-formatted video should not be used in computers with packet-writing software installed. The disc may fail to eject or all the contents of the disc may be erased without warning."
So, basically, the only place that's safe to play the discs is in one of the two Blu-ray players available on the market or in an as-yet vaporific PlayStation 3. The Samsung BD-P1000 in our home-theater testing lab couldn't find a disc menu on my test disc. And sure enough, it failed to eject from another HD player.
In order for a desktop system to recognize the discs, you must install Sony's Picture and Motion Browser software, with its two appendages: a Media Check utility that intercepts calls to any camcorder or media that might have M2TS files on it, and a Sonic UDF driver that allows your system to actually read the AVCHD disc file structure. Plus, there's an AVCHD player that you'll need to view your videos. I would really have preferred a simple device driver update and a systemwide codec to this application-heavy approach. The software lets you trim clips, but that's about it. If you want to create another AVCHD disc to give to Grandma, the software accommodates you, but she may not be planning to snap up a PS3 in November like all the other grandmas. You can also create a standard DVD or simply convert the clips to standard DV resolution (720x480) MPEG-2 via the software's beyond-basic converter.
You might brush off these problems--after all, life on the bleeding edge is a choice--but there's a big difference between a DVD player that can't play your favorite movie and a camcorder that loses all your vacation footage. Plus, as I've said many times before, the whole raison d'Ãªtre of a DVD camcorder is convenience. Thus far, I've found the AVCHD format anything but convenient.
On to the camcorder. In many ways, the HDR-UX1 is built like a little tank--and weighs as much. Its 1-pound, 10-ounce heft balances nicely in the hand, though, and the Mini DVD drive projects above the top of the unit for a solid grip.