The LCD presents a sharp image and is viewable in a wide variety of lighting conditions. But given the size of the camera, it seems that Sony could have included something bigger. The viewfinder image is also reasonably sharp, but it's presented in nostalgic black-and-white.
We were able to zoom precisely with the camera's rocker switch, achieving both gradual and quick zooms. We heard no motor or zoom noises on the otherwise sensitive microphone. It picks up well but unfortunately lacks a wind filter setting.
The SteadyShot digital image stabilization works well for the first half of the zoom range, but as you approach 20X, hand shakes become more evident. We didn't notice any degradation in video quality when panning with the stabilizer active.
The Sony Handycam DCR-TRV480's video quality is markedly better than that of the 8mm and Hi8 units it's likely to replace, but it's also noticeably inferior to that of most competing MiniDV camcorders. The CCD offers just 290,000 effective pixels, whereas even most low-end MiniDV units now feature sensors with effective resolutions of 340,000 pixels and more. The TRV480's images have accurate and vivid color, but they don't have quite the sharpness and detail that most competing MiniDV cameras can produce. Compared to the video of mini-DVD units, the TRV480's shows less detail but lacks the compression glitches typical in footage compressed for DVD recording.
Indoor images shot in typical room light were somewhat noisy, as is typical with consumer camcorders. The built-in video light helps in darker situations, but it illuminates objects just a few feet in front of the camera; the Super NightShot Plus infrared illumination is similarly limited in range. The infrared mode shows more color than earlier incarnations of this feature, but footage still has a strong greenish cast.
Still-image quality is poor, with a low 640x480 resolution, visible artifacts, and a lack of sharpness. Though you won't want to use the Sony Handycam DCR-TRV480 to replace your digital still camera, its ability to shoot stills in the infrared Super NightShot Plus mode can be fun to play with. The camera's MPEG-1 movie feature is a gimmick, not something you'd want to use to preserve memories. The tiny movies are jerky and display visible compression artifacts.