Home movies in high-def

Admit it, you've marveled at the clarity of those high-definition TVs playing in all their power-sucking glory at Sears. Prices have fallen. Still, a few thousand dollars for a television?

Enter a peripheral device that might help justify the purchase for consumers whose favorite movies are the ones in which their own families star: Sony's HDR-HC1 camcorder, unveiled in the spring and now hitting stores, brings high-definition recording capability a little closer to the mainstream.

Sony's first model for the consumer market, the HDR-FX1, came out last year, but at $3,700 and in a bulky size. The HDR-HC1 weighs 1-1/2 lbs., can be cradled in one hand - and costs about $1,800.

Among other features, it has a 2.7-in. wide "touch panel" LCD screen for accessing options. You don't need hamster-like hands to use it; we easily worked through menus with a thumb. Most fun - and ironic - feature: "Cinematic" mode, in which crisp video takes on a retro, film-like appearance.

Cautionary note: The new Sony lets users burn standard DVDs, but experts point to some loss of resolution. Option: Transfer video to a high-capacity hard drive (HD-DVR). Most hold about 60 hours in high-definition, says an analyst at the Consumer Electronics Association. Or keep buying mini DVI tapes and playing them from the camera. High-definition DVD formats remain a year or so away.

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