Camcorders Warm Up to DVD ; Now Hitting the Shelves: Three Easy-to-Use Machines That Record Straight to Disc. Are They Worth the Price?

Article excerpt

The letters "DVD" keep popping up on consumer electronics. The format is now commonly used in movies, music, and video games. Consumers can buy DVD set-top boxes that "burn" television programs onto blank discs. Using computers with DVD-R drives, they can also burn movies and music downloaded (not always legally) from the Internet.

The next chapter in the DVD expansion: camcorders.

This spring and summer, three major videocamera makers are debuting camcorders that record directly onto blank DVDs. The discs can then be immediately plopped into a DVD player for viewing. Manufacturers also promise that the video won't deteriorate over time (certainly the format is more durable than tape).

The new camcorders are expected to be most popular among Baby Boomers, many of whom keep what they record, rather than taking time to edit their footage with computer software. But for the next few years, most consumers are expected to favor Hi-8 analog and MiniDV digital camcorders - last year's best sellers. Sony's tape-based Digital 8 is gaining ground.

The reason: Prices on DVD camcorders have plenty of room to drop, say experts, and the cameras carry just as many liabilities as benefits.

Moreover, the wheel of innovation turns so quickly in consumer electronics that those who already own a camcorder might opt to wait for the debut of yet another format before they upgrade.

"History has taught us there's a continual wave of something better that will come along," says Sean Wargo, director of industry analysis at the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA).

The DVD boom is not the only reason for the new camcorders. In the past five years, camcorder sales have grown 66 percent, according to the CEA. Such surging sales figures have encouraged manufacturers to keep churning out new designs.

The Hi8 and MiniDV videocameras record a clearer picture and generally are much smaller - about the size of a paperback novel - than the original straight-to-VHS camcorders.

The digital video from the MiniDV can even be downloaded directly to a computer.

But both models lack a key feature: The tapes they use cannot be played in a VCR or DVD player. In order to view the footage, users often must connect the camera to their television using audio-video cables.

DVD camcorders, say manufacturers, bridge the divide between the old and the new. …