Cool gadgets from Japan

TOKYO -- The summer months this year are proving good for Japan's electronics makers.

The Olympic Games in Athens are pushing many people to finally buy that plasma or LCD television that they've been dreaming about owning for the last couple of years, and the time difference between Japan and Greece is also helping sales of video recorders, particularly those based on hard-disk drives or DVD discs.

At the top of the list is Hitachi Ltd.'s latest hard-disk drive video recorder. It supports HDTV, which is exactly the market that Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD are going after, though players in the hard-disk market are looking to be able to offer basic recording functions at a lower price. You can't back up the recorded shows onto disc because DVD doesn't support HDTV, but it will be interesting to see if the emergence of such players dents potential demand for next-generation optical disc recorders.

Hitachi HDTV recorder

Hitachi Ltd. has developed a hard-disk-drive-based video recorder that supports HDTV recording. There are two models available. The DV-DH400T has a 400GB drive, and the DV-DH250T has a 250GB drive. This means, in the case of the former, enough space for 40 hours of HDTV or 555 hours of standard-definition TV. There's also a DVD recording function, but because DVD doesn't support HDTV, this is limited to standard-definition TV recording. The recorders will be available in Japan during October, and Hitachi expects them to cost 200,000 yen ($1,820) and 160,000 yen, respectively. There are no plans for an international launch.

Sony DSC-P150 Digital Still Camera

The megapixel race continues in the digital camera market, with Sony Corp. announcing its DSC-P150. The camera is proudly trumpeted as the first pocket-size digital to offer 7-megapixel resolution, although that sounds like overkill for the average user. Other features include a 3X optical zoom and support for PictBridge, which allows the camera to be directly connected to a printer without going via a PC. Start-up time is 1.3 seconds and shutter lag -- the delay between pressing the button and the shutter releasing -- is 0.3 seconds. It will be available in Japan and the U.S. in September and will cost around $500.

Web: http://www.sonystyle.com

NHJ Digital Jukebox

Digital music players from Apple Computer Inc. and Sony Corp. may be stealing all the headlines, but if you want lots of features, you might be better off looking elsewhere. NHJ Ltd.'s VHD-1500 is a digital music player equipped with a 1.5GB hard disk drive and support for MP3, Windows Media (WMA) and Ogg format music playback. You can hook it up to a CD player and rip songs directly into MP3 format, and there's also a built-in FM radio tuner. It uses USB 2.0 to connect to a PC and NHJ says the battery lasts 18 hours. It's available now in Japan and costs 27,800 yen ($253). No plans for an overseas launch have been announced.

Toshiba Qosmio notebook

Toshiba Corp.'s new Qosmio notebook computer range is optimized for multimedia. Features include an in-house developed image processing chip and other enhancements, such as the addition of a second backlight in the LCD to offer a brightness equivalent to that of a flat-panel television. The notebook includes a TV tuner, and there's a Linux-based system that enables the notebook to begin showing TV images almost immediately. Without it, users would have to wait for about 30 seconds to one minute for Windows to start, the user to log in and the TV software to begin. Three models will be on sale in Japan by the end of August. In the U.S., they will be launched in mid-August, in Europe at the end of August, in Singapore in August and in China and South Korea in October. Two additional models are promised before the end of this year. Street prices begin at 205,000 yen ($1,864).

Web: http://www.qosmio.com

Kyocera Finecam SL400R

Kyocera Corp. is issuing five new models of its Finecam SL400R digital still camera to follow the launch of Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod mini in Japan. The specifications are unchanged from the basic version but come in the same five colors as Apple's music playe: silver, gold, pink, green and blue. They'll be on sale from late August through Apple Japan's online store and its retail store in Tokyo. The 4-megapixel camera has a 3x optical zoom and measures 15 millimeters thick by 100mm wide by 62.5mm high. No price has been announced, but the regular version of the camera can be found for as little as 27,000 yen ($245).

Onkyo DVD-Audio/SACD player

Audio equipment-maker Onkyo Corp. will launch in September what is likely one of the cheapest players in Japan to support both the DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD formats. The DV-SP502 also supports DVD-Video and recordable DVD and CD discs and will playback discs with MP3 and WMA audio files and JPEG image files. It will be available in Japan from Sept. 7 and cost 48,300 yen ($439). Onkyo hasn't announced any plans for an overseas launch. The DVD-Audio and SACD formats offer higher-quality sound than that available from conventional CDs, although they have failed to make any major inroads into the CD market and today are most likely to be found in the classical or jazz sections of music stores.

Web: http://www.onkyo.com

NTT DoCoMo F900iC

NTT DoCoMo Inc.'s latest Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA) handset is the first 3G phone from the company to support its new electronic wallet service. Embedded in the phone is a contactless IC card based on the Felica system, developed by Sony Corp., and used in several electronic money and prepaid transportation systems in Japan. Currently, users are required to carry a card for each application, but the new handset can consolidate these. That means its possible to buy goods or ride the train by passing the telephone over a sensor. The appropriate amount is deducted from a balance that has been charged into the handset in advance. Developed by Fujitsu Ltd., the handset is available in Japan now from about 26,000 yen ($236). There are no plans for an overseas launch.

Web: http://foma.nttdocomo.co.jp/english/

Sony Qualia headphones

If the first thing that comes into your head when you think about Sony Corp.'s Qualia brand is "expensive," then this new pair of earphones -- sorry, "stereo ear receivers" -- won't do much to change that. The MDR-EXQ1 are the same model bundled with the Qualia MiniDisc player and carry the rather impressive price tag of 21,000 yen ($191). They are available in Japan now and haven't been announced for other markets.

Web: http://www.sony.net/SonyInfo/QUALIA/

HD-DVD prototypes

Among forthcoming products shown in Tokyo this month were a couple of prototype machines that support the High Definition/High Density-DVD (HD-DVD) next-generation optical disc format. The system, which is intended for high-definition video content, is being developed largely by Toshiba Corp. and NEC Corp. and both companies showed off prototype hardware during an event in July. An HD-DVD disc can store 15GB of data, which is enough space for 180 minutes of high-definition video. Commercial products aren't due out until next year at which time they are likely to begin competing with Blu-ray Disc, which is being developed by 13 companies led by Sony Corp.

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