If you've ever shopped for DVD camcorders, Sony's HDR-UX10 will seem like a big step forward. It delivers full 1920 x 1080 video (1080i), with the option to record video and photos to a DVD or a Memory Stick. In general the device captures very good video, but it still has some issues.
Sony has improved the touchscreen interaction used in most of the company's products, but on the HDR-UX10 the menu isn't labeled, organized, or laid out well. Users will eventually learn the system, of course, but out of the box this is not the most intuitive camcorder on the market.
The mechanical controls are much better; external buttons are minimal and prominently marked. Unfortunately, releasing the soft-touch zoom control can result in an audible click as it snaps back to center position, which can be heard on the audio track. On the upside, Sony's impressive 15X optical zoom function is among the fastest and smoothest we've used.
A 1.2-pound camera sounds heavy, but the UX10 is close to our ideal weight; it's heavy enough that steady shots aren't a problem but light enough to drop into a bag. The unit will fill the palm of an adult hand, but feels natural rather than bulky. We had no problems seeing details in the LCD screen in full sunlight.
The cam features four quality settings, which result in (from highest to lowest quality) 11, 20, 25, and 32 minutes per 1.4GB disc. (Standard definition recording is also an option, which offers much more write time per gigabyte.) Shooting at the highest resolution (1920 x 1080) produced good but not stellar results. Colors looked slightly faded, and the entire image had a vaguely washed-out appearance.
A progressive mode would improve footage as well, as we often found that the super-detailed images looked choppy when panning across an area with a lot of visual variation, such as a field with patches of grass and dirt dappled with tree-branch shadows.
In low light you'll see a lot of noise in even mild shadows; we shot a living room at night lit with three lamps and saw severe noise in the dark furniture and all shadows. In all our footage, however, the camera's mic performed well, capturing even quiet ambient sound. We liked the face-detection and slow-shutter features, which help keep faces in focus and properly exposed when backlit.
The convenience of writing to DVD is mitigated by two factors. First, a disc carrying 1920 x 1080 video will not play in regular or Blu-ray DVD players because of compatibility issues with the AVCHD recording format. Second, a standard 3-inch, 1.4GB disc holds only 11 minutes of full HD video.
That makes the option to record to a memory stick more attractive, since doing so offers more flexibility, a better maximum bitrate (16 Mbps versus 14 Mbps to disc) and better battery life, with about 60 minutes of recording time instead of 50. At only 6 minutes per gigabyte, however, you'll want no less than a 4GB memory stick. The good news is that dropping down to standard quality levels will still produce decent quality video, as long as your subjects are very well lit.
For families bent on having a DVD camcorder but hoping to show their results on a modern TV, the UX10 is a reasonable option. But constraints on DVD recording media combined with high-def shooting do make the total package less of a must-buy than would otherwise be the case. For slightly more money, Sony offers several very similar cameras that record to hard drives instead of DVDs. Those models make the limitations of recording to disc seem more glaring, and offerings from Canon and Sanyo appear far more competitive.