Sony Handycam HDR-XR200V
At a Glance
The GPS-enabled Sony Handycam HDR-XR200V certainly sports innovative features, but it lacks the video quality needed to make it stand out from--or even measure up to--the best small AVCHD camcorders we've seen this year. For $1000 (as of 9/25/2009), you get a Sony camcorder with overall performance on a par with the Sanyo Xacti VPC-FH1, a camera that costs half as much.
That $1000 price tag does get you some high-end features, plus all those one expects to find in a modern camcorder: optical image stabilizer, face detection technology to automate focus and skin tone adjustment, and a 15X optical-zoom lens.
The HDR-XR200V also includes two unique features, one useful, the other not. One called the Smile Shutter can automatically take stills of subjects as they smile, while also recording high-definition video. That's clever and useful.
It's also the first camcorder we've tested with a built-in GPS receiver. The 2.6-inch LCD panel can display a map pinpointing the location where individual clips and stills were recorded, and touching the map's location marker displays and plays the content. You can also use the feature to view your current location.
While the GPS tags can be viewed on the camcorder and through the bundled Picture Motion Browser software, common video editing applications don't recognize the tags. If GPS-tagged video becomes widely supported, then the feature will be great. But without wide support, it's merely clever.
The HDR-XR200V captures images with a 1/5-inch CMOS sensor, and records those images as AVCHD video to an internal 120GB hard drive that holds about 14 hours of HD video at the highest quality setting. You also have the option of recording to removable Memory Stick PRO Duo cards.
The camera records 1920-by-1080 video at 60 interlaced frames per second, with a maximum bit rate of 16 megabits per second. That bit rate is significantly below the 24 mbps maximum supported in the AVCHD spec. The camcorder lacks the Web-friendly 30 progressive frames per second and film-style 24 progressive frames per second modes found on some other HD camcorders. While that issue can be laboriously addressed during the editing process, image quality is more fixed. And here, this Sony model performs only so-so.
In PC World Test Center jury evaluations, the HDR-XR200V performed well in bright interior light, creating good-looking video a notch below the Canon Vixia HF S10 and the Panasonic HDC-TM300; the HDR-XR200V earned a standard-lighting video score of Good.
Its battery life is also decent; the HDR-XR200V's rechargeable battery lasted nearly 2 hours on a single charge (111 minutes in our test), which netted a battery life score of Good.
But in low-light conditions, stuttering motion significantly marred the video. The Handycam's low-light footage was among the worst rated in our test group of six camcorders, notching a disappointing score of Fair. Still images in bright light were also only Fair, with a green cast that didn't appear in stills generated in identical conditions by other camcorders.
The Sony Handycam HDR-XR200V isn't a bad camcorder, but its main draw might be its fancy extras rather than its output. In terms of overall video performance, better alternatives exist at both higher price levels (the Panasonic HDC-TM300 and the Canon Vixia HF S10, each $1300) and lower (the $500 Sanyo Xacti VPC-FH1).