Sony has made an effort to make its Webbie HD line simple to use. And it mostly has, with relatively well-labeled, well-placed buttons that have some differentiation in size. However, when it comes to these types of camcorders, there are degrees of simplicity and this is where Sony falls on the more complicated side of simple. Part of the reason is that it includes a few extra features that some competitors omit. For instance, you can display a histogram. You also get a self-timer and four scene modes (Sports, Landscape, Low Light, 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 then there's a button on the front that appears to be a "return" button--but 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 setup is just a little quirky and could have been a little better thought out.
If the video quality was outstanding, we'd be willing to overlook those small interface gripes--but it's just OK. We viewed the video and photos on both a computer and an HDTV via the bundled component cable. The good thing about having the higher resolution is that you can blow up images and video and they'll maintain some reasonable degree of sharpness (again, though, we use the word generously here). As with all minicamcorders, 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. Overall, we found the image a little soft compared with the video produced from competing models. It also doesn't adjust exposure or compensate for backlighting quickly enough, and the indoor white balance under various lights is visibly off. We recommend you don't drop it below the highest quality video setting. On a more positive note, the sound is good, provided there's no wind, and the unit's small speaker plays with ample volume.
Still images turned out OK. They're a small step up from what you'd get from a cell phone camera, but there's a pronounced shutter lag. As you might expect, images were a little soft and noisy in low-light conditions.
Unlike the MinoHD, the camcorder's software--the same one-size-fits-none product that ships with all of Sony's camcorders--isn't bundled into the camera; it comes on a separate CD. It's overly complex for this product and does annoying things such as persistently attempting to analyze and assimilate all the media files on your hard disk for its face and smile detection filtering and Movie Tracer, which lets you "play back videos tracing the movement of your camera while you were recording the video." Simple tasks like trimming video don't support undo (though it doesn't overwrite the video). It does support basic media organization, with filtering and tagging, however, and the video uploading is pretty simple--once you figure out where to find it in the menus ("YouTube" isn't even a search term in the online manual).
Webbie HD camcorders are compatible with Macs and PCs, though the Picture Motion Browser software only works with Windows PCs. If you have a Mac (or Windows PC for that matter), you can simply drag the video and still image files off the memory card to copy them to a folder on the desktop. Then you can upload them to sites such as YouTube and Photobucket if you want.
In the final analysis, Sony's Webbie HD MHS-PM1 has some nice things going for it: an attractive design, expandable memory, a swiveling lens, and a rechargeable lithium ion battery. But despite offering 1080p 30fps video capture, the quality falls a little short to that of competing models and you may find the annoying software and Sony Memory Stick Duo definite drawbacks. It's not a bad little camcorder; it's just not a great one.