Digital Gear: Head Gear
New wearable gear could bring video and music to the ski slopes. The ATC-1000 camcorder from Oregon Scientific can be fitted on a helmet for hands-free video recording. Though expensive, Oakley's Thump 2 is an intriguing pair of sunglasses with an MP3 player and attached headphones.
Logitech's QuickCam Fusion Webcam comes with software that generates 3D-animated characters capable of mimicking human expressions during chat sessions. Another new product, PG Tips' ReadyWhenUR electric kettle, starts boiling water after receiving an SMS from a customer of Orange cellular service in the UK.
Oregon Scientific Helmet-Cam
Snowboarders wanting to replay a downhill run may want to look at Oregon Scientific's ATC-1000, a camcorder that can be fitted onto a helmet for hands-free video recording. It comes with a Velcro clip that can also clamp the video camera onto an arm strap or a mountain bike, said Gabrielle Elmer, marketing communications manager at Oregon Scientific.
The company has created a Web site featuring promotional action clips shot using the ATC-1000.
The camera captures video at three resolutions: 640 by 480 pixels, 320 by 240 pixels, and 160 by 120 pixels. The device's 32MB of internal memory can record between 20 to 25 minutes of video at 640 by 480 pixels, and you can add additional storage via a Secure Digital slot, Elmer said. (SD cards from SanDisk range in price from $19 for a 64MB card to $99 for a 1GB card.)
The ATC-1000 can be programmed to shoot three still photos at 10-second intervals, Oregon Scientific says. It also comes with video-editing software for PCs. The device runs on four AAA batteries.
The camcorder has undergone shatterproof testing so it can take a knock or two, making it suitable for sports such as cycling, skating, running, and skiing, Elmer said. Its 5-ounce weight shouldn't interfere with stunts, though curious onlookers may wonder what a video camera is doing on top of a snowboarder's helmet.
The ATC-1000's suggested retail price is $119, Elmer said.
Oakley has redesigned and doubled the storage capabilities on its Thump line of sunglasses, which have built-in MP3 players. (Read "Sunglasses, Meet MP3 Player" for a look at the first version.) Thump 2 boasts 1GB of storage and adjustable headphones on the sunglasses' temples. The temples also have buttons to manage volume or tracks, or to shut down the MP3 function.
Thump 2 is targeted at bikers, snowboarders, and hip young people, among others, according to the company.
The MP3 player performed well in my tests; the sound was deep and the bass was great. The headphones fit well into my ears, which seemed impossible when I first saw the sunglasses. Getting familiar with the function buttons was easy. The sunglasses have black iridium lenses with ultraviolet filtering, according to the company.
Thump 2 isn't meant to be an IPod killer, so don't expect a feature-packed portable audio player, but it works well as a supplemental music player. However, you must recharge the player after 6 hours of use.
Thump 2 has a USB 2.0 port for receiving music files from a PC or Mac. It can also store Windows Media Audio 10 music files purchased from sites supporting Microsoft's digital rights management system, including Napster, MusicNow, and Wal-Mart.
Oakley expects to ship Thump 2 by the end of November. It will be available in three versions with different storage capacities: The 256MB model goes for $299, the 512MB model for $349, and the 1GB model for $449. They will be available at consumer electronics retailers across the U.S., says Oakley spokesperson Julie Crabill.
Logitech's Videoconference Webcam
The folks at Logitech appear to believe that personalizing a videoconference with cartoons adds color to a conversation: The company has added some snazzy 3D animation features to its new videoconferencing Web camera, the QuickCam Fusion, a 1.3-megapixel video camera that comes with a phone headset.
The QuickCam Fusion includes Video Effects, software that can interpret a person's facial expression, which it represents on 3D animated characters, also known as avatars, said Karen Hoskins, a Logitech spokesperson. "It's another way to add fun and personalization to your video communications," she said. The Webcam can map out 22 facial expressions and reflect them on an avatar, she said.
The Webcam uses RightLight technology, which Hoskins said optimizes the brightness and color tones of low-light images. It also includes a microphone for headset-free chats, she said. The Webcam function can be disabled to use the device for Voice over IP conversations.
Major instant messaging software providers, including America Online, Microsoft, and Yahoo support the Webcam, according to Hoskins.
I found the QuickCam Fusion inconvenient to use, because its holder couldn't attach firmly to my desk's surface. The adjustable holders are designed to sit on top of CRT or flat-screen monitors, Hoskins says. The QuickCam Fusion lists for $99, but PC World's Product Finder has it for less.
A Peculiar Electric Kettle
Of all tea contraptions yet, the wackiest may be "ReadyWhenUR," an electric kettle that starts boiling water when a cell phone user sends it an SMS message with the words "SWITCH ON." The kettle has a receiver containing a person's cell phone information, and when the receiver gets the SMS, it starts heating water. British tea maker PG Tips, a division of Unilever, came up with this product, inspired by the animated characters Wallace and Gromit.
ReadyWhenUR could be ideal for lethargic folks like me. Sending an SMS in the morning to get the kettle started would allow me to stay in bed for a few extra minutes.
The kettle will become available in the UK in 2006 for the equivalent of $174, a PG Tips spokesperson confirmed. Initially at least, it will work only with SMS messages sent using the UK's Orange cell phone network.
This product will "revolutionize teatime," according to PG Tips. The British tea industry has taken a battering, with tea bag sales falling over 9 percent in the last two years, according to research from Mintel Group. PG Tips is also offering a prize of