Pansonic belatedly toddles into the minicamcorder market, a bumper crop of sub-$250, candy-bar-style products currently dominated by models such as the Flip UltraHD and Kodak PlaySport. The company doesn't bother going for a catchy name, instead sticking with its typical product-naming conventions--in this case, the HM-TA1.
Though the company is late to market, the TA1 does offer a relatively nice design and feature set for its $169.95 price. The camcorder itself is one of the smallest available, has a streamlined front design, and comes in basic--but attractive--red, dark grey, and purple. It's got a lot of buttons, though, in a category where less is more.
As for features, it has a pretty complete set: It records 1080/30p MPEG-4 video, has a 2-inch LCD, a captive USB cable, a removable battery, and an SDXC card, and a (blinding) LED video light. There are also a few special effects. The 1/4.1-inch 3-megapixel sensor is smaller for the resolution than some competitors, but it uses backside illumination technology, which might result in decent low-light quality.
Thus far, only Sanyo has made a point of supporting Apple's unnecessary iFrame format, a smaller-than-HD 960x540/30p size designed to be easily imported into iMovie (though you can easily import standard HD MPEG-4 formats into iMovie). Pansonic bought Sanyo, so behold--it's touting that "feature" in both the TA1 and its other entry-level model, the newly announced HDC-SDX1.
The SDX1 introduction makes it Panasonic's third camcorder at the $499 price point, joining the Best Buy-only TM60 and the more widely distributed but nearly identical SD60. It's similar to the SD60--a bit smaller and lighter, but with a 16.8x zoom lens compared with the others' 25x (which might be an advantage) and uses the same BSI sensor as the TA1.
This model is slated to be distributed through yet another couple of club-type channels. So no matter where you shop, there's a $499 Panasonic designed exclusively for you. Good luck trying to figure out if you're getting a reasonable deal; then again, I guess that's the point.