Tokyo Edge: New Choices in Digital Entertainment
TOKYO -- Convergence has been a buzzword for some time, but a few products are starting to deliver on the promise. The new entry this month, Sharp's new PC-TX26GS, combines PC power with home theater capabilities and appearance.
For more portable entertainment, new handheld music devices are coming from several vendors, along with a sleek and updated Sony PlayStation. Also new in Asia are a 600GB hard-disk video recorder and a storage device aimed at digital photographers. Several of these new products will make their way into international markets as well.
Sharp PC-TX26GS AV Center PC
Sharp's new PC-TX26GS may finally be the PC that you'll welcome to your living room. The computer looks like a digital video recorder and its companion monitor so resembles a television that most people probably wouldn't believe it's a PC. But, in fact, it's a fully functioning Microsoft Windows XP computer that includes several multimedia functions, among them a TV tuner and digital video recorder.
Among its noteworthy features is the lack of digital rights management in the video recording function. That means you can access MPEG-1 video files from other PC applications and from other computers on the same network. This is welcome after the lockdown policy of some consumer electronics makers.
Also worth noting is the price. At $3155 for the set (or $2699 for a version with half the memory and no Microsoft Office XP) it's competitive with Sharp's own Aquos LCD TV, before you factor in the PC and digital video recording function.
But the PC-TX26GS is not without its faults: Both the TV and video recorder functions run under Windows XP, which means users face a wait of up to 1 minute for the operating system to boot every time they switch on the TV. Sharp solved this problem in an earlier notebook PC by adding a TV subsystem based on embedded Linux that could deliver a TV picture in less than 10 seconds, and it seems a shame that the same technology wasn't put to use in this PC.
The PC side of Sharp's system is based on an Intel Celeron D processor running at 2.66 GHz and Windows XP Home Edition SP2. It has 512MB of memory that can be expanded up to 2GB, a 250GB hard drive, and a DVD drive that reads and writes DVD
The TV-like display is capable of WXGA resolution (1366 by 768 pixels). This is suitable for high-definition broadcasts, and a tuner for such services is available as an option. However, the PC-TX26GS cannot record high-definition programs. The system comes with a wireless keyboard and a remote control.
The PC-TX26GS is scheduled to go on sale in Japan in the middle of December, just as Japanese workers are receiving their year-end bonus, and Sharp no doubt hopes it will prove irresistible to people with a fistful of cash to spend. However, Sony has no plans to sell it overseas.
Toshiba Gigabeat F-Series Audio Player
Toshiba has updated its Gigabeat hard-disk music player with three new models that offer capacities of 10GB, 20GB, or 60GB.
The exterior design of the Gigabeat players have been revised to sport a 2.2-inch QVGA (240-by-320-pixels) color LCD and a navigation button that looks like a large "plus" sign in the center of the player's front panel. Images, such as album art, can be uploaded to display when songs are playing. The devices play MP3, Windows Media Audio, and WAV files--but the files must pass through Toshiba's "Gigabeat Room" software, which is available only for Windows XP or Windows 2000. For now, Mac and Linux users are out of luck.
The players are scheduled to go on sale in Japan in late November. The 10GB MEGF10 model will cost $358 and the 20GB MEGF20 model will cost $403. Toshiba expects to release the 60GB MEGF60 model in Japan in early December, pricing it at $583. Toshiba anticipates marketing the players in the U.S. and Europe beginning in early 2005.
Seiko Epson P-2000 Photo Player
Most snap-happy digital photographers would probably consider Seiko Epson's P-2000 a welcome addition to their camera bag.
This gadget features a 40GB hard drive that you can use to store images from memory cards. That means you don't have to worry about running out of card space or carry a notebook along--just insert the memory card into the P-2000, transfer the images, clear the card, and start shooting again.
It's compatible with CompactFlash, MultiMediaCard, and Secure Digital media, as well as MicroDrive storage. The P-2000 has a 3.8-inch display for viewing JPEG images and also RAW-format image files from several Nikon and Canon cameras and Epson's R-D1.
The 40GB capacity is enough to store about 5000 RAW-format images and up to 10,000 5-megapixel JPEG images, according to Seiko Epson representatives. The P-2000 Photo Player is scheduled to become available in Japan in late October priced just under $545. The company has no immediate plans to sell it overseas.
Sony Clie PEG-VZ90 PDA
Sony may have scaled back its PDA sales in the U.S. market, but the company is still releasing new models in Japan.
Next up is the PEG-VZ90, which looks a little different from previous models. The PDA is square in shape and has a landscape-format display with seven buttons underneath it on the front panel. The device runs Palm OS 5.2.1 and comes with 64MB of memory and an additional 90MB of storage space.
The screen has 480-by-320-pixel resolution and is an organic light emitting diode, which Sony says is brighter, thinner, and more responsive than screens used on previous models. The PEG-VZ90 supports QuickTime, MPEG-1, and MPEG-4 video files, and audio compressed in the ATRAC3 and MP3 formats.
It's on sale now in Japan and costs about $854.
Toshiba RD-X5 Video Recorder
When it comes to digital video recorders, hard drive capacity is one of the most important specifications. It determines how many of your favorite TV shows and movies can be stored before you are forced to start writing them to DVDs to free up space. In this respect, Toshiba's RD-X5 won't disappoint. The new video recorder packs a 600GB hard drive, which Toshiba says can accommodate up to 1071 hours of video when image and sound quality are set at the lowest-quality setting of 1.4 megabits per second. The RD-X5 can also record to DVD-RAM at 5X, DVD-RW at 4X, and DVD-R at 8X.
Toshiba expects to begin selling the RD-X5 in Japan in November priced at $1529. The company has not yet determined plans for overseas sales.
Sony NW-HD2 Network Hard Disk Walkman
Sony has given its hard-disk-based Network Walkman some design tweaks and a lower price, although none of the NW-HD2's changes are likely to excite.
The most obvious change is the expanded range of colors available. Sony's choice of hues--silver, blue, and pink--appears to be a nod to the success of Apple Computer's IPod Mini. Blue and pink just happen to be among the most popular IPod Mini colors in Japan. Sony also changed the backlight color used in the Network Walkman's 1.5-inch LCD from green to blue. The player can now be charged from the power cord by using a small interface adapter, which means you don't have to take the larger cradle with you on a trip or vacation, and the new version lacks an in-line remote control.
Some features haven't changed, such as the Network Walkman's 20GB hard drive and its limitation of playing only Sony's proprietary ATRAC3 compression format. That still leaves users having to convert their MP3 files prior to uploading into the NW-HD2.
The most welcome news for buyers might be the lower price: $360. The Network Walkman going on sale in early October, but Sony currently has no plans to sell it overseas.
Sony PlayStation 2
Sony Computer Entertainment has redesigned its PlayStation 2, and what a difference a few years of technology development makes.
The new PS2 occupies about 25 percent of the volume of the original model and looks much cooler than its predecessor. The slim model measures 9 inches tall by 6 inches wide by 1.12 inches deep, and is compatible with all current PS2 games.
A network port for online gaming is now standard, and models sold in the U.S. also have an analog modem port. It is scheduled for release in the U.S. in November priced at $150.
NTT DoCoMo Fuel Cell Recharger
As the most intriguing upcoming technology, consider a new cell phone charger that runs on a direct methanol fuel cell.
Cellular carrier NTT DoCoMo designed the charger in its research and development laboratories in collaboration with fuel-cell-developer Fujitsu Laboratories. At present, a single fuel cell can provide enough power to recharge a cell phone battery once. The companies are working to increase this to three full charges. Representatives of the two firms estimate that development will be completed before March 2005, and expect a commercial version of the product to hit the market shortly after that.
The eventual goal is to develop a fuel cell that can be used directly in a telephone, but that will require some miniaturization work. The initial step is a partial realization of that effort, and will allow recharging in places where there are no electric sockets. Many consumer electronics companies are working on DMFCs, which are expected to become an important power technology for mobile devices in the second half of this decade.