In a change from Macworld's published feature, we present the first of Martyn Williams' regular 'Tokyo Edge' columns, which look at emerging technologies in the Far East. This month, Martyn discusses leading-edge digital-lifestyle products.
Two products have caught my eye, both multimedia players that at first glance resemble exceptionally well-equipped DVD players. They support a multitude of optical disc and video, audio and image formats and allow the content to be played on a television. Look a little closer and they can also be connected to a computer to play content from its hard disk drive on the TV, though they both employ Windows Media Video 9 to do so.
They help to bridge the gap between living room entertainment systems and PCs, and should be especially popular with people who have a large amount of digitized content on their PC hard disks, whether it be from ripped CDs, copied DVDs, digital video or still cameras, or content downloaded through file-sharing networks.
Research and development corner: Optware Holographic Storage Disc
Out of the research and development laboratories this month comes a prototype optical disc from Optware. The company has demonstrated what it says is the world's first reliable recording and playback of digital movies on a holographic recording disc. The disc is 12cm in diameter, which is the same as DVDs and CDs, and could be on the market for commercial use in the first quarter of 2006 with a capacity of 200GB. That's the good news. The bad news is that the recorders are expected to cost about $20,000 and the discs will be $100 each. A less expensive version for home use could be on the market as soon as 2007, the company says. That could be good news for consumers but possibly bad news for electronics companies, which will be trying to persuade us at about the same time to invest in blue-laser storage discs like Blu-ray Disc or HD-DVD that offer about a fifth of the capacity.
IO Data AVeL Link Player
There's not much content that can't be played through IO Data Device's AVeL Link Player (AVLP2). The optical drive accepts all the major DVD +/- formats, except DVD-RAM, and CD formats including Video CD. The drive can play back and display formats including MPEG-1, MPEG-2, DivX, XviD and WMV9 video; JPEG, BMP, GIF and PNG image; and MP3, AAC, WMA (Windows Media Audio), PCM and Ogg Vorbis audio. Connectivity is good too with an Ethernet socket and built-in 802.11b/g wireless network connection for hooking up to a computer and D4 (Japanese digital video), DVI-I, component video, S-video and analogue and optical audio outputs for connecting to a TV or audio system. You can also hook up a device like a digital still camera or external hard-disk drive to the USB 2.0 port. The AVLP2 is available in Japan and costs ¥31,500 ($285).
Buffalo Link Theater
Buffalo's PC-P3LAN/DVD Link Theater is broadly similar to the IO Data player. There are some differences, such as the lack of a built-in wireless LAN adapter and the inclusion of support for RMP4 video and DVD Audio discs. It will be available in mid-September in Japan and cost ¥29,600.
Sony high-definition camcorder
Sony has taken its first step in promoting high definition video as the standard format for home-use camcorders. The HDR-FX1 digital high-definition camcorder supports the HDV tape format and has three recording modes: 1,080-line widescreen, 480-line widescreen and 480-line 4:3 mode. HD recording is at 60 frames per second in MPEG-2 at 25Mbps. Behind the Carl Zeiss 12x optical zoom lens is a 1.12 megapixel CCD (charge coupled device). The camcorder weighs 2.0 kilograms without batteries. The basic battery provides 65 minutes of recording time. Sony plans to put it on sale in Japan on October 15, and worldwide by the end of the year. It will cost ¥400,000.
Sony Qualia 005 TV
The newest member of Sony's high-priced Qualia range of products is a television with an impressive 46-inch LCD (liquid crystal display). The panel is the largest LCD currently available so you won't be able to buy anything larger without going to PDP (plasma display panel) or projection TV, which means a drop in image quality and sharpness. Sony says the new set also delivers a better, more colorful picture than competing flat-panel TV sets because it uses an LED (light emitting diode) backlight and the picture certainly looked good at a demonstration in Tokyo in August. There's also a handy and easy-to-use, on-screen content navigator system called xross (pronounced 'cross') media bar, or XMB, that makes navigating multiple digital and analog sources and channels a snap. The TV will be available in Japan from Nov. 10 and will cost ¥1.1 million. Sony hasn't announced plans for overseas sales.
Web: http://www.sony.co.jp/QUALIA (Japanese)
Casio Exilim Zoom EX-S100
Casio's Exilim camera looks like it has been on a crash summer diet. The Exilim Zoom EX-S100 camera retains the same height and width as its predecessor - similar to a credit card at 88mm by 57mm - but is thinner, at 16.7mm. This reduction is thanks in part to a newly developed lens that is part of the camera's 2.8x optical zoom system. The lens is made from a transparent ceramic material called Lumicera, developed by Japan's Murata Manufacturing Co. It's about 20 per cent thinner than a comparable glass lens, said Casio. Other features of the camera include a 3.2-megapixel CCD sensor and a 2.0-inch TFT (thin film transistor) LCD monitor.
Casio said the rechargeable lithium-ion battery can provide enough power for around 180 pictures and the camera weighs 113 grams. The EX-S100 will be launched in Japan on September 25 and in major world markets this month and will cost about ¥50,000.
Sanyo Xacti DMX-C4 Digital Movie Camera
Sanyo Electric has begun selling in Japan an updated version of its distinctively styled Xacti digital movie camera. The device, literally handheld, records movies in MPEG-4 format onto an SD (Secure Digital) memory card. The latest DMX-C4 version has a 4-megapixel image sensor although full resolution is only for still images. The highest quality movies it records are video graphics array-resolution (640 pixels by 480 pixels) at 30 frames per second, which isn't far off the quality of conventional digital movie cameras. You'll need an appropriately capacious memory card if you are going to use the highest quality mode because a 256MB card will be full after just over 10 minutes. The same card accommodate over an hour of video at the lowest quality mode, which is 176 pixels by 144 pixels at 15 frames per second. It will cost ¥75,600 in Japan and there is no word from Sanyo on overseas sales.
Canon EOS 20D
A couple of years ago digital SLR (single lens reflex) cameras of the class of Canon's EOS20D were well out of the reach of anyone but the most wealthy photographers, but thanks to competition prices are coming down. That's not to say the camera is cheap - it still represents a considerable investment, especially when adding the cost of lenses, and will still be a thing of dreams for many. The Canon EOS20D has an 8-megapixel image sensor and maximum image size of 3,504-x-2,336 pixels. The company has made several improvements on the EOS10D including the shutter, which now has a maximum speed of 1/8000th of a second, and the addition of a joystick-like multicontroller button for the range finder. It can also shoot five images per second for up to 23 consecutive frames. It's available worldwide now and will cost about $1,500 in the US without a lens.