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Sony Unveils Recordable DVD Camcorders

In what has become an annual CES tradition, Sony is introducing to its extensive digital camcorder assortment a new recording format — recordable DVD.

The company said it will ship later this year three digital camcorders based on a 3-inch diameter version of DVD-RW/-R rewritable disc media. The new format will be the fourth in Sony’s consumer digital Handycam line, and its fifth active consumer camcorder format in total.

Although a co-developer of the DVD+RW format with Philips, Linda Vuolo, Sony’s senior marketing manager for camcorders, said the company elected the rival disc format because it is recognized by the DVD Forum and offers broad compatibility with existing DVD players. Sony has been supplying recordable DVD drives in both formats for PCs and has announced its intention to market a dual-format compatible DVD recorder in the future.

Exact features and prices on the new DVD Handycams will be announced later. The first models are expected to ship this summer. Pricing on the line is expected to start at under $1,000.

Vuolo said the DVD format will make it easier for users to “shoot, share and play back memories.” She added the new format will “expand the market for camcorders” and is not expected to cannibalize sales for the digital tape formats.

Unlike other Sony digital camcorders, the DVD Handycams substitute a high-speed USB 2.0 PC connector.

Models will include the DCR-DVD100, DCR-DVD200 and DCR-DVD300. All will include such core Handycam features as InfoLithium batteries, SteadyShot and NightShot. The 200 will add a 1-megapixel digital still camera and the 300 will add a 3.5-inch LCD screen.

Because the DVD format will enable storage of high-bandwidth digital still images, the models will store images to DVD and will not require MemoryStick cards. Each 3-inch DVD-R/-RW disc will store up to 60 minutes. The highest resolution setting is 500 horizontal lines. Further details were to be announced.

In part to accommodate the new format, Sony will also announce “a new strategy” in positioning its now five consumer camcorder formats — reducing the analog Hi8 format and Digital 8mm formats to two SKUs apiece, while expanding the MiniDV line to 10 SKUs in total, including seven new models.

Sony will continue to carry the two second-generation MicroMV camcorders it introduced last year.

In most cases, pricing and profit margins on the established formats continued to slide. The sole remaining Hi8 analog camcorder (model CCD-TRV118) will have a $269 estimated street price, down from $299 for last year’s entry model. The new model offers a 2.5-inch LCD viewscreen, Nigh Shot and a built-in video light.

The step-up Hi8 CCD-TRV318 ($299) will add SteadyShot shake reduction.

All new camcorders (both analog and digital) this year will offer a new “Battery Info” feature, which indicates the amount of battery power remaining.

Vuolo said Sony elected to continue an analog line, because the company still has a strong base of first-time camcorder buyers looking for affordable prices.

Similarly, she said Sony’s D8 camcorder family continues to “hold its position in the market” with a strong following of first-time buyers and replacement camcorder users, who are looking for compatibility with libraries of analog 8mm and Hi8 tapes.

The entry D8 DCR-TRV250 will be positioned “as a step up” to Hi8 at a $399 estimated street price, down from $499 for last year’s entry D8 model. It includes NightShot, SteadyShot, remote control and a 2.5-inch LCD viewscreen.

All digital tape-based camcorders include an i.LINK (IEEE-1394) DV interface. In addition, all new Sony digital camcorders offer a “USB Streaming” feature that allows a PC connection to send streaming live images and/or tape playback over the Internet for video conferencing and other applications.

The step-up D8 DCR-TRV350 ($499) adds backward playback compatiblity with 8mm and Hi8 analog tapes, digital still image shooting supported by a MemoryStick card slot, analog inputs, Super SteadyShot, and Super NightShot.

The MiniDV line was expanded this year, Vuolo said, to reflect growth in the market segment, generated by the many companies carrying MiniDV format models.

“The D8 format represented between 15-20 percent of industry camcorder sales, while MiniDV has grown to 25-30 percent. The important trend here has been about size, and consumer familiarity with the MiniDV format,” she said.

Many of Sony’s new MiniDV models have been reduced 28 percent in size and 22 percent in weight from comparable 2002 models. All of Sony’s new MiniDV models will include Carl Zeiss optics and Touch Screen user controls.

The entry MiniDV (DCR-TRV19) will carry a $519 estimated street price, down from $799 for last year’s entry model. However, the prior entry unit offered more features. The new unit includes a 2.5-inch LCD screen, and core Handycam feature set.

The step-up DCR-TRV22 ($699) adds a dual digital still camera function using a supplied 8MB Memory Stick, and color view finder.

Model DCR-TRV33 ($799) steps up to a 1-megapixel digital still camera (1,152×864 resolution) and 520 horizontal lines of video resolution.

Model DCR-TRV38 ($899) adds a 3.5-inch LCD screen and will be priced $100 lower than last year’s very popular DCR-TRV27, at a smaller size.

For step-up models, Sony has expanded the networking capability (found in select wireless Bluetooth-enabled models last year) by introducing a USB 1.1 networking connection for either direct dial-up or broadband modem connections. Network Handycam models will support AOL connections.

The series begins with the MiniDV DCR-TRV39, which bundles an analog phone line adapter for dial-up Internet access. An optional broadband adapter will be available for $39.95.

Model DCR-TRV70 ($1,299) is Sony’s first MiniDV camcorder with a 2-megapixel digital still camera with up 1,600 by 1,200 pixel stills and 530 horizontal lines of video resolution. It has a 2.5-inch LCD screen.

Model DCR-TRV80 ($1,499) adds a 3.5-inch LCD screen and expanded networking capability, including both USB and wireless BlueTooth connectivity. It enables four different options for connecting the camcorder to the Internet — dial-up USB, broadband USB, BlueTooth modem or BlueTooth cellphone.