An XL2 is as easy to use as a smaller camera. Just set everything to auto.
No point in shooting in HDV unless you hire AT LEAST a sony fx1 (£2500) - below that price the optics of the camera and other bits limit the res.
To edit HDV smoothly, and depending on the editor, you need 2 or 4 cores.
Finally " I'm told that I'd get the same quality with any 'good' handheld DV.... is that true? ".
No - your friends are fools and / or totally inexpirienced. My standard res ( old fashioned DV) JVC pro cam poops all over any HDV camera I have tested, yes it has higher res - dont believe the hype (there again it is a £6000 cam )