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Hitachi DZ-HS300A review: Hitachi DZ-HS300A

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The Good One-touch dubbing from hard drive to DVD; supports a wide variety of DVD formats.

The Bad Poor video and photo quality; easy to accidentally turn power off and switch modes.

The Bottom Line Hitachi had a good idea--put both a hard disk drive and a DVD in a camcorder--but implements it poorly in the DZ-HS300A.

5.6 Overall
  • Design 5
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 4

I'll start with the good news. Hitachi's goal of an inexpensive camcorder, combining the long recording times and stability of a hard disk drive with the easy playback and distribution of a DVD, merits attention. Furthermore, from that limited perspective, the hybrid DZ-HS300A succeeds. Its one-touch dubbing from the 8GB hard disk to the internal miniDVD is definitely more convenient and less expensive than the docking solutions from companies such as Sony and JVC.

Though 8GB doesn't seem like much, it's enough to hold about 110 minutes of highest-quality video, which should suffice for most purposes. If not, Hitachi offers a 30GB model, the DZ-HS500A. Aside from capacity, the only difference between the two is the HS500A's 30X lens, which outzooms the HS300A's 25X version. Since even 8GB is far more than you can fit on a 3-inch DVD--a disc can only hold about 18 minutes per side of best-quality video--the camcorder includes some limited editing capabilities, allowing you to select, combine, and add effects to clips, as well as create and edit playlists. It's kind of hard to see what you're doing on the small 2.7-inch LCD, though. You can choose from among a broad selection of 3-inch optical media for recording or distribution as well; the HS300A supports DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW and DVD-RAM.

In most other respects, the HS300A is your typical budget camcorder, and that's bad news for a hard drive/DVD-based model. Its 1/6-inch 680,000-pixel sensor records 340,000-pixel video, which simply isn't enough for the MPEG-2 compression algorithm to encode without significant degradation. Severe edge crawl and jaggies, fringing, and a variety of false-color artifacts--especially around light sources--render the video close to unusable. Even for YouTube.

In the case of the DZ-HS300A, a picture is worth a thousand words about the quality of its VGA-resolution photos (shown at 100 percent).
At least it performs reasonably well, with decent focus speed and accuracy. The zoom switch is a tad sensitive, but not too bad if you're not mainlining caffeine. If you plan to hang out at the extreme end of the zoom range, though, use a tripod; you don't want to rely on the HS300A's electronic image stabilization as your only means of support.

On the off chance that you don't care about the mediocre video, perhaps you'll find its design problems a bit more off-putting. At 1 pound, 1 ounce, the HS300A is relatively light, but it's large and bulky and won't quite fit into a jacket pocket. The four-way switch that you use to navigate the menus--necessary if you want to choose from among the handful of scene modes and white-balance presets--feels stiff and is frequently nonresponsive if you move too quickly. It forces you to slowly and deliberately cursor through the menu choices. But the design of the Power/Mode switch ranks as the HS300A's biggest flaw. It slides far too easily to the Off position from HDD and SD modes. There's a tiny lock switch to prevent it from accidentally moving from the HDD to the DVD position, but not the reverse.

It's too bad about the slippery power switch and poor video quality, because the idea of the Hitachi DZ-HS300A has great mass appeal. I suggest you look at other budget models instead.

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