Environmental microbial community analysis typically involves amplification by PCR, despite well-documented biases. We have developed two methods of PCR-independent microbial community analysis using the high-density microarray PhyloChip: direct hybridization of 16S rRNA (dirRNA) or rRNA converted to double-stranded cDNA (dscDNA). We compared dirRNA and dscDNA communities to PCR-amplified DNA communities using a mock community of eight taxa, as well as experiments derived from three environmental sample types: chromium-contaminated aquifer groundwater, tropical forest soil, and secondary sewage in seawater. Community profiles by both direct hybridization methods showed differences that were expected based on accompanying data but that were missing in PCR-amplified communities. Taxon richness decreased in RNA compared to that in DNA communities, suggesting a subset of 20% in soil and 60% in groundwater that is active; secondary sewage showed no difference between active and inactive populations. Direct hybridization of dscDNA and RNA is thus a viable alternative to PCR-amplified microbial community analysis, providing identification of the active populations within microbial communities that attenuate pollutants, drive global biogeochemical cycles, or proliferate disease states.