In our tests, the Sony DCRDVD803 produced excellent results, capturing strong, bright colours and smooth movement in both indoor and outdoor lighting.
At 520g, the DCRDVD803 is a little heavier than most of the camcorders we have tested, but it isn't much bulkier. The zoom, photo and record buttons fall comfortably under the fingers of the right hand. And it packs a lot of features into its case, including a surround-sound microphone, a 10X optical zoom, and a wide-screen LCD. This feature makes the most of the wide-screen mode: when you record video in 16:9, you can see its full glory on the display, without black stripes along the top and bottom of the screen.
Most of the controls are accessed through the LCD's touch-sensitive screen. This minimises the number of buttons on the camcorder, but it also means that you can't access most of the controls if you are using the viewfinder instead of the LCD. Some of the controls are buried a little deep: to change the recording-quality mode, for instance, you have to press buttons in the on-screen menu seven times. One nice detail is that the zoom and record buttons are duplicated on the edge of the screen.
The camera captured video with clear, bright audio, good separation and a strong surround-sound feel that would be great for, say, shooting video on a rollercoaster. However, like most camcorders where the microphone is located on the top of the body, it didn't pick up voices well from a distance--they often got lost in the ambient noise. The built-in microphone was also a little prone to picking up wind noise; even a slight breeze across the microphone produced a rumbling sound.
The DCRDVD803 had excellent battery life in our tests. Recording to DVD while using the LCD screen, the battery lasted 2 hours, 42 minutes.
The camcorder has two modes for shooting in near darkness: NightShot, which slows down the shutter speed, and Super NightShot, which turns on an infrared LED located below the lens. There are also a few basic digital video effects (such as an old-movie mode and a fader for fading in video from a black or white screen), but not as many as you'll find in other models.
Unlike many other camcorders, the DCRDVD803 doesn't save still images to a memory card; instead, it writes 3 megapixel JPEG files to a DVD. The DVD803's shots were well exposed and had good colour and reasonable detail. They would look fine up to a print size of 4" by 6".
While we liked a lot of things about the DCRDVD803, it still has the problems inherent to most DVD camcorders: You have to finalise the disc (so it can't record further) before you can play it back in a set-top DVD player (the process can take up to 15 minutes), and at the unit's highest-quality setting, you can squeeze only 20 minutes of video onto a 8cm DVD. However, you can finalise the disc on battery power, and you can also switch between the different quality settings and normal or wide-screen video without having to change discs.