Whatever the reason for the current interest in all things high definition, it's ushered in a wave of affordable high-def camcorders for home users.

In an effort to grab some of this lucrative market, Sony pushed its impressive new HDR-HC7 into the spotlight only a few weeks before Canon's HV20 model; uncannily, not only do they look very similar, but their specification lists also have an extraordinary number of common features. That, at least, will make it easy to compare the two. Or will it?

Design and layout

These camcorders have so many similarities it's spooky. One plus point for both models is their chunkiness, which leads to improved stability when recording on and off a good tripod.

Both have a comprehensive set of accessible controls, divided between physical buttons and virtual buttons embedded into the graphical menu systems. HDV or DV tapes are top-loaded on both models, so you can change tapes with the unit still attached to a tripod.

In both cases, buttons and connectors are where they should be for efficient operation and the many connectors required for digital and analogue signal transfers are conveniently concealed behind plastic doors and flaps. Also welcome are the LCD frame-side controls on both models that, in the case of the Sony, are complemented by touch-screen control icons.

The HV20's functions are largely controlled by a mini joystick positioned at the rear of the main body and supplemented by simple tape transport controls mounted on the lower edge of the LCD frame. Both models have a small 0.7in colour viewfinder; the Sony's pulls out horizontally whereas the Canon's is fixed and, on first impressions, not that practical.

Features

Both models offer HDV or DV recording and playback modes and use FireWire to connect to either a Windows, Vista or Apple Mac computer for editing and exporting as full-HD 1920 x 1080 resolution.

You have the added benefit of analogue-to-digital signal conversion in each case (to DV only). When recording standard DV, traditional 4:3 and widescreen 16:9 modes are available. Both models have a full range of manual control options.

Where they differ is in the means by which adjustments are made while recording is in progress; the Sony requires the use of the LCD's touchscreen panel to alter values, whereas Canon gives you the facility to press the Function button and navigate the well-designed menu system using a mini joystick at the rear of the cam. Both models use CMOS, rather than CCD, chips to resolve their images.

The HV20 uses a 1/2.7in chip against the Sony's marginally bigger 1/2.9in. In terms of effective resolution it's the Sony that has the upper hand again by employing 2.28 million pixels in 16:9 movie mode against the Canon's 2.07 million.

Optical zoom ratios are a respectable 10:1 in each case, with the Sony having the widest lens at 5.1mm against the Canon's 6.1mm. In the digital stills department, the Canon has a slot for a MiniSD card, whereas Sony encourages users to use MemoryStick Duo.

In either case it's possible to record movie clips either to tape or memory card, too. Connectivity is excellent in both cases. Each provides not just HDMI connectivity for HD TVs but also Component connectors for those devices that require the older-style inputs.

Not only that, but two-way FireWire (in and out for HDV and DV), composite analogue inputs/outputs and USB 2.0 Mini-B connectors are there as well. Even better is that both camcorders not only have headphone outputs (combined with the menu-switchable AV out on the HV20) but also mic inputs.

This will please would-be users seeking external microphone connectivity for more serious sound recording. Intelligent accessory shoes and LED video lights (doubling as flash for stills work) are ready and waiting, too.