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November 27, 2003|By Kevin E. Washington

Easy-to-use DVD camcorder exceeds tape's image quality

A loyal reader has called periodically during the past couple of years to ask what I thought of DVD camcorders. I've finally got some good news for him when he calls next.

The Panasonic VDR-M30PP DVD Palmcorder Camcorder ($899) does much of what you would expect of instant DVD recording with few hassles. The technology allows you to record on 1.4-gigabyte, 8-cm DVD-RAM and DVD-R discs, but playback can be tricky.

Some users have reported problems playing back DVD-R discs in DVD players, and DVD-RAM won't play in a regular DVD player. My suggestion is that anyone who wants to conveniently watch what they've recorded on DVD-RAM or DVD-R should use the camcorder to record to a computer that has a DVD or CD burner, and then burn a DVD or Video CD for use in a DVD player.

This compact camcorder weighs less than 2 pounds with battery and has solid features, including a 10X optical zoom and image stabilization. If you want to take 640-by-480-pixel photographs, you can plug in a Secure Digital card. I'm no fan of such small cards -- I like the slightly larger CompactFlash cards, but that's a minor quibble with this camcorder.

What is most attractive about DVD camcorders is that the media they use are far more durable than Mini-DV tapes or any other kind of tape; you'll not suffer the loss of resolution that you get with tape. You can record on a DVD-RAM disc more than 100,000 times -- something you're not going to get out of magnetic tape.

You can also go right to the recorded scene that you want to see without fast-forwarding -- just like with a DVD player. You can choose the scene you wish to jump to through the indexed thumbnails that can be viewed on the camcorder's LCD. This cuts down on editing time.

You can connect to your computer by Universal Serial Bus port.

The only downfall of the VDR-M30 is its night shooting, which wasn't nearly as good as that of Sony's better camcorders. Then again, few manufacturers have included great night shooting functions on their machines.

Information: 800-211-7262 or www.panasonic.com.

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