August's Coolest Gadgets: Camcorders, Cell Phones and More

Some people are already thinking about the fall and the back-to-school season. Not the kids, of course. I’m talking about the product planners at companies like Sony and Canon, who are busy preparing to put new camcorders on sale in time for the end of the holidays.

Why not earlier when the kids are on holiday and people are taking their vacations? I learned from Sony a couple of weeks ago that the big camcorder selling period in Japan is in the approach to September and the school sports days that are held nationwide. Sales during this period are three to four times normal and way ahead of any other period in the year.

Television has already made the move to high-definition, and home movies are on the way there. Consumer electronics companies are now pushing parents to splash out for HD camcorders to capture their kids running as fast as their legs can carry them to victory on the track. At least that’s the image we’re likely to see on TV commercials that will soon be starting to push such sales.

In the next few months, we’re likely to see more and more HD camcorders, especially if Sony is to succeed in its goal: making half of all camcorder sales HD models by the end of this year. Two of the latest models are detailed below.

Canon HV10 Camcorder

What’s not to like about Canon’s new HV10 camcorder? As the world’s smallest and lightest high-definition camcorder, it has a lot going for it. It’s based on the HDV tape format, so you can reuse your existing MiniDV cassettes, and its small size means it looks more like a traditional compact consumer camcorder than some HD models we’ve seen until now. Like other HD camcorders, it can manage full 1,920-by-1,080-pixel resolution. It has a 10X optical zoom lens and optical image stabilization. Best of all, it’s going to be launched worldwide by Canon in September so if you don’t live in Japan you won’t have to wait long. It will cost around 150,000 yen (US$1,311) in Japan and $1,299 in the United States. Check it out here. 

Sony AVCHD Camcorders

The first two camcorders to support the AVCHD format are coming soon from Sony. The format was developed by Sony and competitor Matsushita Electric Industrial (Panasonic) as a way of allowing high-definition video to be recorded onto conventional 8-centimeter DVD discs and other media. The HDR-UX1 can squeeze between 15 minutes and 32 minutes of video onto a DVD-R disc (about double for a dual-layer DVD+RW) while the hard-disk drive-based HDR-SR1 can store up to four hours of video in its highest quality mode, and up to 11 hours in the lowest quality mode on its 30GB drive. The UX1 will go on sale Sept. 10 in Japan, and the SR1 will be available one month later. They will cost 170,000 yen (US$1,452) and 180,000 yen, respectively. In the United States, they will be available at about the same time for US$1,400 and $1,500, respectively. See the camcorders here.

Samsung S-DMB Cell Phone

Samsung Electronics has taken the wraps off a new cell phone that can receive radio and TV broadcasts direct from satellite. The SCH-B500 phone is the thinnest handset yet to support the service, which is called S-DMB (satellite digital mobile broadcasting) and is available only in South Korea. It’s 13.5 millimeters thick, which is about half the thickness of first-generation models that went on sale in early 2005. There’s the usual camera, MP3 player, Bluetooth wireless interface, document viewer and TV output. There’s also an audio book feature that will read aloud three fairy tales in any of four languages: Korean, Chinese, Japanese and English. It will be available in South Korea only, just like the S-DMB service. No price was provided. Check it out here.

Sony GPS Unit

How about this for a cool little idea: Sony has developed a GPS unit that can be used to add location information to digital pictures. The 9-centimeter long GPS-CS1 unit is intended to be attached to a belt and worn throughout the day as pictures are being taken. Every 15 seconds it records the current location and the time, thus building up a record of exactly where the user has been during the day. Later that data can be matched with the time stamp on the digital images to work out where the picture was taken. Sony supplies a software application to do the data matching and has upgraded its Motion Picture Browser software to link in with Google Maps. The GPS unit will run for about 10 hours on an AA cell, and the unit’s internal 31MB memory can store about 15 days’ worth of GPS data. The GPS-CS1 will be launched in September in the United States and Japan, and will cost about US$150. Details on a European launch have not yet been announced. See it online.

HTC Windows Mobile Cell Phone

Windows Mobile handsets might be old hat to people in North America, Europe or other Asian countries, but in Japan they’ve been nonexistent until recently. One of the first is the HTC Z from Taiwan’s High Tech Computer Corp. The device has a QWERTY keyboard that slides out from underneath the display. It supports standard Internet mail, can read Word and Excel files, and is compatible with wideband code division multiple access and Global System for Mobile Communications networks. On the networking side, there’s Bluetooth and wireless LAN, possibly making it quite an attractive package for the business person who always needs to be in touch. It will be out in Japan in late July. The price has not yet been announced. Check it out here.

Panasonic Viera Link TVs

The remote control has made life easier for millions of people, but things are getting more and more complicated with the sheer number of remote controls we now have to deal with in the average living room. One for the TV, one for the video recorder, one for the satellite tuner, one for the audio system ... you get the idea. Matsushita Electric Industrial (Panasonic) has developed Viera Link, a single remote control for all these devices that works as long as you’re using igh definition multimedia interface to connect your gadgets. It’s on new Viera flat-panel TVs now; expect it to spread throughout the product range soon. See it online.

R&D Corner: Samsung Flash Memory Drive

No one likes waiting for Windows to boot up, but a flash memory drive from Samsung Electronics could improve system performance. The 4GB drive will take advantage of the ReadyBoost feature in Windows Vista and store information that would otherwise be written to the hard disk. That will lead to a boost in performance, says Samsung. The technology is one of several that Microsoft is building into Windows Vista to increase system responsiveness and eliminate those annoying waits that are forced on users when programs are starting. Among the others are ReadyDrive, in which flash memory is added to hard-disk drives to act as a temporary memory cache. Another technology, SuperFetch, anticipates what programs and documents might be next required and preloads them so that they start faster when called by the user. Look for the drive in new laptops due out later this year. See it on the Web.

By Martyn Williams, IDG News Service (Tokyo Bureau)

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