JVC's design scheme is nothing to get excited about. In our eyes, the unit seems a bit boxy -- old fashioned, if you will -- and a touch large for a handycam. Folks won't have any trouble handling this thing with one hand, but it's not exactly the most comfortable camcorder we've ever held. To its credit, the HD40 was lighter than we expected it to be, but the size prohibits it from being easily (read: comfortably) carried about in one's cargo pocket. Beyond all that, the build just felt cheaper than we reckoned a $1,299.99 camera should. The materials just didn't feel high-end enough (or mid-range enough, to be honest), and the flimsy manual Lens Open switch was a real puzzler.
We did, however, appreciate the onboard port selection. A full-size HDMI port, mini-USB connector, AV output and microSD card slot were all found alongside a microphone input. The HDMI / AV output ports enable video playback straight to an HDTV without a dock (which is also included).
Alright, so the overall design is questionable, but how about the interface? Unfortunately, we can't say that there's too many highlights here, either. One of the first things we noticed is that the camcorder turned on as soon as the flip-out LCD was, um, flipped out. Some may love this, some may despise it. It sort of grew on us, to be honest -- particularly since it enabled lighting fast boot-up after the initial turn on sequence. In other words, shutting the screen once it was booted on put it in some form of sleep mode, and flipping it back open enabled us to capture time-sensitive moments with ease.
Also of note, the lens cover didn't automatically open when the unit was turned on or set to movie / still shot mode. Instead, users have to manually flip a switch beneath the cover itself. For some, this may not matter that much; we weren't particularly fond of it. Starting / stopping captures was handled by a nicely placed thumb button, while the zoom was handled up top. Speaking of which, we weren't thrilled with the sluggishness of the zoom, but at the same time, it did prevent us from zooming in way too fast. One of those love / hate things, you know?
We did appreciate how easy it was to switch (again, a manual toggle) from live video mode to still shot mode, but sadly, flipping over to the latter wasn't worth a whole lot -- more on that in a bit. The actual flip-out display was plenty bright and rather impressive in its own right, but the user interface left a lot to be desired. First off, JVC assigned way too many options to each button on the display and inner side panel. To further complicate matters, the UI had a few critical areas tucked away deep within the menu structure. For example, switching between AVCHD and MPEG-2 recording wasn't on the main menu; rather, it was curiously hidden within Basic Settings alongside unrelated options like language, clock adjust and date display style.
Once you learn the device, navigating isn't all that difficult, but it's still not intuitive, which really shouldn't be too much to ask on a device of this caliber. Another huge knock (to us, anyway) was the lack of a touchscreen. The entire UI has to be navigated with a trio of buttons (one of which is actually a tiny joystick), which isn't exactly the quickest way to get around in there. As a result, there's no icons to guide you -- just a traditional list of textual choices that don't do a phenomenal job of explaining what they're there for at times. If this seems harsh, let us remind you that this isn't some chintzy camcorder from DXG -- far from it, actually -- and for 1,300 bones, we simply expected a much more polished UI (and a touch panel).
We'd also like to touch on one more point: there's no secondary record stop / start button nor zoom button on the flip-out panel. Maybe it's just us, but we found that having these buttons near the hand likely holding the flip-out display really handy on the SC-HMX20C. Again, we understand that the omission of the aforesaid buttons comes as a direct result of having to place navigational buttons there instead, but still, it is somewhat frustrating to think of what could have been.