Samsung SC-HMX20C High-Definition Camcorder
At a Glance
Flash-based camcorder has a cool design and records high-definition video of reasonable quality.
The Samsung SC-HMX20C ($850 as of September 29, 2008) is one of the sleekest-looking camcorders around. Even in a crowded field of camcorders, its eye-catching, bulletlike form is sure to turn heads. Alas, the camera's image quality and operating features are considerably less stunning than its design.
The camera has a 0.55-inch CMOS sensor and doesn't do AVCHD. Instead, it records high-definition video as 1920-by-1080-pixel H.264/MPEG-4 AVC files at three different quality settings: Normal, Fine, and Super Fine. Though Samsung doesn't publish compression data rates for the SC-HMX20C, Super Fine (the setting we used in testing the camcorder) seems to run at about 16 mbps.
Under normal lighting conditions in our PC World Test Center tests, video from the camera had good resolution, color, and movement. Under low light, video was only Fair, as the camera sacrificed sharpness and color to maintain smooth motion. Audio performance received a rating of Fair, too. Overall, the SC-HMX20C's video quality trailed that of the Sony Handycam HDR-SR12 and the Canon Vixia HV30 and Vixia HF10 camcorders we reviewed for our "Camcorders: High-Def, No Tape" roundup. On the other hand, its still images were slightly better than those of the other camcorders, though not as good as you'd get from a bargain-bin still camera.
The Samsung camcorder's 2.7-inch LCD touch screen makes menu navigation easy, and the unit's clever Quick Menu button gives users fast context-based access to common modes. For example, if you're recording video, you can press Quick Menu to call up a convenient display of controls for storage, resolution, white balance, focus, exposure, and shutter setting. The 10X optical zoom lens is okay, and the battery lasted for 1 hour, 45 minutes in PC World's tests.
Unfortunately, the SC-HMX20C's autofocus feature works slowly and the device's electronic image stabilization is inferior to the optical image stabilization on other camcorders. The camcorder has a built-in flash for stills, but no sustained light for video. The camera lacks a viewfinder and a headphone jack, but it does provide a mic jack. Samsung includes a printed 12-page quick-start guide with the SC-HMX20C, but the full 130-page manual comes only as a PDF on disc.
The included 8GB of internal flash memory holds about 70 minutes of high-def video recorded at the highest quality setting, and you can add SDHC or MMC+ cards to extend recording times. The camera can capture HD content at either 60i (60 interlaced fields per second) or 30p (30 progressive frames per second), but unfortunately it doesn't support the filmlike 24p rate. That limitation is mitigated by the ability to record up to 10 seconds of 300-fps high-speed (that is, slow-motion) video at a resolution of 448 by 336 pixels--about the size of a larger YouTube video.
The camcorder has the standard array of outputs, including HDMI, component analog, and USB. Samsung bundles the adequate CyberLink DVD Suite software for editing on Windows--and though the SC-MMX20C manual says, "You can not use the HD camcorder with a Macintosh," we managed to access and play files on one of two Macs we tried. Official, consistent Mac support would be better, obviously.
As its fourth-place finish on our comparison chart suggests, the SC-HMX20C is an adequate camcorder, and it has a uniquely appealing design. But we can't recommend it to anyone who isn't supremely fashion-conscious, given that the flash-based Canon Vixia HF10 has a slightly better image, twice the built-in recording time, superior features, and a very similar price.