Well, I got my PAL HDR-XR500 here in Australia yesterday. I upgraded from the HDR-SR12 which I recently sold. Was a very good camera, but this is much better again. The first thing I filmed was a birthday party last night, for our Cat, Kitty. Don't ask.
Anyways, yes the Exmor R sensor is light years better than last years ClearVid CMOS sensor. With the addition of the back light sensor, there is far less video noise during low light. Looks far more like the kind of image you would expect from a three CCD sensor, just without image smearing and with a massive pixel count owing to its 1/2.88" size (bigger than the SR12 sensor by about 8%).
I was slightly worried that by replacing the Carl Zeiss T lens with the Sony G Lens, there would be some issues. Glad to say there isn't, again its a fair bit better. Colours are more vivid and saturated - especially green and red (red tones came out more like a dark pink on the SR12) which is more realistic. There also seems to be less barrel distortion with a wide angle lens than with the SR12.
The active optical image stabilisation works extremely well, and I am struggling to see any potential image degradation with that activated. More testing is necessary.
Autofocus hunting is also improved from the SR12. Focusses much quicker, but I also noticed that in low light it lost focus during panning more frequently than I would like, but the lens might have had a bit of dust or dirt on it, again more research is necessary.
The GPS function works well, but I don't really need that as I don't travel often - would be handy if I did.
I must admit I will miss the docking station from the SR12 which I stuck near the computer, but its not the end of the world.
So yeah, I am very happy with the XR500 and its a very reasonable upgrade from the 2008 models.