A small, mid-range camcorder married to a large built-in hard disk, the Sony Handycam HDR-XR155E offers convenience, quality and enough storage to record the equivalent of more than 6 months' worth of Eastenders in high definition. Whether or not you actually need that much built-in memory is another matter. But, at £430, the XR155E certainly has the potential to offer an attractive blend of features, quality and value.
Leaving the storage aspect to one side for a moment, the XR155E is kitted out with a whole host of Sony's latest camcorder tech, including a 1/4-inch Exmor R CMOS sensor and 1080i high-definition video-recording at 50 frames per second, with a top bit rate of 24Mbps. In practice, this translates into a sharp, accurate picture that's rich in colour and high in detail. In our tests, we were particularly impressed by the way the Handycam handled motion. Many AVCHD digital camcorders can suffer from pixelling with fast camera movements, but the XR155E manages to resist this, even in fairly brisk panning shots, thanks, presumably, to a combination of its high bit rate and fast Bionz image processor.
Picture quality often plummets on camcorders as soon as you start filming indoors, but this isn't necessarily the case with the XR155E. Auto functions can sometimes struggle a little with artificial light sources, resulting in a slightly greenish cast under fluorescent strip lights and an overly orange hue in rooms lit by incandescent bulbs. But, by and large, the Handycam manages to stay grain-free in all but the most dingy environments, which is pretty admirable.
Connectivity is well catered for, too. Recordings can be played back directly from the camcorder by plugging it into an HDMI socket on an HD Ready TV or via a basic AV cable to ye olde standard-def telly. USB is also available for PC or direct-to-disk transfers.
The XR155E strikes a fairly good balance between ease of use and features. By default, the device is skewed towards inexperienced users. Many of its features, such as 'intelligent auto' and face detection, are aimed at helping those who just want to get on with filming achieve the best possible results. In saying that, it's also possible to play about with many manual settings, should you so wish. The camera's menus work on a two-tier system, with the initial 'my menu' screen offering instant access to a customisable selection of up to six settings. Those who want to probe further can then head to the full menu for more.
Apart from video/photo/playback mode switches and a handful of other hard buttons, most of the XR155E's functions are controlled using Sony's current touchscreen user interface. If you haven't used anything similar before, it can be slightly irritating at first, but it's by no means the worst touch system we've encountered. The 2.7-inch fold-out LCD is just about large and responsive enough to allow for comfortable finger control.
A long, 25x optical zoom is provided to help you get up close and personal with distant subjects. Sony provides a version of its SteadyShot feature to counteract wobble and shake, but we found it to be slightly less effective than the optical image stabilisers found on some of the Handycam's rivals.