The JVC Everio GZ-MG77 offers the convenience of shooting as much as 37 hours of footage without having to swap a tape or DVD. By storing videos on its 30GB hard disk, JVC has created a camcorder that's extremely lightweight and compact, but unfortunately, the video quality simply doesn't stack up against that of most MiniDV or DVD camcorders. The GZ-MG77 is the high-end model of JVC's Everio line of hard-drive camcorders, with the largest CCD (2.2 megapixels) and hard drive (30GB) of its crew. Perplexingly, though, the GZ-MG77 lacks several features that the lower-end Everio camcorders have, such as a video light and a 32X optical zoom. At only 0.9 pound, the compact JVC Everio GZ-MG77 is much more compact than its MiniDV and DVD counterparts. Its comfortable shape and light weight make extended one-handed use a pleasure, and it's small enough to stow in nearly any bag. Its sleek silver-and-black case feels solid, and the hard drive is protected by a shutdown feature that stops the drive if it senses you've dropped the camera.
The GZ-MG77 sports relatively few buttons. The camcorder's exterior has just three switches: a power/mode control, the record button, and the zoom rocker. Beneath the LCD are four more buttons and the still/video switch. Most adjustments are made using the small joystick mounted on the left edge of the flip-out LCD panel. Though the joystick is easy to use, it's tiny and nearly impossible to operate while holding the camcorder steady.
The control layout is more logical than on previous Everio camcorders. Functions are easier to find than in the previous generation, though the multiple menu categories require a lot of back-and-forth navigation. Of course, after initial setup, you can just press the Auto button and let the camcorder make all the choices for you.
Because there's no tape or CD to remove and the battery snaps onto the back, the GZ-MG77 lends itself well to tripod shooting. You'll need to remove it only to access the Secure Digital card slot on the bottom of the camcorder, which it uses for still-image capture. The JVC Everio GZ-MG77 records its video on an internal 30GB hard disk. This allows you to save as much as 7 hours of video at the highest quality or a staggering 37 hours of footage at the lowest-quality setting. Video is transferred to a PC or a Mac for editing and burning via a USB 2.0 cable, using either bundled software or simple drag-and-drop copying. The camera records in standard MPEG-2 format, similar to DVD camcorders. It includes PowerDirector Express NE, a simple video-editing program. You can also use other MPEG-2-compatible software, though you'll probably have to rename the file extensions from .mod to .mpg for third-party programs to recognize the videos.
The GZ-MG77, like all other current Everio models, supports JVC's Everio Share Station DVD burner. This external device allows you burn DVDs straight from the camcorder without even touching a desktop computer. Unfortunately, editing with the Everio Share Station is limited to simple playlist editing and file deletion.
The GZ-MG77's lens features a modest 10X optical zoom, surprising given that the lower-end camcorders in the line, such as the JVC GZ-MG37, have a 32X optical-zoom range. The GZ-MG77 uses a tiny 1/3.9-inch, 2-megapixel CCD, offering somewhat better low-light performance and higher-resolution stills than do the low-end models.
For shooting in low light, the GZ-MG77 offers automatic gain control and a shutter-slowing NightAlive mode. The camcorder includes an onboard flash for still-image capture, but it lacks the video light found on lower-end models such as the GZ-MG37.
Along with a fully automatic mode, the GZ-MG77 allows you to manually adjust exposure, shutter speed, focus, and white balance. The manual control is welcome, because the camcorder has just four program autoexposure modes.
You can label individual video files as certain types of events, such as Vacation or Wedding. These tags can be handy for finding related clips while building playlists on the camera.