The 25 Most Innovative Products of the Year

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Video: Maxtor Shared Storage Plus, Mitsubishi HC3000U, NEC MultiSync LCD2180WG-LED, Sling Media Slingbox, Sony DVDirect VRD-MC1, Toshiba RD-SX54.

Maxtor Shared Storage Plus
NETWORK HARD DRIVE ($500) We've seen lots of network hard drives, but Maxtor's (
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Maxtor Shared Storage Plus
) is the first to hit 500GB--plenty of room even for digital movie and music pack rats. This model has the added advantage of compliance with the Universal Plug and Play and Digital Living Room Networking Alliance specs, so it can be used independently of your PC--for example, to stream video and audio files to any media devices that support those specs. Plus, when you're using it connected to your PC, it has integrated backup and file-sorting software as well. Latest prices (if available)

Mitsubishi HC3000U
HOME THEATER PROJECTOR ($2999) This projector (
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Mitsubishi HC3000U
) aims high, and it shows. The HC3000U--the first to use Texas Instruments' DLP chip set with BrilliantColor technology--provides outstanding image quality. BrilliantColor is an approach to image processing that's designed to increase color depth, which in turn improves overall image quality. We were also impressed by the projector's 720p native resolution, 4000:1 contrast ratio, and compact 6.4-pound chassis. Latest prices (if available)

NEC MultiSync LCD2180WG-LED
LCD MONITOR ($6750) The LCD industry has been buzzing with talk about LED backlights, saying that the technology will deliver not only evenly bright screens and a wide color gamut, but also mercury-free LCD monitors that are environmentally friendly. The LCD2180WG-LED (
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NEC MultiSync LCD2180WG-LED
) is the first of these monitors we've seen, and it lives up to the hype. In our tests in the PC World Test Center, it showed more accurate flesh tones than we'd seen before on an LCD monitor. In photographs, flesh tones still looked realistic and correctly shaded, without the masklike effect you sometimes see. What really knocked us out, though, was its expertise in handling areas of extreme dark and light: The LCD2180WG-LED displayed the nuances of snowy Mount McKinley while making a black zipper and black zipper pull stand out from a black jacket.

Although the screen's a knockout, for now so is the price: $6750. For a high-powered graphics professional, perhaps that's worth it. The rest of us will just have to wait until the decimal point moves a place to the left. Latest prices

Sling Media Slingbox
VIDEO STREAMING ($250) These days, a number of devices let you watch your video even if you're not sitting in front of the recording device. Of the few approaches to this we've seen, we particularly liked Sling Media's catchy-looking
Slingbox (see picture

Sling Media Slingbox
). This unit has audio/visual connectors on the back that connect to whatever video device you plan to use with it (TV, DVD player, digital video recorder, but not HDTV). Add it to your home network, and you can use the device as a conduit to access channels and watch TV anywhere in the house, as if you were sitting in front of your TV in the living room. Then, install the SlingPlayer software on your notebook or remote computer, and you can view your video from afar. The Slingbox compresses video using the Windows Media 9 codec and optimizes the video stream automatically for the available bandwidth. The faster the bandwidth you get across a network--whether the Internet or your home network--the better the image quality Slingbox will provide. Latest prices

Sony DVDirect VRD-MC1
DVD DRIVE ($300) Sony's DVDirect VRD-MC1 (
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Sony DVDirect VRD-MC1
) aims to give you the best of the PC burner and stand-alone DVD recorder worlds. At its heart is a 16X, double- and dual-layer DVD burner. Connect it to your PC through the USB 2.0 port, and it will function as an external drive. Use it in stand-alone mode, and it will convert video and still images (when connected to a VCR, cable box, TV, or camcorder via its composite-video, S-Video, or DV inputs; or when you insert a flash memory card into one of the supplied slots). This third-generation unit becomes exponentially more useful thanks to a snazzy redesign that adds a 2-inch color LCD screen (for menu navigation and playback) on the top surface of the unit, as well as integrated media card slots for creating photo slide-show discs on a DVD-R. It can also print images to a PictBridge-compatible printer (when connected to the printer via USB). Latest prices (if available)

Toshiba RD-XS54
DVD RECORDER ($700) The Toshiba RD-XS54 (
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Toshiba RD-XS54
) may be pricey, but it's also one of the most feature-packed DVD recorders we've seen. Topping its impressive list of features are the capabilities to connect the unit to your network, and to program recordings over the Internet using its Network NAVI feature, which lets you access the recorder from any Web browser. On top of all that, this unit did an impressive job of capturing video: We saw sharp video with plenty of depth and good contrast. Latest prices

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