Sony makes more consumer digital camcorder models than practically any other company. This is because a certain subcategory of these camcorders are outfitted with a unique feature – a built-in projector. It sounds like some kind of tacked on gimmick but it proved to be useful. If you are in the right environment, you could play back any video you previously recorded and beam it to the wall. It eliminates the hassle of finding a TV and connecting the camcorder to it with a cable although that remains as an option. Sony has been pushing this projector camcorder lineup for years under the “PJ” series and it has no plans of stopping with the Sony HDR-PJ440 being the latest member of the family. Model-wise, the Sony HDR-PJ440 looks set to fall right in-between the existing PJ340 and PJ540 models but instead it is spec’d to be more of a replacement to the PJ340.
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The HDR-PJ440 has the body and design of an existing Sony entry-level camcorder. It weighs slightly less than the older HDR-PJ340 entry-level model and it doesn’t weigh significantly heavier than a cheap Sony camcorder without the projector. Opening up the side door reveals a basic 2.7-inch non-touch LCD display with Sony’s Clear Photo technology. Just next to the display is a joystick and preview button along with a dedicated projector button that activates the 13 lumen projector on the opposite end of the door.
All aspects of the Sony HDR-PJ440 remain faithful to the original entry-level lineup including the zoom lever and photo button on the top and a record button on the back making it a very approachable camcorder for newbies. With the door open, you can also access two micro HDMI ports. One serves as an input so you can show off video to the TV while the other extends the projector usage to other devices. One micro HDMI cable is included too. The hand strap is pretty ordinary but it hides a nifty microUSB cable for charging or data transferring for those moments where you forget to bring a separate cable. It would have been nicer though if the PJ440 featured extra functionality that previous entry-level models didn’t have such as an automatic lens cover.
Although the Sony HDR-PJ440 looks to eclipse the PJ340, Sony didn’t bother to improve the projector. The light output maxes out to 13 lumens so it is about half as bright as a budget nano projector. With a resolution output of just 640×360 you shouldn’t expect your 1080p videos to pop on the wall especially if you make the screen size very large. But taking the price into the account, the included projector is still mighty useful for what it is and is more preferable than the small 2.7-inch screen. When there is no TV nearby, the projector is really the best previewing option available. It could even be your only portable screen option during those moments where you need to hook up a smartphone or tablet to a screen for a better image previewing or movie watching experience. The HDMI port makes it all happen and you only need the special cable to make the connection.
The main improvement over the HDR-PJ340 is the added support for the XAVC S format. This format allows you to record 1080p video at higher bitrates than AVCHD. 50Mbps XAVC S videos look better than the other formats even though Sony didn’t improve the lens of the HDR-PJ440. You can still take advantage of dual AVCHD and MP4 recording if you wish.
The Sony HDR-PJ440 also comes with the basic Sony goodies like Optical SteadyShot image stabilization with Active mode for smoother video playback and Wide Angle G lens. This particular lens isn’t just about the nice 26.8mm focal length so you can capture nice wide landscapes but it is also responsible for the camcorder’s ability to capture highly accurate colors and sharp images. The lens works well with the Exmor R CMOS sensor as its role is to optimize low light performance and reduce grain. It also has a sophisticated face detection system that can also enhance the voice and reduce unwanted background noise. As long as there are not more than 8 people on the scene, this feature can optimize all faces and intelligently make the appropriate enhancements. These enhancements include focus, exposure, flash and white balance adjustments. It can even tell a child from an adult so even more accurate adjustments can be made. There are also 7 different picture effects to choose from if you wish to add some artistic flair to your videos or still images. These include subtle effects like partial color and more fancy ones like watercolor. Experimenting with these effects is recommended as you can further amplify the mood of a picture or video. If you have a bunch of related MP4 video clips, you can have the camcorder automatically create highlights too.
The HDR-PJ440 is the cheapest projector camcorder to have built-in Wi-Fi and NFC. NFC makes it easier to wirelessly connect modern Android devices to the camcorder. Once connected, you can do the usual wireless file transferring or take direct control of the camcorder through a special smartphone app for iOS and Android. The Sony HDR-PJ440 even supports live streaming to the Ustream service.
Priced at $399, the HDR-PJ440 shares the same price tag as the older HDR-PJ340. Because of the minor improvements, the Sony HDR-PJ440 is easily the better deal. The only positive thing about the HDR-PJ340 is the 16 GB of internal flash memory. The HDR-PJ440 only has 8 GB but you can always expand that by buying a memory card. Memory cards are cheap anyway and you are going to need fast ones if you wish to record 1080p video using the XAVC S format. The projector could use some improvement but it is there nonetheless and is very easy to activate and use. Sony continues to push their projector lineup unchallenged so if you like the idea of a projector on a camcorder, the Sony HDR-PJ440 is the cheapest way to enter.