Video Camera to Buy?

I’m not a video guy by any means. My department wants me to pick up a video camera (MiniDV or HDD) for running experiments in our R+D Lab - I’m looking for something low end to middle of the road ($250-500) that will work out of the box with a powerhouse Dell w/firewire

Hopefully packaged with manageble software to produdce short 3-10 minute videos - cuts and perhaps do time lapse?

Anyone famailair in this field… your input is appreciated.