In the increasingly crowded mid-to-low cost range of camcorder models, Samsung brings us the new VP-DC163i, a small DVD-based video camera using the new 8cm writeable DVDs, allowing for a smaller overall unit. With a good zoom, a reasonable array of features and ease of use, it would be a suitable camera for anyone looking for a decent camcorder option on a budget.
The VP-DC163i is a small camcorder that fits easily into the hand, measuring just 51.5mm by 87.5mm by 121.5mm and weighing 425g without the battery pack. It's built to complement the curves of the 8cm DVD, with the unit only as high as the disc compartment itself, though slightly longer. Visually, it's mainly silver, with touches of gunmetal brown. It's a solid unit that would take some punishment, but you definitely wouldn't want to be too rough with it.
The main buttons for starting and stopping recording can be accessed easily with the right hand as you hold the camera, as well as the zoom toggle and a dedicated photo button, while other main functions can be accessed through a menu when the display screen is open. Quickly accessible functions include a basic manual zoom, selectable recording medium (disc or card), and basic seek options on your recording. Other menu choices are navigable on the LCD with a small joystick and selector button. The 2.5 inch LCD screen folds out as per usual and is rotatable to be viewed by either the camera operator or the subject. The underside of the unit includes a tripod mount and the slot for either Memory Stick or SD cards for image storage.
With the usual layout of basic functions akin to any traditional camcorder, the VP-DC163i has a 33x optical zoom, as well as a 1200x digital zoom, though that will be as effective as any unit in terms of picture degradation at the highest levels. The 800,000 pixel CCD is sufficient for most home uses. The Digital Image Stabiliser can be of some help to compensate for a naturally unsteady hand and attempt to clean up images.
With the main record functions being freely controlled with the right hand, the other options are accessible via internal menus that are accessed by the small joystick selector, including the usual White Balance, Shutter Speed, Exposure Time and various playlist options. While those looking for a simply auto-camcorder will be happy with the basic buttons available, those looking for more detail will have to get used to navigating the various menu options quickly. A useful feature for the beginner is the Easy.Q mode that allows a simple one-touch setup for novice users. This simplifies recording immensely, but also restricts a number of options. The microphone is built-in at the front, though the unit also has a separate input to allow use with an external microphone -- something not that common in lower-priced camcorders.
Input wise, the VP-DC163i has a well hidden panel of options, with a DC power socket, a multi-purpose AV connector (allowing S-video or composite video, and stereo audio), as well as a USB port that allows the user to transfer images and video to a PC, which can then be edited with the provided software (Ulead VideoStudio SE DVD and DV Media Pro 1.0). Other accessories include the required USB and AV cables, as well as a small but efficient remote control.
As a general purpose camcorder for moderate home and entertainment users, the VP-DC163i should have everything the user needs for a wide variety of shooting, both in video and stills, though stills will still be low resolution. With options that cater to the total novice as well as more experienced users who want to control some aspects of shooting, and a respectably low price, this unit should find a wide audience.