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Sony Handycam HDR-UX1 review: Sony Handycam HDR-UX1


What is the point? Let's start with the two warnings on Sony's support site.
1. "DVD discs containing AVCHD-formatted video are not compatible and should not be used with standard- or high-definition DVD players/recorders. The disc may fail to eject or all the contents of the disc may be erased without warning."
2. "DVD discs containing AVCHD-formatted video should not be used in computers with packet-writing software installed. The disc may fail to eject or all the contents of the disc may be erased without warning."


Sony Handycam HDR-UX1

The Good

Sharp, saturated, low-noise video; excellent build quality; fast, smooth focus with effective image stabilization.

The Bad

Mediocre still photos; optical and occasional motion artifacts in video; discs unreadable by most devices; lame but necessary bundled software; no windscreen filter for microphone.

The Bottom Line

The Sony Handycam HDR-UX1 is a very nice camcorder; unfortunately, its myriad compatibility issues make it almost impossible to recommend over other similar models.
Normally, my product reviews begin with a discussion of, well, the product. In this case, however, the fact that the Sony Handycam HDR-UX1 is quite a nice camcorder seems completely beside the point.

So, basically, the only place that's safe to play the discs is in one of the two Blu-ray players available on the market or in an as-yet vaporific PlayStation 3. The Samsung BD-P1000 in our home-theater testing lab couldn't find a disc menu on my test disc. And sure enough, it failed to eject from another HD player.

In order for a desktop system to recognize the discs, you must install Sony's Picture and Motion Browser software, with its two appendages: a Media Check utility that intercepts calls to any camcorder or media that might have M2TS files on it, and a Sonic UDF driver that allows your system to actually read the AVCHD disc file structure. Plus, there's an AVCHD player that you'll need to view your videos. I would really have preferred a simple device driver update and a systemwide codec to this application-heavy approach. The software lets you trim clips, but that's about it. If you want to create another AVCHD disc to give to Grandma, the software accommodates you, but she may not be planning to snap up a PS3 in November like all the other grandmas. You can also create a standard DVD or simply convert the clips to standard DV resolution (720x480) MPEG-2 via the software's beyond-basic converter.

You might brush off these problems--after all, life on the bleeding edge is a choice--but there's a big difference between a DVD player that can't play your favorite movie and a camcorder that loses all your vacation footage. Plus, as I've said many times before, the whole raison d'être of a DVD camcorder is convenience. Thus far, I've found the AVCHD format anything but convenient.

On to the camcorder. In many ways, the HDR-UX1 is built like a little tank--and weighs as much. Its 1-pound, 10-ounce heft balances nicely in the hand, though, and the Mini DVD drive projects above the top of the unit for a solid grip.

Rather than a déclassé rubber cover for the jacks, Sony incorporates a nifty sliding door. The same goes for the USB port.

Given the abundance of space on the UX1, nothing feels crammed in, and with a couple of small exceptions, all the controls fall under the correct fingers for easy one-handed shooting. Those exceptions? The proximity of the photo shutter button to the zoom switch, and the slight awkwardness of operating the on/off switch (for jumping between photo and camcorder modes) with an index finger. Like all Sony camcorders, the UX1 features a touch screen-navigated menu system; I'm not a fan, but it works better on the UX1's large LCD than the smaller screens of lesser models. All in all, I found it a pleasure to use.

The photo button and the zoom switch are just a bit too close to each other. I frequently hit the zoom when I meant to take a picture.

Sony reworked its touch-screen menus and navigation, making them much easier to use--at least on this model's large 3.5-inch LCD.

And there's plenty to use. The HDR-UX1 supplies all the features one expects from a prosumer camcorder, including A/V, component, and HDMI output jacks (though the HDMI cable is optional); headphone jack and mic input; intelligent accessory shoe; Zebra stripes; a manual control ring around the lens for adjusting exposure, focus, or white balance; smooth slow record mode for analyzing action, albeit for a mere 3 seconds; and that perennial Sony perk, 5.1 Dolby surround recording. Unlike playback, the UX1 has few compatibility issues on the recording side. It takes 3-inch versions of DVD-R/RW, DVD+RW, and newly minted DVD+R dual layer discs. With the latter you can record about 40 minutes of video at 20 minutes per side.

Although it's not as zippy as a hard-drive-based camcorder during start-up and shutdown, the UX1 is a bit faster than average for a DVD model. For instance, it took only about 4 seconds to initialize a DVD-R disc; it wasted a moment or two every bootup to politely remind us that it prefers to eat Sony media. The zoom operated smoothly throughout the 10X range, though a tad faster on the way out than the way in, and as usual, Sony's Steady Shot does an excellent stabilization job. I found the autofocus quick and accurate, as well. The LCD is easy to view, even in bright sunlight, however in the same light it's hard to see the LEDs which indicate whether you're in video or still mode. As long as you use the eye-level viewfinder and don't spend a lot of time playing back your videos, the battery should last at least 45 minutes--bring extras on vacation.

While video performance excelled, I have only three words for still shooting: abysmal shutter lag. And though Sony stresses that the 2-megapixel ClearVid CMOS sensor in the UX1 takes uninterpolated 4-megapixel photos, they're pretty unimpressive photos that don't match the quality of the Canon HV10's. Furthermore, while the video looks sharp and saturated, autoexposure blows out highlights even more than is typical, and there's serious purple fringing on many of those blown-out, high-contrast edges. If you take the exposure down a notch in bright sunlight, though, you should be fine. And I was extremely impressed by the UX1's video quality in dim light--low noise, with little loss in saturation.

Since the HDR-UX1 can record plain-old standard-definition video as well, you're not completely hamstrung by format issues--but then the UX1 just becomes a glorified, overpriced version of the DCR-DVD505. For the very near future, I recommend you stick with HDV models such as the Handycam HDR-HC3 or the Canon HV10 for your high-def needs.


Sony Handycam HDR-UX1

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Image quality 7