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Sony DCR-DVD650 review: Sony DCR-DVD650

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DVDs were never a perfect solution for directly recording video with a camcorder. The medium makes even less sense now with hard-disk-drive and flash-memory models reasonably priced and able to store much more video in far smaller packages. About the only advantage camcorders like the Sony Handycam DCR-DVD650 have is the capability to create on-the-spot DVDs--assuming what you're recording is less than 20 minutes long.

OVR
6.6

Sony DCR-DVD650

The Good

Simple operation; records to DVDs or Memory Stick flash media.

The Bad

Soft video; noticeable purple fringing on subjects; DVDs not ideal storage medium.

The Bottom Line

The Sony Handycam DCR-DVD650 offers an all-in-one, on-the-go way to capture standard-def video and burn it to a DVD, but hard-disk-drive and flash-memory models are otherwise a better option.

The camcorder also has a 60x megazoom lens and is fairly easy to use; partly due to the touch-screen-based menu navigation and partly because of its dearth of shooting options. You can record video to Sony's Memory Stick cards, too, should you need to record larger amounts of video and need to transfer them to a DVD while away from a computer. However, as with most camcorders in its class, the video results are mediocre--especially if you're watching them full screen on a large HDTV or have gotten used to the detail of high-def content.

Those wanting more recording flexibility can step up to the $429.99 DVD850 that offers 16GB of internal flash memory as well as the capability to record to 3-inch DVDs and Memory Sticks and transfer video directly from either internal or removable memory to DVDs. It also features Dolby Digital 5.1 audio.

Key specs Sony Handycam DCR-DVD650
Price (MSRP) $299.99
Dimensions (HWD) 2.2 x 3.5 x 5.1 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 15 ounces
Storage type 3-inch (8cm) DVD-R/RW; Memory Stick Pro Duo
Resolution, sensor size, type 680K pixels (effective: 410K pixels (16:9), 340K pixels (4:3)), 1/8-inch CCD
LCD size, resolution/Viewfinder 2.7-inch LCD, 123K pixels (touch-screen)/Electronic
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 60x, f1.8-6.0, 39-2,340mm (16:9), 44-2,640mm (4:3) (35mm equivalent)
Minimum illumination 6 lux
File format (video, audio) MPEG-2, Dolby Digital 2-ch stereo
Resolution (video/photo) 720x480/640x480
Recording time at highest quality 20 minutes per single-sided 3-inch DVD
Image stabilization type Mechanical and electronic
Inputs/Outputs None/miniUSB, AV terminal
Battery type, rated life Li-ion rechargeable, 80 minutes

Available in silver and black only, the DVD650 is compact considering it has a DVD drive slapped on the right side. Its physical controls are textbook camcorder design with a start/stop button at the back and zoom rocker up top in front of a shutter release for snapshots in Photo mode. The handstrap is comfortable if a little low, but the drive gives you something to grab on to easily.

The battery juts slightly from the back from below the extendable eyepiece for the electronic viewfinder, which turns on when the larger LCD on the left side is closed. Up front below the lens is a small door hiding a proprietary AV output. Flip open the touch-screen display and you'll find a button for turning off and on display information, a Memory Stick Pro Duo card slot, and an uncovered Mini-USB port. On the left side of the lens back by the eyepiece is an Easy button that locks down the camcorder's few advanced features for simple automatic recording; a button for changing over to Playback mode; and a button that instantly adjusts exposure for backlit subjects.

The touch-screen menu system is good for those that don't make a lot of changes. In other words, it's responsive, but can get a little confusing for those unfamiliar with Sony's Menu and Home buttons. Menu gives you access to context-sensitive shooting options while Home gets you access to everything else. The main problem with this is remembering what functions rest where. (Fortunately, Sony lays out the menu system in print in the manual that comes with the DVD650.) With little practice though, the system makes sense and even full operation--not just point and record--becomes simple.

This camcorder was designed for hassle-free recording and as such doesn't have a lot of extra shooting options. A majority of my field testing was done with the DVD650 set to Auto for white balance, scene selection, and focus, and it performed satisfactorily. There are more scene options if you chose to get specific and the same goes for white balance. Also, should you want to be more hands-on with focus and exposure, you can control both by touching the spot onscreen you'd like the camcorder to draw its information from.

For its low-end status, the DVD650 performs reasonably well. The autofocus is responsive, but when zoomed out it does hunt trying to focus, particularly in low-light conditions. The rated battery life for the included pack is 80 minutes of continuous shooting recording directly to DVD (90 minutes to Memory Stick); expect half that time if you're frequently turning it on and off and reviewing clips. Extended life batteries are available, one of which claims a life of up to 11 hours of continuous shooting.

Video quality is overall soft; the only time a somewhat sharp picture was obtained was in Tele Macro mode. Clips also display quite a bit of noise and digital artifacts until you scale down to YouTube-size dimensions. This includes noticeable purple fringing around subjects. If you still live completely in a low-resolution world, recordings are destined for video-sharing Web sites, or simply want to capture the moment no matter how it looks, the DVD650 will suffice. Colors and white balance are good, and exposure is decent, too, though highlights tend to blow out. And despite low-light video having fair amounts of noise and artifacting, the results were actually respectable for this class of camcorder. Lastly, while the camcorder does take still shots, you'll likely get better photos out of a camera phone. Also, they can only be stored to Memory Stick so switching from actively recording video to a DVD to capturing a still image is not fun. You're better off grabbing a still from video, which is possible.

There's a good chance that by 2011, standard-definition DVD camcorders will be a dead category. It's already antiquated for most users' needs. If you need a reasonably compact all-in-one solution for recording video and transferring to DVD on the go, the Sony Handycam DCR-DVD650 is an option worth considering. However, I recommend recording to Memory Stick first and then transferring to disc. The camcorder makes it easy to do, and it's safer than recording directly to DVD--especially if you're not stationary.

Find out more about how we test camcorders.

OVR
6.6

Sony DCR-DVD650

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 6Image quality 6