July's Coolest Gadgets

The inability of major consumer electronics companies to agree on a single format for next-generation DVDs probably means waiting for a winning format—Blu-ray Disc or HD DVD—to emerge. Each camp says it is on the consumer’s side in pushing its respective format. But if that were really true, we wouldn’t be facing this mess.

Forget the companies for a moment. Consumers have the march of technology on their side. Several companies are already developing optical drives that can read both formats, and recently Samsung Electronics said it could have a dual-format player on sale by the end of the year.

Once such players hit the shelves, the battle between the two formats could become much less important, and today’s single-format players might end up looking like expensive bricks. It’s another reason to delay purchasing a high-definition player until later this year or next year.

If you really have to go out and buy a machine right now, Toshiba is offering the first HD DVD recorder.

Toshiba HD DVD Recorder

Toshiba RD-A1
Toshiba RD-A1

Toshiba’s RD-A1 is much like existing digital video recorders, but with high-definition support. There’s 1 terabyte of hard-disk storage space for day-to-day recording, and the HD DVD drive allows consumers to burn TV shows they wish to keep on an optical disc. The hard disk will store about 130 hours of digital HD terrestrial TV, with a dual-layer HD DVD-R disc able to hold about 230 minutes, or just under four hours of programming, Toshiba said. Prominent among the features of the RD-A1 is its support for 1080p (1,080 lines progressive) video output, which was missing on Toshiba’s first-generation player, and has been seized upon by Blu-ray Disc backers as a reason to buy their machines. The recorder won’t come cheap, with a price tag of 398,000 yen (US$3,467). Initially it’s been announced for Japan only.

Toshiba’s website.

Sharp W-Zero3 ES Smart Phone

The Japan-only W-Zero3 ES is a slider-type phone with a complete QWERTY keyboard. The keyboard is revealed by rotating the handset through 90 degrees clockwise, and sliding the upper half of the phone away from the lower half. There’s a VGA (640 by 480 pixels) resolution 2.8-inch screen, and the phone offers USB host mode. This means that data from devices like digital cameras can be transferred to the phone via USB without the need for a computer. It will go on sale on July 27 and will cost 29,800 yen (US$261) with a one-year service contract from Willcom.

Sharp’s Japanese website.

Samsung SGH-i320 Smart Phone

Samsung SGH-i320
Samsung SGH-i320

At about the same time Sharp was showing off its new Windows Mobile 5.0 phone, Samsung was taking the wraps off its SGH-i320. Based on the same operating system as the Sharp phone, the SGH-i320 has a landscape format display and QWERTY keyboard. It includes all expected features, like a 1.3-megapixel camera, a music player, video player and recorder, Bluetooth and voice recognition, and it has a 2.2-inch screen with QVGA (320 by 240 pixels) resolution. It will go on sale in Europe this month and in Southeast Asia "shortly," said Samsung. No other launch details were announced, and the company did not disclose pricing.

Samsung’s website.

Sony Vaio UX90

Sony has made good on its promise of releasing its new Vaio U computer with flash memory instead of a hard-disk drive. The computer will be one of the first on the market that uses flash memory in place of magnetic storage. The Vaio UX90 will come with 16GB of flash memory storage in place of the 30GB hard-disk drive on the original model. It will cost around 210,000 yen (US$1,805), or about 40,000 yen more than the disk-based model, and is already on sale in Japan.

Sony’s Japanese website. 

Samsung Network Photo Frame

Samsung has developed a digital photo frame that can receive images from camera phones. The frame has a 7-inch-wide liquid crystal display screen with 800-by-480-pixel resolution, 32MB of built-in memory and a card slot for SD, MMC or Compact Flash cards. The frame has an Ethernet connection on the back and maintains a link with a server through which images can be pushed to the device. Two of South Korea’s cell phone operators, SK Telecom and KTF, are offering the service to subscribers. Just take a picture and e-mail it to a telephone number associated with the service, and within seconds it appears in the photo frame. It’s available in South Korea only.

SK Telecom website

Panasonic DSLR Camera

Matsushita Electric Industrial (Panasonic) is joining the digital single lens reflex (SLR) party with its DMC-L1. Fierce competition in the point-and-shoot compact camera market has pushed Panasonic and others to develop DSLRs, which are more capable than the compact point-and-shoot models that dominate the digital camera market. The Panasonic model can capture 7.5-megapixel image resolution pictures and is compatible with the "Four Thirds System" lens mount. It will launch in Japan on July 22 and in the United States in September. It will cost US$1,999.

Panasonic’s website. 

Samsung and LG HSDPA Phones

Samsung and LG Electronics have both developed cell phones compatible with the fast high-speed downlink packet access (HSDPA) data download services beginning in South Korea. Samsung’s handset is the SCH-W2100 slider, which supports HSDPA up to 1.8Mbps and has a built-in tuner for South Korea’s terrestrial digital broadcasting service. LG has two handsets, both of which are also sliders. The three phones are initially for the South Korean domestic market only. Samsung will charge about 700,000 won (US$739) for its phone. Pricing from LG was not available.

Samsung’s Korean website. 

LG’s Korean website.

-Martyn Williams, IDG News Service (Tokyo Bureau)

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