A camcorder with a built-in projector sounds like the kind of thing that would only attract a niche market. But Sony believes it can push this lineup of projector camcorders to the masses by launching a fresh new set of projector camcorders for the third time to kick-start CES 2013. The second generation of Sony projector camcorders were nice but small updates to the first generation lineup. This time around, Sony is adding a couple of extra incentives for getting an HDR-PJ model. You can get a good sense of these improvements by checking out the flagship model – the Sony HDR-PJ790V.
When designing the HDR-PJ790V, Sony made some significant design changes from its predecessor. The most noticeable change is the presence of a short arm that sticks out from the top of the camcorder behind the fill light. The surround sound mic resides there and it should make the audio recording quality a bit more natural while effectively suppressing wind noise.
The 3.0-inch display is pretty much the same as it gets the same high-resolution Xtra Fine LCD treatment to make sure visuals look very bright and vivid. Navigating through the menus rely purely on touch inputs just like the older model but the experience is a bit better thanks to the hot zones that are located next to the scroll buttons. These hot zones serve as an alternative to scrolling through lengthy menus by taking you directly to a certain position on the menu. While the screen remains the same, the LCD panel itself is a bit thicker due to the improvements of the built-in projector, which will be discussed in the next part of this review. You also have the option to use the color electronic viewfinder that has a lower resolution but can extend the camcorder’s battery life if you shut off the LCD screen.
The hand strap isn’t the most comfortable out of the available compact camcorders but it is definitely one of the most functional as you can conceal the full-size USB cable so the built-in cable doesn’t get in the way. Having a built-in cable means that you can carry this camcorder around with you without worrying about forgetting the cable for charging or file transfer purposes.
The Sony HDR-PJ790V features a different hot shoe mount so you won’t be able to use any of the accessories that previous projector camcorders can use. But the good news is that the new mount is the same as the mount featured in other Sony devices that are compatible XLR accessories. This means that you can easily add Sony’s new external Wi-Fi adapter or add one of Sony’s new video lights.
The built-in projector remains as the main highlight of the Sony HDR-PJ790V. But rather than having a small update, the HDR-PJ790V turns out to be a pretty big leap as it sports a more powerful bulb for projecting brighter visuals. The projector is located on the back of the panel and the new improvements are responsible for making the LCD panel a bit thicker. On the upside, you can now enjoy a brightness of up to 35 lumens.
When Sony’s first projector camcorders were first announced, the main purpose of the projector is to make it easy to show off videos to others by beaming them to a wall. But with the new micro HDMI input featured on the Sony HDR-PJ790V, it is now possible to let other devices to use the projector as an output source. For instance, you can hook up a Blu-ray player to the camcorder if you have an HDMI to micro HDMI cable. While 35 lumens isn’t enough to enjoy a full-length movie, it is pretty amazing for Sony to include such a feature. Projected videos can be as large as 100 inches and can output sound thanks to the Clear Phase stereo speakers also built into the camcorder.
Don’t expect any huge performance leaps and image quality enhancements from the HDR-PJ790V if you used an older Sony HDR-PJ model in the past. But one welcome addition is the support for recording MP4 files. This might not be a big deal if you are fond of recording high-quality videos but this compressed format can be useful for people that find MP4 files to be more comfortable to work with when used in video editing projects. For new users, the Sony HDR-PJ790V is a pretty fine camcorder and it has many of the features that made the HDR-PJ710V great including a Zeiss lens for good image quality and sharpness. The optical image stabilization also didn’t feature any changes but it remains as a nice technology for tackling blur.
One of the benefits of getting this particular camcorder model rather than a more affordable Sony projector camcorder is the available manual controls on the HDR-PJ790V. There is a button and a control dial that allows you to quickly make any manual adjustments in areas like the peaking, white balance, iris, zebra and focus. Users that are not so familiar with manual controls can make use of the Intelligent Auto feature and still get pretty good results since the mode picks the best settings possible out of 180 different combinations.
Another huge improvement that the Sony HDR-PJ790V gets over the HDR-PJ710V is a nice boost in internal memory. With an embedded flash memory that is capable of storing 96 GB worth of video, you can switch to HD LP mode and continuously record close to 38 hours of video. This also means that you can shoot even more video if you decide to use the new MP4 mode. This mode maxes out at 720p but it is a more suitable format for online video sharing. Don’t forget that there is a dual memory card slot so you can add even more storage space.
The improved built-in projector and increased storage space contribute to the fairly high $1,599 price tag. You are essentially paying for a flagship camcorder that doesn’t have any 3D features or built-in Wi-Fi functionality. But if that’s okay with you, the price is pretty reasonable especially if you treat the camcorder as a standalone pico projector.
Update: There is a newer model > Sony HDR-PJ810