March's coolest gadgets

It's a great time to be in Japan. The cold winter weather is almost gone and the cherry blossoms are on the verge of opening and signalling the coming of spring.

It's a time of change as the new school year begins and new employees join companies, forcing many to move home for their new careers. With this comes the first big sales chance of the year for Japan's consumer electronics makers -- after all, if you're moving home why not take the opportunity to update that 15-year old television with a sleek LCD model?

This month I'm most excited about Sony Corp.'s latest high-definition camcorder. The company's been ahead of the pack in bringing HD home video to the consumer and the latest model, the HDR-HC3, is detailed below. I had the chance to mess around with it for a few days just after its launch and it worked great. I got quite a kick out of watching content that was better quality than the images being put out on conventional TV broadcasts!

But beware. Being on the bleeding edge of technology can bring annoyances, although the one I encountered wasn't Sony's fault.

The cameura records to HDV, which is a relatively new format, so I had to upgrade a copy of iMovie on my Mac before the computer would recognize the camera and import the video. The import was also slow, with the two-year-old iMac typically processing the HDV tape at one-quarter speed. Editing also seemed a little slow because of the volume of data involved, so a word of caution to anyone considering making the jump to HD and then editing the footage on a PC: make sure your PC is up to the job. It might require investment in a machine that is more expensive than the camera.

Sony HDV camcorder

For the second time in less than a year Sony Corp. has shrunk the size of its consumer high-definition camcorder. Compared to its predecessor, the HDR-HC3 is smaller and lighter by 26 percent, thanks to continued miniaturization of the lens unit and main components. Like the last camera it records in the HDV format on standard MiniDV tapes. The camera uses one of Sony's recently launched ClearVid CMOS image sensors and can take 4-megapixel class photos even while video is being recorded. It has an HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) output, a new feature. It's on sale now in Japan and will be available outside Japan from April, said Sony. It will cost around

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