A couple of months ago we looked at the VPC-CG65's big sister - the £440 VPC-HD2 HD Xacti - a camcorder with great potential, which failed to deliver its high-definition promise.
This time we're stepping down to standard-definition version. Available for just £200, the CG65 may attract a bigger fan club. Aside from no HD, this model drops HDMI and component video connectivity and the HD2's ability to run off a DC cord. But would you pay twice as much for that? We didn't think so...
Our model came in a silver and black livery covering its metal and plastic hide. There are two alternatives: one all black, the other's metal clad in lime green. While the on/off button is found behind the 2.5in LCD (a marginal 0.3in increase on the HD2), the rest of the intuitive controls are easily thumbed from the rear. Moving around the onscreen menus is a breeze.
The ergonomic simplicity is enhanced further with manual functions assigned to the navigation tool. Changing settings on the move is also quick and easy.
Beneath the controls are slots for the battery and SD card. What you won't find is the card itself so sadly this won't work out of the box.
On the flip side of the LCD are four slashes, which we hope will record high-quality stereo sound despite the likely proximity of our fingers. Following the curves down to the underside, you'll find the tripod bush and the all-important USB 2.0 socket for exporting footage. Beneath the lens is an AV socket, while a flashlight is found on its side.
Low price, high features count
For a model so seductively priced, the features are impressive. Lens-wise, the optical zoom is a basic 5x extending to 60x digitally, if you like that sort of thing. If not, you can switch off the digimoosh.
The recording menu offers four options. The best is HQ, offering 640 x 480 pixels at 30fps, while two web modes offer 320 x 240 resolution - one of which records at 30fps, the second at a strobey-sounding 15.
Seven stills resolutions cover a range from a modest 640 x 480 to a mighty 3,680 x 2,760, while you also get seven Program AE modes, six white balances, three filters (for stills and video), auto and forced flash, and even two digital image stabilisers.
Six film-evoking ISO settings from 50-1600 suggest the CG65 is built for low light. Three more menus cover the rest with the most interesting features being image settings, and noise and flicker reduction. Image settings should enhance the colour saturation or reduce the sharpness or, for arch meddlers, both.
Among the regulars, playback menus offer a red-eye correction and resolution scale-down option, which allows you to create a new lower resolution image, for saving space.
Downloading footage to Mac or PC was done in seconds and a few button presses before MPEGs pop up neatly in a desktop file alongside JPEGs. PC owners have Ulead programs bundled for editing videos and stills, and authoring DVDs. The creative urges of Apple users are sated with iMovie.
First impressions of our video footage were positive and, we're pleased to say, so were the second. Free from the burden of HD expectation, the less ambitious challenge of SD pictures was met without any major flaws. Also pleasing was the negligible drop in quality between the top two modes. The web-friendly footage did deteriorate significantly but, if you do the resolution maths, the freefall is expected and the pics are still quite usable.
While some of the semi-manual features are a little unnecessary most work effectively as do the welcome manual versions. An example is the manual focus, which uses the navigation toggle to sharpen up its act.
Ultimately, the CG65 proved itself to be excellent value. It's half the price of its HD sibling and what it lacks are essentially all the elements of that model that are not included here.
It's not made for serious video enthusiasts - and for £200 it has no right to be. For the person that's going to slip this into their inside pocket before a party, it does a great job.
And if you lose it along the way you will probably mourn the loss of surprisingly good pictures more than the money you have spent.