Tokyo Edge: Multimedia Gone Mad?

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TOKYO -- A few years ago hard drives were found only in computers. Now the drives are increasingly used in consumer electronics because they offer high performance and large storage capacity at a price that flash memory media can't match.

A couple of the coolest gadgets announced in Japan in the past month, both from Sony, put hard drives to use. The first is the HMP-A1, which combines a digital audio and video player. Think of it as something like a video Apple IPod. The second is the HDPS-M1 portable photo bank, which stores images on its hard drive so you can reuse memory cards. It can hold 30,000 5-megapixel images, so it should satisfy even the most shutter-happy photographer.

Sony HMP-A1 Hard Disk Media Player

Sony HMP-A1 Media Player

Sony launched its first hard disk media player, the video-only VAIO PCVA-HVP20, late last year. It's released a couple more since then, but we've had to wait until now for the company's first audio and video player with a hard disk. Unusual for a Sony product, the 20GB HMP-A1 supports MP3 audio and not Sony's favored Adaptive Transform Acoustic Coding for MiniDisc (ATRAC) format. The player also supports MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 video formats, and you can play media in other formats by converting files with the bundled software.

The HMP-A1 can exchange data with a PC over a USB 2.0 connection. The screen, which dominates the front of the device, is a 3.5-inch LCD with 320-by-240-pixel (QVGA) resolution. Along its right side are navigation buttons, and an in-line remote control resides in the headphone cable.

The HMP-A1 can run on its internal rechargeable batteries or an AC power adapter. Sony says battery life is 4 hours for MPEG-2 playback, 6 hours for MPEG-4 playback, and 8 hours for MP3 playback. The player's batteries can be recharged in about 2.5 hours from an AC supply and in about 7 hours from the USB line. It is scheduled to ship in Japan in June for about $550, but Sony has not announced plans for overseas sales.

Vodafone's Karaoke Cell Phones

Toshiba V601T

Just when you thought cell phones had everything, engineers at Sharp and Toshiba have come up with handsets that double as portable karaoke machines. The Sharp V602SH and Toshiba V601T can connect to an external display and play karaoke files downloaded from the Vodafone Live mobile Internet service, which is available only in Japan. With a television connection, the song lyrics and a simple animation appear on the screen while the melody plays through the TV's speakers. The handsets serve as microphones, and the singer's voice comes out of the television set.

The other features are fairly standard for Japanese cell phones. The devices contain a 2-megapixel camera, a color display, and support for mobile Internet and Java applets. The Sharp handset's camera has a 2X optical zoom, making the cell phone one of the first to offer this feature. Vodafone will announce pricing upon release in Japan, which is mid-June for the V602SH and mid-July for the V601T; the phones won't work on other networks.

Casio XF-1000 Bath-Time LCD TV

Casio XF-1000 TV

Casio Computer is releasing a new model in its splash-proof digital TV range. The XF-1000 receives video that has been streamed across a 2.4-GHz wireless LAN link from a base station that can be hooked up to an antenna and devices such as DVD players. This setup could produce a better picture and provide more video content than do other portable TVs.

The latest addition to Casio's Xfer line features a 10-inch screen, making it Casio's largest. Battery life is extended from 2 hours on the previous two models to 3 hours and 15 minutes, or up to 4 hours in power-saving mode. Casio has priced the XF-1000 at $1550 for sale in Japan, and has not announced plans to sell it overseas.

Sanyo ICR-RS175M Voice Recorder

Sanyo ICR-RS175M

Sanyo Electric's latest voice recorder is a neat little unit that includes a music player function.

The ICR-RS175M is 4.75 inches long, just over 1 inch wide, and 0.5 inch deep, and weighs 2 ounces. It includes MP3 recording, MP3 and Windows Media Audio playback, and an FM radio tuner. The recorder has 128MB of internal storage and can hold between 2 hours (at 128 kilobits per second) and 17 hours (at 16 kbps) of recorded audio. Two AAA batteries provide enough power for more than 13 hours of recording, according to Sanyo.

The $275 device is scheduled to ship in July, in Japan only.

Sony HDPS-M1 Portable Hard Drive

A new gadget from Sony could be a welcome addition to the camera bag of any serious photographer who uses its Cyber-shot cameras. The HDPS-M1 is a portable 40GB hard drive with slots for Memory Stick and CompactFlash I or II cards. Users can pull a memory card out of the camera, insert it into the HDPS-M1, and press a button to copy all the images onto the hard drive. Later, the images can be transferred to a PC via a USB 2.0 connection.

The HDPS-M1 runs for 1 hour on batteries, according to Sony. It measures 5.2 by 12 by 3.6 inches and weighs 10.5 ounces. Sony says the device provides enough storage for 30,000 images taken in standard mode at 5-megapixel resolution and 18,000 images with an 8-megapixel camera. It will cost $275 in Japan, and Sony has not given word about overseas sales.

Sharp Mebius Muramasa PC-CV50 Notebook

Sharp Mebius Muramasa PC-CV50

Sharp is catering to Japan's love of small notebooks with its new Mebius Muramasa PC-CV50. The machine has a 1-GHz version of Transmeta's TM8600 Efficeon processor and features a 7.2-inch wide-screen LCD panel with 1280-by-768-pixel resolution. It features a distinctive, clean design that is the product of a collaboration between Sharp and Tom Schönherr of Germany's Phoenix Design.

Battery life is quoted as 3.5 hours for the computer, which measures 9 by 6.3 by 1.2 inches and weighs just under 2 pounds. Other specifications include 256MB of memory and a 20GB hard drive.

The Mebius Muramasa PC-CV50 is scheduled to ship in Japan in June priced at $1735, and Sharp has not announced plans for overseas sales.

Casio A5406CA 3-Megapixel Cell Phone

Casio A5406CA

Japanese cellular carrier KDDI has released what it claims is the first cell phone with an embedded 3-megapixel digital camera. The announcement comes almost exactly a year after release of the first megapixel-class cell phones in Japan, and around six months after the first 2-megapixel models hit shelves.

The A5406CA is manufactured by Casio, which also produced the first 2-megapixel camera phone. Features include a 2.3-inch TFT display with 240-by-320 pixel (QVGA) resolution, a 1.1-inch subdisplay, a USB cradle to easily transfer images and video files to a PC, a 12.8MB internal data folder, and a MiniSD card slot. It's compatible with Japan's variant of the Code Division Multiple Access standard, which is used in Europe and Asia, so it won't be sold elsewhere. Prices vary by network.

High-Definition Video Projection Prototypes

NHK Super Hi-Vision

In the research and development corner is a taste of things to come from Sony and Japan's public broadcaster Nippon Hoso Kyokai.

Sony and NHK are both showing off high-definition video projection systems. Sony has demonstrated its Silicon Crystal Reflective Display technology, dubbed SXRD, and delivered a picture of double-HDTV resolution. The company developed the display for commercial digital cinema products; a baby version of the device with HDTV resolution is featured in the Qualia 004 projector.

NHK's system is called Super Hi-Vision and offers a 16:9 aspect-ratio picture with 4320 horizontal lines, which is roughly 4 times the number of lines and 16 times the resolution of current HDTV. It also has a 22.2-channel audio system.

Sony's system might be appearing in movie theaters in coming years, while the NHK says its system is unlikely to be commercialized until sometime in the next decade.

Martyn Williams is Tokyo bureau chief for the IDG News Service, a consortium of IDG publications.
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