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December's coolest gadgets

December's coolest gadgets

It seems fitting that two of the coolest products to be announced by Japan's electronics companies in the past month are consumer digital video products with network connections

It seems fitting that two of the coolest products to be announced by Japan's electronics companies in the past month are consumer digital video products with network connections. We've already seen a few such products that begin to mix digital content from television services with local area network and computer technology and 2004 is sure to bring a lot more so it's a good way to end the year. Of the two, NEC Corp.'s hard-disk drive-based video recorder is the most complex and it is the more expensive. On the subject of price you might be surprised that IO Data's DVD player with network connection and support for a whole range of audio, video and image formats costs not much more than a conventional player.

NEC hard-disk drive video recorder

NEC's latest video recorder, the PX-AX300H, is due on sale in Japan in the next couple of weeks and packs an impressive 300G bytes of hard-disk drive-based recording space. At the lowest quality recording setting, which uses an MPEG2 1.2M bps (bits per second) stream, that's enough space for 423 hours of video. Put another way, you can record an hour of television per day for an entire year and still have plenty of space left for those New Year holiday movies and specials. The other advantage all this space gives you is the ability to record everything at the highest quality setting, an 8M bps MPEG2 stream, and not have to worry about filling the disk. There's also a DVD-RAM/R recording function and you can plug it into your computer network and watch recorded TV shows from a PC with software supplied by NEC. It costs around ¥160,000 (US$1,490) and a version with 160G-byte hard-disk drive costs around ¥120,000. NEC has no current plans to sell it overseas.

IO Data network DVD player

IO Data's AVLP1/DVD looks like a conventional DVD player, but if you peer a little closer at the connectors on the rear you'll notice something you don't usually see on the DVD player: an Ethernet socket. This allows the device to be connected to a home network and for users to watch or access content from PCs on the network. The player supports a host of formats: MPEG-1/2, Divx and Xvid video; Windows Media, MP3, MP2, AAC, AC3, PCM and OggVorbis audio; BMP, JPEG, GIF and PNG still images. Disc support is equally good although the DVD-RAM cartridge media is not accepted. You'll need a computer running Windows 98SE or later or MacOS X 10.2 or later operating systems. The machine is on sale now in Japan and costs ¥29,800 (US$277).

JVC High definition video player

Victor Co. of Japan Ltd. (JVC) is matching its GR-HD1 high-definition camcorder launched in 2003 with a portable video player. The CU-VH1 has a deck to accept MiniDV format cassettes and can play video recorded in either NTSC 4:3 or MPEG2 16:9 standard definition 525-line or MPEG2 16:9 high-definition 750-line video on a built-in 3.5-inch liquid crystal display (LCD) panel. It weighs 1.1 kilograms with the batteries installed so isn't difficult to carry around and like the camera is aimed at professional or serious amateur applications. It goes on sale in Japan from January for around ¥250,000 (US$2,325) and JVC says it also plans to put it on sale in the U.S. shortly.

NTT DoCoMo Foma 900i series handsets

The most advanced range yet of 3G handsets for NTT DoCoMo's Foma service will be on sale in Japan in the first quarter of 2004. Highlights include a 2-megapixel class camera on models from Mitsubishi Electric Corp., Sharp Corp. and NEC Corp., compatibility with miniSD or Memory Stick Pro Duo memory cards and, on Fujitsu Ltd.'s handset, a fingerprint scanner. Sharp has also built in a new software system that allows users to display and read Microsoft Word and Excel documents on their phones. Better yet for users is longer battery life and reduced weight. Standby time has been extended to 300 hours and continuous talk time is 140 minutes on four of the five handsets and the weight is between 115 grams and 130 grams. The handsets support WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) but are only compatible with NTT DoCoMo's Japanese network and offer no overseas roaming.

Sharp Efficeon notebook

Sharp Corp. has become the first personal computer maker to announce a machine based on Transmeta Corp.'s new Efficeon processor. The computer is the latest model in its thin Mebius Muramasa series and will go on sale in Japan on Jan. 2 for around ¥180,000 (US$1,675). The Efficeon is Transmeta's follow-on chip to the Crusoe processor and the version inside the new computer is a TM8600 running at 1GHz. Other features include a 10.4-inch XGA resolution LCD (liquid crystal display), 256M bytes of memory and a 20G-byte hard-disk drive. ATI Technologies Inc.'s Mobility Radeon graphics accelerator and IEEE802.11b/g wireless LAN are also built in. Battery life is between 3.5 hours and 11 hours, depending on the choice of battery pack, the machine weighs 910 grams and the thickness ranges from 15.7 millimeters to 19.6 millimeters. Length and width are 251 millimeters and 206 millimeters respectively. Sharp does not have any plans to sell the machine overseas.

Hitachi methanol fuel cell

If you are always having to recharge or replace batteries in your handheld devices then have we got news for you. Hitachi Ltd. says it has developed a fuel-cell battery that uses methanol, air and water to provide a cheap, long-lasting power source for portable devices. The prototype is around 1 centimeter in diameter and between 5 centimeters and 6 centimeters in length or similar to that of a AA battery. Hitachi said it plans to continue development of the device and put it on the market in 2005 along with a compatible PDA. At least two other Japanese companies, NEC Corp. and Toshiba Corp., are also developing similar devices.

NEC DVD/HD-DVD disc drive

NEC Corp. took the wraps off a prototype optical drive that might be inside products features here in one or two years' time. The drive uses a newly developed optical head to offer compatibility with both conventional DVD discs and next-generation HD-DVD (High Definition and High Density DVD). The latter is a new format, still going through the standardization process, that can accommodate up to 20G-byte on rewritable discs and either 15G bytes or 30G bytes in a read-only format. The format is primarily aimed at high-definition video applications and commercial players, which could include NEC's new drive, are expected on the market sometime in late 2004 or 2005. -- IDG News Service

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