TOKYO EDGE - October's coolest gadgets
- 18 October, 2007 13:10
Japan's largest electronics show, Ceatec, kicks off October every year with all that's new and coming from the country's consumer electronics vendors. The 2007 show was certainly no let down and provided visitors a chance to catch some world-first technology, like a 3-millimeter thick TV, a laptop with super-charged graphics processing and new high-def video recorders.
The show has grown greatly over the last few years and this year hit a milestone: attendance of over 200,000 people across its five-day run. Organizers had been looking to break the record for the last three years so it came with more than a little relief that they finally managed it. Read on for our pick-of-Ceatec and other new gadgets from the last month.
Sony OLED TV
Without a doubt the coolest thing at Ceatec this year was Sony's OLED (organic light emitting diode) television. This is something we've been promised all year and the first commercial product doesn't disappoint -- except perhaps on price. The set has an 11-inch OLED panel and is 3mm thick. OLEDs offer other advantages over LCD and PDP technology, including wider viewing angles, faster response time, and better contrast and colors. However, the technology is difficult to manufacture and the OLED material degrades over time. Sony said the XEL-1 has a viewing life of 30,000 hours, which allows a user to watch eight hours of television each day for 10 years. The television goes on sale in Japan on Dec. 1, and will cost US$1,740.50. Currently, there are no plans to sell the television outside Japan, as Sony plans to manufacture just 2,000 sets each month.
Panasonic Blu-ray Disc recorders
Matsushita Electric Industrial (Panasonic) kicked off Ceatec by unveiling of three new Blu-ray Disc recorders. The recorders can cram up to 18 hours of high-definition video onto a 50G-byte Blu-ray Disc -- something that hasn't been possible until now. Previous recorders took the MPEG2 digital TV stream as it was transmitted and recorded it directly to disc resulting in a recording capacity of about 4 hours on the 50G-byte discs. However the new Panasonic recorders can convert this into the more efficient MPEG4 AVC compression system and thus the greater storage capacity on each disc. They also have built-in hard-disk drives. All three recorders will go on sale in Japan on Nov. 1 with the top-of-the-range BW900 costing US$2,600. There are no immediate plans to sell them overseas but Panasonic said it is examining the possibility.
Toshiba SpursEngine laptops
One of the cool gadgets being demonstrated by Toshiba was a prototype Qosmio laptop that includes a multimedia co-processor, called SpursEngine, based on the Cell Broadband Engine processor core. It's based on the same processor core found in the PlayStation 3 and aims to provide better video-processing capabilities for computers. One laptop offered facial-recognition capabilities that find a user's face, and then allow virtual makeup and different hairstyles to be applied and viewed in three dimensions. A second demonstration used the SpursEngine to search a video, and then break the video clip into scenes based on facial expressions, allowing a user to find a particular scene more easily. Toshiba has yet to finalize plans to commercialize SpursEngine.
Omron Okao Vision
While not strictly a gadget, Omron's Okao Vision is a software application that could certainly make other gadgets cool! A new addition to the facial-recognition family finds a face in a video image and then provides an estimation of how much a person is smiling (from 0 to 100 percent). The technology could be used, for example, in a digital camera to sense when photo subjects are smiling and ready for their picture to be taken. Sony's recently launched DSC-T200 has just such a feature -- branded Smile Shutter by Sony -- but it's not based on the Omron system. Omron hopes to find customers for the software this year.
Page BreakSharp LCD with optical scanner
If you think the iPhone screen's two-finger touch is cool then Sharp Corp. has something for you! The company showed a prototype 3.5-inch screen integrates an optical scanner pixel alongside each LCD pixel. This means the screen can scan objects such as name cards placed on its surface and recognize fingers or other objects. Because it's determining the position of fingers from a scanner input and not a touch screen, it's possible to touch the screen in more than two places and have all fingers recognized. The panel is still a prototype but commercialization is expected in the first half of next year. Samples are already in the hands of potential customers but Sharp wouldn't name those companies. Whoever they are, you can be sure some are trying to outdo Apple's iPhone!
Samsung music phones
Away from Ceatec, Samsung unveiled a refreshed line-up of three new cell phones that are targeted at music lovers. The top-of-the-range SGH-i450 boasts an amplifier developed by high-end audio specialists Bang & Olufsen and runs the Symbian S60 smartphone software platform. It has a 2.4-inch display and a 2-megapixel camera. It works on WCDMA (wideband code division multiple access) networks and supports HSDPA (high-speed downlink packet access) data service up to 3.6M bps (bits per second). The phone will first appear in Italy at the end of October and will follow in other European countries. It will cost about US$508 before carrier subsidies. One weak point of the handset is the amount of built-in memory, which is just 35M bytes. That's about enough for 7 to 10 songs, which is disappointing for a music phone. Memory can be expanded up to 4G bytes with a Micro SD memory card.
Sony Video Walkman with TV
Sony is adding mobile digital TV viewing and recording to the video Walkman it sells in Japan. The "OneSeg" system, as it is marketed, has proved a popular addition to many portable gadgets and can now be found on many high-end cell phones, laptop PCs, car navigation systems and even electronic dictionaries. The only difference between the three new Walkman devices with TV is their memory capacity. The NW-A916 has 4G bytes of memory, the NW-A918 has 8G bytes and the NW-A919 16G bytes. Compared to the last players the screen size has been increased to 2.4-inches from 2-inches. They'll go on sale in November in Japan only. The NW-A916 will cost about US$260.