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Sony unveils next HD camcorder for consumers

New HDR-HC3 is lighter, smaller and cheaper than the company's first camcorder offering.

The high-definition camcorder, which was pretty space-age in 2005, will become more common over the next two years.

Sony showed off in Tokyo this week an HD camcorder that's lighter and smaller than the company's first consumer HD camcorder and, perhaps more importantly, costs less. The HDR-HC3 will sell for 160,000 yen, or $1,400, less than the $1,800 price tag on Sony's HD-HC1, its current HD camcorder for consumers.

Credit: Sony
A Sony employee holds up
the HDR-HC3 camcorder.

Japanese consumers will be able to buy the HDR-HC3 starting March 3. Although Sony did not specify a U.S. release date, the company typically follows through with U.S. versions anywhere from six to 12 months later.

So far, only a token number of HD camcorders have hit the market, and most of them cost $2,000 or more. But that will change over the course of 2006 and 2007. Prices are coming down, and more people have digital TVs that can play HD content.

Sanyo grabbed attention at the January Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas with its Xacti HD1 camcorder. That product doesn't have nearly as many features as the other HD camcorders, but it costs around $800.

Panasonic, which already has a high-end HD camcorder, plans on coming out with an HD camcorder that will be about the same size or smaller than today's mini-DV cameras in 2007. These systems will likely sell for less than $1,000.

Silicon Valley start-up Ambarella, meanwhile, has come out with a chipset that will let manufacturers produce HD cameras for around $800. Cameras with Ambarella's chips could come out toward the middle of this year, according to Ambarella executives.

The Sony HDR-HC3 weighs 500 grams (a little over a pound), making it 26 percent smaller and 30 percent lighter than the HDR-HC1. Like the current model, the new HDR-HC3 supports HDV1080i video.

The new camera will also support HMDI output, which means it can be connected directly to an HDTV, something the current camera doesn't do.

Along with shooting videos, the HDR-HC3 will take 4-megapixel still photos, similar to other hybrid cameras.

Although many camera manufacturers are moving toward hard drives and flash memory, Sony's new camera relies on mini-DV tape.

Hayashi Sakawa of CNET Japan reported from Tokyo. CNET's Michael Kanellos reported from San Francisco.