Japanese electronics makers are unveiling their new devices for the new year, and (much like last year) video is key.
The line between the home computer and home entertainment continues to blur. Two new digital video devices feature ethernet connections, allowing you to transfer your video content to your PC. Other new products are for people on the go: Sharp has unveiled a lightweight notebook, while Hitachi is demonstrating a fuel cell that could lengthen the life of your portable device.
NEC's latest video recorder, the PX-AX300H, is due on sale in Japan in January and packs an impressive 300GB of hard-drive-based recording space. At the lowest-quality recording setting, which uses an MPEG2 1.2-megabits-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's holiday movies and specials.
The other advantage of all this space is the ability to record everything at the highest-quality setting, an 8-mbps MPEG2 stream, without having to worry about filling the disk. The device also includes a DVD-RAM/R recording function, and can be plugged into your computer network so you can watch recorded TV shows from a PC with software supplied by NEC.
It costs about $1490, and a version with a 160GB hard drive costs around $1120. NEC has no current plans to sell it overseas.
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 different: 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; and 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 $277.
Video on the Go
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. It also can play video recorded in either NTSC 4:3 or MPEG2 16:9 standard definition 525-line video, or MPEG2 16:9 high-definition 750-line video, on a built-in 3.5-inch LCD panel.
It weighs 2.4 pounds with the batteries installed, so it isn't difficult to carry around. Like the HD camcorder, the video player is aimed at professionals or serious amateurs. It goes on sale in Japan in January for around $2325. JVC says it also plans to put it on sale in the United States shortly.
Handsets Move Forward
The most advanced range of 3G handsets yet for NTT DoCoMo's Foma service will be on sale in Japan in the first quarter of 2004. Highlights include a 2-megapixel camera on models from Mitsubishi Electric, Sharp, and NEC, compatibility with miniSD or Memory Stick Pro Duo memory cards, and, on Fujitsu'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. The weight is between 4.1 ounces and 4.6 ounces.
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 has become the first personal computer maker to announce a machine based on Transmeta's new Efficeon processor. The computer is the latest model in its thin Mebius Muramasa series and will go on sale in Japan on January 2 for about $1675.
The Efficeon is Transmeta's follow-up to the Crusoe processor. The version inside the new computer is a TM8600 running at 1 GHz.
The notebook's other features include a 10.4-inch XGA resolution LCD, 256MB of memory, and a 20GB hard drive. ATI Technologies' 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 slightly more than two pounds and is from 0.6 inches to 0.8 inches thick. Length and width are 9.9 inches and 8.1 inches, respectively. Sharp does not have any plans to sell the machine overseas.
Are you always recharging or replacing the batteries in your handheld devices? Have we got news for you: Hitachi 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 about 0.4 inches in diameter and 2.0 inches to 2.4 inches long, or similar to an AA battery. Hitachi says 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 and Toshiba, are developing similar devices.
For the Future
NEC has unveiled a prototype optical drive that could be part of products that you'll see in this column 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. It can accommodate up to 20GB of data on rewritable discs and either 15GB or 30GB in a read-only format. The format is primarily aimed at high-definition video applications; commercial players, which could include NEC's new drive, are expected on the market sometime in late 2004 or 2005.