For the most part, they will be pretty similar... image-wise.
The Canon HV20 has a built-in video lamp - that is effective up to 4.9 feet away. In my book, I would rather rely on an external light. No advantage to either camera.
The Sony HDR-HC7 has a proper mic-in jack; the HC5 does not (only the Sony Proprietary active interface). Canon HV20 has a mic-in jack. Drop the HC5 from the list.
The HC7 and HV20 both have 10x zoom. Whichever camera you get, turn digital zoom off. This is a tie.
The HC7 has a LANC terminal. I use mine all the time. It is a wired remote to control zoom (and can also take stills while capturing video and turn the camera on/off standby mode - but don't get the one built-in to the tripod). Advantage to Sony.
The HC7 has a "smooth slow record" feature. HV20 does not. Advantage Sony.
On to your computer...
You *should* be OK. Importing hidef video will not be real-time... 1 hour of video could take about 2 hours to import. 1 hour of hidef video will take a little over 30 gig of hard drive space - I would strongly suggest and external FireWire drive just for the video projects... 250 gig minimum. The laptop hard drives don't spin as fast as a decent 3.5 in full sized hard drive that should be in the external case. High definition video takes up about 3x more space than standard definition video - so you want the fastest drives and CPUs you can afford.
Your concern about downsampling to standard definition is valid - but unfounded. The video editing and DVD burning apps you have will take care of that for you on their own. Outputting the final project (no DVD menuing or anything like that) back out to the camera onto a miniDV tape over the FireWire cable will give you the basis for the hidef version when you are ready to get that DVD burner - just re-import it when that time comes, then burn out to the HD or BluRay DVD burner connected to your computer. In the meantime, you can connect the camcorder via HDMI or component cables to a HDTV for hidef playback of that tape-based final export.
That you are remembering to include "lenses/filters/mic/bag/battery" is good. Don't forget a tripod. I understand the potential venue limitations - There is NO handheld camcorder that will steady the shots you think you want - with any kind of stabilization. If the tripod is not do-able, how about a shoulder mount like a Spiderbrace? http://spiderbrace.com/
There are different kinds of mics... check the posting in the Camera forum sticky. A shotgun may be appropriate... a stereo shotgun will be expensive. Take a look at the NRG SA-800 or SA-568 at http://www.nrgresearch.com/ Audio-Technica makes great mics, too... If you mount a mic to the camera, consider using a camera bracket like this one: http://www.adorama.com/SVAS.html?searchinfo=angled%20camera%20bracket&item_no=313 along with a shock mount like the Sabra SMM-1 http://www.transaudiogroup.com/sabra_som.shtml
Given your known shooting situation, consider a video light... I have no specific recommendations - but an off-board light is likely best as it will not impact the camera's battery time.
I have not used ANY of the listed models - I currently use a Sony HDR-HC1 - the camera BEFORE the HC3, 5 and 7... and I like it a lot - it is the consumer-version sibling of the HVR-A1.
Learn to pan s l o w l y.
Resist the urge to use the zoom... but if you must, do it s l o w l y.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. I am admittedly a noob when it comes to camcorders. I've done a bit of reading and researching, as well as some hands on evaluation of the models I'm comparing/considering. I'll list goals, then my current pc setup/etc, then the camera models. Please give me some advice or insight, not just a "read the site comparison", as I've already done that.
Thanks in advance.
I will be shooting a bit of sporting events, boxing, etc. amongst other things like family/short movies, etc. I want to be able to shoot in high def, upload to my PC, and be able to down convert to SD for DVD's that can play on a standard player. (From what I've gathered, you need a blue ray player to play the HD-burned dvd format and I'll want the discs to be able to be accessible to everyone I distribute to easily.) Keep in mind that some of the shooting will be faster action so I'll need to know which camera will perform better in that respect.
Right now I'm using an Acer Aspire notebook with
-AMD Turion 64 x2 TL50 (1.6 GHz, 512KB L2)
-ATI Radeon Xpres 1100 graphics card
-120GB 4200rpm PATA HDD
-DVD-Super Multi Double Layer drive
-Windows XP media center ed.
- Canon HV20
- Sony HDR-HC7
- Sony HDR-HC5
Features I prefer it to have:
-External Mic input
-Quality "working" OIS
-Good lower light peformance (will be shooting in darker gymnasiums)
-Reliability and good construction
OIS is important to me as Im not going to have front row seats for all of the events, and I may not be able to bring a tripod or monopod into some venues.
Also, Im concerned as I stated above with video quality while filming fast action sequences.
My price range is around $1000 give or take a couple hundred, but I'd prefer to keep it around a grand to allow for accessories (lenses/filters/mic/bag/battery, etc.)
Please provide any info you think would be helpful in my quest for my first HD camcorder, and any experiences good or bad you've had with the listed models.
Thank you very much for those of you that take the time to respond. I certainly appreciate it.