Often the most useful advances in technology come not from hugely complicated new features but from simple ideas that save time and work. A couple of the new gadgets hitting Asian store shelves this month come with just such innovations.
The first is a digital video recorder from Pioneer. This product category has been very competitive recently and companies have been battling each other by adding numerous menus and settings that allow consumers to adjust parameters they probably never knew existed in the first place. Pioneer's innovation is simple: slot in one of your old VHS cassettes and a blank DVD, press the button and a few moments later the cassette's contents are on the disc!
Mitsubishi Electric has also come up with an idea that might be a winner. It has motorized its latest range of flat-panel televisions so you can adjust the direction they are facing. Never again will you have to move around the living room to get a better view of the TV or to a place where reflection is at a minimum - just grab the remote control and adjust the TV's direction. This will surely be a welcome feature for any couch potato.
LG Plasma TV with HD recorder
The latest plasma HDTV (high-definition TV) from South Korea's LG Electronics comes with a surprise inside. The PY2DR, which is available in 50-inch or 60-inch widescreen models, has a built-in high-definition digital video recorder. The recorder's hard-disk has a capacity of 160GB, which might be a little bit on the small side if you're a big HDTV fan. While the drive accommodates up to 63 hours of conventional TV this drops to 13 hours for HDTV because of the extra data involved. And you won't be able to get the recorded programs out of the set, since there is no HD-compatible disc drive. That means the 13-hour capacity will be reduced if you want to keep your favourite programs. The TV was launched in South Korea on May 2 and LG says it will be available in the US during May. Other features include HDMI and IEEE 1394 interfaces. The Digital Cable-ready set costs $8,000 or $15,000 depending on the screen-size.
Pioneer one-button VHS HDD transfer
The first thing you notice when taking ownership of a DVD or hard-disk drive-based video recorder is how easy everything is in the digital world compared to dealing with cumbersome analogue VHS tapes. The benefits might have you loathing your VHS tapes in no time and so the urge is strong to transfer all of your analogue content to digital and do away with tape forever. Pioneer's DVR-RT7H makes this a breeze with a one-button transfer function that will take care of everything: rewinding the tape, measuring the recording time, setting the optimal DVD recording mode, copying onto DVD and then finalizing the disc. The recorder also has a 100X mode that can transfer one hour of video from the 200GB hard-disk to DVD in about 40 seconds. It will be available in Japan in late June for about ¥85,000. There are no plans to sell it overseas.
Sony Hi-MD Data drive
Sony Corp. is taking advantage of the 1GB capacity of its new Hi-MD format to push MiniDisc as a recording format for PC users. Its new DS-HMD1 drive will be available in Japan only from May 21 and connects to a PC via USB. The disc can be used to store any type of data. Older MD discs can also be used and offer a 340MB capacity. The new drives are reminiscent of a previous attempt by Sony to popularize MiniDisc as a PC recording format. It tried the same thing in the 1990s before recordable CDs were available but the system never took off and Sony killed the MD-Data format. Its chances in the mass market this time around look slim given the ubiquity of cheap CD-R media but it might suit a niche application well. The drive will cost about ¥15,000 ($142).
It seems one of the easiest ways for cell phone makers to draw attention in the competitive marketplace is by experimenting with form factors. The PT-S100 handset from South Korean cell phone maker Pantech&Curitel Communications. has a shape that's similar to some digital cameras: the optics are fitted across the bottom of the handset and that part of the phone swivels to point in different directions. The camera has a 1.3-megapixel resolution, which is about average and comes as a disappointment because the maker said the phone is aimed at photography enthusiasts. Another design point is the keypad, which is placed down each side of the main screen. Other features include an FM radio and MP3 player. It's compatible with the CDMA2000 1x standard and available in South Korea only..
LG notebook PC with DMB support
LG Electronics has launched a new notebook PC that comes equipped to receive satellite multimedia broadcasts. The Xnote Express LW40 is compatible with the DMB standard used for mobile multimedia broadcasting in South Korea and has a 14-inch widescreen LCD. The DMB module is the same size and shape as an optical drive and uses the same slot. Users can swap between them as required. The machines aren't available outside of South Korea but that doesn't really matter because neither is the DMB service. Prices range from 1.6 million won to 1.9 million won (US$1,600 to $1,900) depending on configuration.
Sony Qualia 002
The latest product to carry Sony's Qualia brand is a high-definition video camcorder that supports the HDV tape format. The Qualia 002 records in 1,080i format and costs an impressive ¥598,500 ($5,660), which shouldn't come as a big surprise to anyone that is familiar with Sony's other Qualia products. The price and its physical size - it measures 17 centimetres by 19 centimetres by 36 centimetres and weighs 2.4 kilograms - is sure to make it unlikely that you'll be seeing many of these in the hands of tourists this coming summer. It's on sale in Japan and the US.
Mitsubishi LCD TVs
Mitsubishi's latest flat-panel HDTVs (high-definition TVs) have a great feature that seems so obvious you might end up wondering why no one else has done it before. The TVs are motorized and can turn on their base so that they face the viewer. The sets can manage a turn of 30 degrees both left and right so you'll still need to be more in front of them to start with. It could be useful, especially on days when reflections from the sun or other light sources are obscuring the picture. They're only available in Japan and prices range from ¥250,000 ($2,370) for a 26-inch set to ¥420,000 for a 37-inch set.
R&D Corner: 45G-byte HD-DVD disc
Toshiba has developed an HD-DVD disc with a capacity of 45GB by adding a third layer to an HD-DVD disc. The extra capacity will allow content producers to store longer movies or add extra features to the high-definition discs.