PROS / This affordable camcorder records in full HD 1080/60p and has a large 3-inch touchscreen LCD.
CONS / Its hard disk drive is only 160GB and it takes 3-megapixel digital photos.
VERDICT / Despite having a slightly small hard drive, the HDR-XR160 is the best hard drive camcorder we reviewed.
The Sony HDR-XR160 is an affordable hard drive camcorder that can record video in full high definition at 1080/60p. It also features a 160GB hard disk drive, shoots dimly lit scenes well and sports a 3-inch LCD touchscreen. While the hard drive can be considered small, it also takes only 3 megapixel (MP) digital stills, but it’s still a remarkable camcorder. It earns our TopTenREVIEWS Gold Award for its design, high resolution, ease of use and numerous other features.
As with many of its electronics, Sony has packed many impressive features into the HDR-XR160, with these key features, like full high definition 1080/60p video resolution and 3 MP stills. It ships with a wide-angle Sony G HD lens with 30x optical zoom and 42x extended zoom. plus optical SteadyShot for smooth handheld video. The 160GB hard disk drive can hold up to 54 hours of HD video; and a full color, touchscreen 3-inch Clear Photo LCD Plus, so you can monitor your video while you shoot, even outside.
Other features and functions include Tracking Focus, so you can choose which subject will stay in focus at all times. There is a built-in 5.1 channel stereo surround sound microphone that’s actually pretty good for an onboard mic, plus Wind Reduction and decent speakers. Its intelligent Auto (iA) feature can break down the automatic exposure and focus functions based on the location and subject. The Golf Shot feature captures video one still at a time, up to 22, so you can analyze or even print out the images, which is great for looking at a golf swing and so on. Plus, there are terrific organizational features, like face detection, event browsing and more.
The 3-inch color Clear Photo LCD will not only let you monitor your video, but it's also a touchscreen that lets you easily navigate through the menu system. You can also angle the LCD from the camera up to 90 degrees and flip it up or down as much as 270 degrees. While it’s easiest to see the LCD when you look at it straight on, it's still viewable – though somewhat darker – when viewed from an angle. You can also activate a special guide frame, which aids in framing your video so you get more professional results.
This hard drive camcorder’s interface includes a special port that connects to a cable which is compatible with composite A/V (RCA), component and S-Video. The S-Video portion isn’t included, but the others are. The HDMI port provides the highest quality video when connected to an HDTV, but the cable isn’t included. You can also connect to a computer or hard drive with an included USB 2.0 cable and port. The Sony HDR-XR160 also includes a rechargeable battery and an A/C adapter for charging.
It does ship with a very basic video and image browser called PMB (Picture Motion Browser), which will organize your HD footage and digital photos automatically as you import from the Sony HDR-XR160 hard drive camcorder to your computer. This software is for Windows computers only; Mac users can take advantage of iMovie, though you’ll need additional software to support 1080/60p video.
The Sony HDR-XR160 features an Exmor R CMOS imaging sensor, similar to the ones found in Sony’s higher-end professional cameras. This particular imaging sensor is designed in a way that it’s back-illuminated, meaning it can shoot better in low-light situations when compared to similar hard drive camcorders.
The hard drive camcorder records in 1920 x 1080/60p full high definition, the highest HD resolution available. It records audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 stereo, and the sound is pretty good, considering you’re using the onboard mic. It can also shoot digital stills, up to 3 MP (2304 x 1296), which is better than some hard drive camcorders but still much lower resolution when compared to compact digital cameras.
There are several recording modes, each one adding more video compression, which will affect the overall quality. Basically, as more compression is added, the video and audio quality drops. From the greatest quality to the least, the HDR-XR160 shoots in HD PS (28 megabits per second), FX (24 Mbps), FX (17 Mbps), HQ (9 Mbps) and LP (5 Mbps). The higher number represents less compression, so HD PS is the best setting to shoot in.
When shooting in HD PS, the Sony HDR-XR160’s high definition video really pops, with colors looking nice and vibrant, and details that are crisp and clear. Shooting in HD PS will create larger high definition video files that fill up the drive quicker, but it’s worth shooting in the highest image setting to get the best possible quality.
Hard Drive Capacity
The Sony HDR-XR160’s hard disk drive is 160GB, which is about average. Some similar hard drive camcorders have 80GB hard drives, but some provide as much as 220GB of storage space for your videos and pictures. Depending on the recording mode you use, the drive can hold anywhere from 13 hours to more than 54 hours of high definition footage.
As discussed above, this hard drive camcorder’s highest quality setting, HD PS, offers less compression, producing beautiful full high definition video and audio, but the resulting video file sizes are much larger, and this hard drive camcorder can only hold 13 hours and 10 minutes of footage at that level. If you shoot at the lowest recording mode, LP, you’ll get over 54 hours of footage, but the higher compression rate will cause the quality to suffer.
Visit Sony’s website for a complete breakdown of recording settings and the maximum amount of footage the hard drive camcorder can hold.
Sony also offers HDD Smart Protection, which does its best to ensure your HD video, audio and digital photos aren’t lost if you accidently drop the camera. Since this is a hard disk drive with moving parts, normal HDDs would likely start deleting files if dropped, such as an external USB hard drive. While there is no guarantee, Sony promises HDD Smart Protection works to protect your valuable footage and stills.
Help & Support
Sony offers several help options, including an extensive user manual, a FAQs page on their site, user forums to find help, and a 90-day labor or replacement and one-year parts warranty. Sony also sells extended warranties, up to four years, and you can choose from either a basic extended warranty or one that covers accidents, such as dropping it.
If you have further questions, or need technical support, you can contact Sony’s customer support by telephone, email and live chat. Keep in mind that the company holds regular business hours, so check their website for the best times to call.
Sony has packed a lot of great features into the small and lightweight HDR-XR160, making it easy to get quality HD video, up to 1080/60p, the best in hi-def resolution. And this camcorder won’t break the bank. Other hard drive camcorders with similar features can cost two or three times more than this unit. While the 160GB hard drive and 3 MP digital photos can be considered small when compared to some newer models, this is still the best hard drive camcorder for its price, quality and features.