Sony Handycam HDR-CX130 review (black)

The good:
A wide-angle lens, built-in USB cable, and consistently good automated behavior highlight the otherwise no-frills Sony Handycam HDR-CX130, CX160, and XR160 camcorders.

The bad:
The sub-HD resolution sensor on these camcorders produces merely satisfactory video.

The bottom line:
Typical for their price class, the no-frills Sony Handycam HDR-CX130, CX160, and XR160 produce generally subpar HD video, but if you're not picky you'll probably be fine. The CX130 is the best buy of the three, as long as you go cheap on the memory card.

There's not a lot to say about Sony's 2011 entry-level camcorders, the Handycam HDR-CX130, CX160, and XR160. With their no-frills design and feature set, I'd expect them to be a little cheaper, but they're definitely an improvement over last year's still-available-and-cheap CX110. The three models differ mostly by storage: the CX130 has no internal memory, the CX160 has 16GB built in, and the XR160 incorporates a 160GB hard disk and 5.1-channel audio. This review covers the CX130. (There's a fourth model, the PJ10, which is identical to the CX160 but incorporates a built-in projector; we plan to review that separately.)

In sunlight, with the subject filling the frame, the camcorder produces good-looking video that passes for full HD. But in many other circumstances, especially when there's a lot of background detail and motion such as grass or trees waving in the breeze, the low-resolution (in this case, less than the native 2.07 megapixels required for HD) sensor simply isn't up to the task of resolving all that and you'll start to see artifacts from the interpolation and video compression, despite the relatively high bit rates.

The colors look pleasing and sufficiently saturated, if a bit coolly white-balanced, and while bright highlights get blown out, that's an acceptable trade-off for the price that most users probably won't mind.

Moderately low-light video looks decent, albeit a bit soft and noisy, and in very dim living-room shadow-level light, the camcorder trades off color for visibility and sharpness, producing usable video with a not-unpleasant graininess reminiscent of black-and-white.

While the still photos are serviceable, you probably don't want to count on the camcorder as a camera. Photos are bright and colorful, but have that smeary, processed look of a cheap digital camera because they're scaled up from the native resolution of 1.67 megapixels to 1.9MP.

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