Sony HDR-UX20

High-def cam with multitude of recording options

Sony HDR-UX20
  • Sony HDR-UX20
  • Sony HDR-UX20
  • Sony HDR-UX20
  • Expert Rating

    3.75 / 5

Pros

  • Three recording formats, solid video performance, lots of modes and features

Cons

  • Requires a Blu-ray player for AVCHD DVDs, questionable build quality, the touch screen is too small

Bottom Line

With a choice of three recording formats (DVD, Memory Stick and inbuilt memory), Sony's HDR-UX20 is the king of the hybrids. It delivers reasonable high-def visuals for the asking price, but some of the issues that plague DVD camcorders remain unchecked.

Would you buy this?

The HDR-UX20 is Sony's top-of-the-range DVD camcorder, offering AVCHD recording at a maximum resolution of 1920x1080i. While ostensibly a high-definition disc model, it actually combines several different recording options into one product. This makes for a pleasingly versatile device that offers unprecedented levels of recording freedom. However, several unfortunate drawbacks — including playback issues with high-def DVDs — slightly reduce its appeal. Nevertheless, it remains a decent option for those who want the convenience of DVD combined with additional options.

The UX20's primary recording format is DVD. The device is compatible with DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R, DVD+RW and DVD+R DL discs, with recording times ranging from 55 to 325 minutes (depending on the video quality and media type). Handily, you can record video in either the high-def AVCHD format, or the standard-def-based MPEG2. This should ensure that your DVDs work without a hitch, regardless of the type of player you own.

You should note that you won't be able to watch AVCHD footage on a regular DVD player. This means that if you don't own a Blu-ray compatible device you'll need to connect the camcorder to your television via a mini-HDMI cable — which kind of defeats the purpose of owning a DVD camera in the first place. Consequently, you'll need to factor the cost of a Blu-ray player into your purchase if you want to make the most of this product.

Like pretty much every other camcorder on the market, the HDR-UX20 has been billed as a 'hybrid'. This means you can record video to a secondary media format, which is where the UX20's proprietary memory card slot comes in. Equipped with a 16GB Memory Stick, the HDR-UX20's recording time is boosted by an additional 110 minutes at the highest quality setting. This is particularly handy if you plan to extensively edit your footage before burning it to disc, allowing you to quickly transfer your data to computer (a 30-day trial of Sony's Vegas Movie Studio Platinum 8.0 is included in the sales package).

But the hybridity (it's a word, look it up!) doesn't end there. In addition to its memory card slot, the HDR-UX20 comes equipped with 8GB of internal flash memory. This means you have three recording options to choose from: DVD, Memory Stick and inbuilt memory. To our knowledge, no other camcorder on the market offers this level of versatility when it comes to recordable media. The inbuilt memory can store up to three hours of high-def footage when recording in HD Long Play.

With its single 1/5-in ClearVID CMOS sensor and effective pixel count of 1.49 megapixels, the HDR-UX20 isn't the most ably equipped HD camcorder on the market. Indeed, when compared to Sony's previous DVD camcorder, the HDR-UX7, this new model actually comes off second best (1,710,000 pixels vs. 1,490,000 pixels). Likewise, the UX20's still image mode has a maximum image size of four megapixels, compared to the UX7's six. However, any discernable difference in video quality is virtually eliminated by recent gains in camcorder technology. Subsequently, while it might sound inferior on paper, the HDR-UX20 easily matches its predecessor in the resolution stakes.

Regardless of the recording format we chose, our footage remained consistently solid, with a nice balance between splashy vibrancy and natural tones. The clarity of images, including fast moving objects, was above average for the most part. Overall, the results will be enough to satisfy all but the most exacting videophile. Naturally, it faired a lot better in sunny conditions than it did in dim environments, where noise swiftly enveloped the picture. On the plus side, the included Nightshot mode is truly excellent, provided you don't mind the lack of colour. It captures footage in a green-tinged 'thermal goggle' style that looks remarkably similar to a certain hotel heiress' private home movie. Or so we're told.

In terms of design, the UX20 follows the usual DVD camcorder template, with a tall and slightly flattened appearance. This makes it slightly uncomfortable in the hand, especially when compared to the sleek dimensions of Sony's other high-def units. We were also unimpressed by the build of the viewfinder, which cannot be moved up or down. You're therefore mostly stuck with the flip-out LCD.

At 2.7in, the LCD is slightly smaller than most other Sony handycams, which typically offer 3.2in displays. This can be problematic, as the HDR-UX20 uses a touch-screen interface for most camcorder selections. If you happen to be afflicted with unwieldy sausage fingers, the menu can be a real chore to navigate. (With that being said, the menu itself is intelligently designed and well laid out. A dedicated 'Easy' button is also included on the side of the camera, allowing you to bypass most settings entirely.)

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