Sunday, July 23, 2006

Blu-ray v HD-DVD

The next-generation disc formats have arrived Stateside – and so are hints of where the format war is going. Here's our report from the other side of the pond.

This article appears in the September 06 issue of PC Advisor, which is available now in all good newsagents.

A funny thing happens in a format war. At some point, the theoretical spec one-upmanship gives way to tangible reality. What the rival products are delivering.

After looking at the initial wave of products to arrive in the US from both fronts, we have a few thoughts about where the format war is heading. The first products deliver on their promises of outstanding high-definition video (Toshiba's HD-A1 and HD-XA1 HD-DVD players and its Qosmio G35-AV650 laptop, plus more than 25 HD-DVD movies from Warner Brothers and Universal) and high-capacity, rewritable disc storage (Pioneer's BDR-101A, Sony's AR Premium VGN-AR19G notebook equipped with a Blu-ray player/burner).

We're less intrigued by the actual products than we are by what they say beneath the surface about the two warring formats.

High-def video: a capacity question?

After debuting in fits and starts – and after both formats' encountering delays due to issues surrounding the AACS (advanced access content system) copy controls – HD-DVD is enjoying a slight lead to market. HD-DVD hit the US in late April and, even though player supplies continue to be tight, new titles are steadily streaming out every week.

Meanwhile, Blu-ray has faced a few additional post-AACS setbacks, although not quite as many as we've seen inaccurately reported on the web. Sony Pictures pushed its content launch to 20 June after Samsung announced a change in release date for its player to late June.

Jim Sanduski, Samsung's senior vice president of marketing, said: “We'll be in more than 2,000 storefronts at launch and will have multiple units available at each location. Will we sell out? I hope so. We are launching with more storefronts and more quantity than Toshiba.”

Meanwhile, Pioneer shifted its planned Blu-ray player from an early summer US launch to September. When the product does launch, though, it will be at $1,500 (about £820), $300 (£165) less than the price announced in January at CES. And Sony Electronics has adjusted the expected July release of its BD-SP1 player by a few weeks. According to a company spokesperson, the move is a strategic one, to coincide with the company's August launch of 1080p televisions and its push to educate consumers about Blu-ray Disc at retail outlets nationwide.

We don't expect we'll see dramatic differences in image quality between HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc movie content. We expect it to be tough to isolate which one is superior for delivering video, given the number of variables that come into play, such as choices in the video codec, bit rate, encoder used, even whether you'll view the output over analogue or HDMI, on a display capable of 1080i or 1080p.

We'll probably see subtle differences, however. Sony is planning to encode its first-generation of discs in Mpeg2, while Warner and Universal's HD-DVDs are using the VC-1 or Mpeg4 AVC codec. RCA's and Toshiba's HD-DVD players output at 1080i – even though the movie discs are 1080p – while the first Blu-ray Disc players from Pioneer, Samsung and Sony are all set to output at 1080p.

We hope to at least see the same films released on both HD-DVD and Blu-ray, at different bit rates and using different codecs. Only then will it be clear, visually, whether Blu-ray's greater maximum capacity of 50GB for dual-layer discs provides a tangible advantage.

HD-DVD currently tops out at 30GB for a dual-layer disc. Toshiba raised the possibility of a 45GB triple-layer disc last summer but, according to the DVD Forum it has not been discussed, let alone added to the HD-DVD spec.

The rival media's physical storage constraints have the potential to be a greater issue in this ongoing struggle than many observers have considered up until now. Before HD-DVD's launch, we had privately heard rumblings of studio concerns about HD-DVD's lower capacity.

Packing 'em in

Now that we've taken a closer look at the first eight HD-DVD movies we received from Warner Brothers and Universal, we can understand why. None of the eight titles could fit on a 15GB single-layer HD-DVD – and half came within 5GB of maxing out a 30GB dual-layer disc. This was despite them all relying on the latest, more efficient video codecs – VC-1 and Mpeg4 AVC. The movies we saw were 'The Last Samurai' (which topped out at 27.3GB), Mel Brooks' 'Blazing Saddles' (25.4GB), 'The Phantom of the Opera' (24.8GB), 'Jarhead' (24.7GB), 'The Bourne Identity' (22.7GB), 'Serenity' (19.6GB), 'The Fugitive' (18.2GB) and 'Doom' (16.5GB).

Granted this is a small, random sampling. But the results nonetheless surprised us, considering that we had for so long heard HD-DVD supporters say that even 15GB would be roomy for high-definition content. Instead, it seems that HD-DVD content is, in many cases, barely squeezing on to 30GB discs today. The tight space leaves little breathing room for the interactive-video future that Hollywood's creative minds will dream up down the road.

All of the titles we saw are first-generation. Not surprisingly, their menus and level of interactivity are basic and do not reflect the complexity we expect to see from both formats. The extras don't take full advantage of the formats, nor were they created natively in high-definition, with high-def, widescreen presentation in mind. And the soundtracks are more limited: typically only today's 5.1-channel sound, with just one audio commentary instead of multiple commentaries and elaborate features.

Imagine what an innovative director such as Peter Jackson might have done with the on-set documentaries and featurettes for 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy, had everything been filmed with HD-DVD or Blu-ray Disc in mind. Something tells us a 30GB disc wouldn't come close to enough – and that a 45GB disc might get a bit snug.

How much space Blu-ray content will consume remains to be seen. The first titles from Sony are beginning to ship and, although none will be on 50GB dual-layer discs, other titles will ship on 50GB discs later this summer.

We can't help thinking this format's greater capacity will serve it well over time. But we're not convinced the PlayStation 3 will be Blu-ray's trump card.

Recording artists

The advantage in recording is with Blu-ray. Vendors in this camp were the first to market with disc burners for PCs, as well as the first to release mobile burners for laptops – and the format has the higher maximum capacity.

PC Blu-ray burners are shipping from Pioneer and I-O Data, with others soon to come. Sony will ship its AR Premium Blu-ray laptop and Vaio RC series of burner-equipped desktops in June, starting at just $2,150 (£1,170) inc VAT.

Officially, the HD-DVD camp is keeping quiet about the status of PC burners. Because media was recently introduced at Computex in Taiwan – and since RiData announced that its HD-DVD-R media will ship in July – one might think a burner isn't far behind. From the start, the HD-DVD camp's stated focus has been on the home-theatre playback experience, with PC movie playback coming in second and recording not even on the road map. The lack of recording capabilities restricts HD-DVD to prepackaged Hollywood content. No aspiring Spielbergs can edit their own high-definition films and burn them to disc. This of course limits HD-DVD's viability as a data-storage medium.

Money does the talking

There's no question: HD-DVD has the edge in price. Toshiba's players start at a highly accessible $499 (£270) – if you can find them. The cheapest standalone Blu-ray Disc player will be Samsung's $1,000 (£540) BD-P1000. Sony's BDP-S1 will be $1,000 when it ships in August, Pioneer's BDP-HD1 will be $1,500 (£810), debuting in September.

Sony's PlayStation 3, due in November, will be the least expensive player of them all, but it has no HDMI (high-definition media interface), so you won't be able to display all-digital 1080p content. Let's hope Blu-ray player manufacturers can adequately convey that their devices deliver enough value to justify being at least twice as expensive as their HD-DVD equivalents.

The AACS wild card

Forget that Blu-ray has PlayStation 3 on its side and that Intel and Microsoft have thrown their collective weight behind HD-DVD. Forget that high-definition televisions are still gaining traction among consumers. Forget that HD-DVD and Blu-ray are formats in their infancy, trying to claw their way to dominance to succeed DVD.

For now, both are hampered by the fact that AACS has yet to finalise its managed copy component, the most critical aspect of the spec that remains unfinished.Without a final AACS specification, living-room high-definition recorders can't proceed to market, neither can devices that are designed to take advantage of legally copying and moving content from one disc to another. Original estimates were for AACS's final spec to be available in May, but there are still no updates.

Until the hardware can be manufactured to take advantage of everything from media servers to copying content, the first high-definition video players from either camp should have limited appeal. We have no doubt that these players, be they Blu-ray or HD-DVD, will deliver enticing high-def images. If all they do is play back content, however, they're missing a core part of the innovation that Blu-ray and HD-DVD have the potential to deliver.

Sony launches HDR-UX1 and HDR-SR1 Handycam camcorders

Japanese maker of consumer electronics Sony has launched two new high-definition camcorders for the consumer market.

These new products are HDR-UX1 and HDR-SR1 Handycam camcorders. Both of these are capable of recording in 1080i and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound.

And the content recorded using these camcorders would be compatible with Sony’s BDP-S1 Blu-ray player and the upcoming PlayStation 3 console.

The major difference between these two newly launched models is the medium used for recording. While the HDR-UX1 is able to record to 3″ DVD discs, the HDR-SR1 records to a built-in 30GB hard drive.

Both of these camcorders come with a Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T lens and a 3.5″ swiveling LCD touch screens. Surely, some exciting products to acquire this coming holiday season.

Philips 42PF9631D, Elegant HDTV offers above-average image quality and design.

With its wide black bezel, silvery speakers, and semitransparent stand, the Philips 42PF9631D 42-inch plasma HDTV is a graceful and imposing presence. If you walk around the unit, you'll find more to admire: well-chosen, easy-to-reach inputs and outputs; a lighted remote; and the unusual Ambilight backlighting panels. The most important part of any television, though, is the picture it presents on its screen, and the 42PF9631D more than holds its own on that score. And despite its good image quality and luxurious trimmings, the 42PF9631D sells for a list price of $2399--not cheap, but not the steepest we've seen in this size, either (and street prices are often lower than list prices).

Our test jurors found the 42PF9631D's performance pleasing on DVD and standard-definition content, but we particularly liked its high-definition TV performance for its nice balance. This Philips model also stood out in our bright lights test, in which it led the pack for retaining its color and contrast well under bright lights. We did not test this model with its Ambilight feature enabled.

Once we finished our official tests, however, I tried out Ambilight in my hands-on evaluation. Ambilight mimics an ambient-backlighting feature usually seen only on high-end custom installations of televisions. Lighting panels on the back of the right and left sides change color and intensity along with the action on the screen, projecting the colored light onto the wall behind the TV. Ambilight has five settings for various moods, such as Action (for action-packed movies or games) and Relaxed (pleasant for nature shows and so forth). I'll admit that the idea sounded a bit silly to me at first, but when I watched our usual test scenes ofThe Lord of the Rings: The Return of the Kingwith Ambilight on, I found the experience absorbing enough to justify watching a few more scenes just for fun. Philips touts research results that suggest Ambilight prevents eyestrain in darkened rooms, too. That said, Ambilight may not be everyone's cup of tea--or at least, not everyone will want that tea with every meal. If you don't feel the need to see backlighting respond to, say, the evening news, you can simply turn Ambilight off.

The 42PF9631D's array of inputs is one of the better ones I've seen on a 42-inch plasma lately. All inputs are well identified and easily reached. The left side offers inputs for USB, headphone jack, composite, and S-Video, and audio inputs useful for connecting a camcorder or digital camera. (I'd have liked to see a CableCard slot as well, since a TV this attractive shouldn't have to compete with a less-than-lovely tuner box.) On the back you'll find the expected assortment of inputs, plus digital audio in and out--a boon for anyone who prefers their own audio setup to the TV's speakers. Though the 42PF9631D includes several sound settings and virtual Dolby digital sound, I found the sound from the attached speakers merely adequate.

I liked the long remote, which fit well in my hand. The lighted buttons made it easy to control this HDTV even in a darkened room. It was also a pleasure to see that the remote matches the aesthetic of the TV, instead of looking like a generic remote with the company's name slapped on.

It's worth reiterating that this price of $2399 is list; the 42PF9631D wasn't available for sale on our pricing date of 6/6/06. Street prices are often lower--sometimes substantially lower--than list prices. If you're interested in the 42PF9631 but are working within a budget, check the current price before writing this one off.

Listen to us, The Repository

Have you heard about The Repository? Better yet, have you heard The Repository?

Well, listen to us, beginning today. Your newspaper — approaching the end of its second century of bringing Stark County the news — is doing something new.

Starting today, you can download The Repository to your iPod or other MP3 player, computer or just about any other device that produces digital sound.

That’s right. Sound. You can download the paper and listen to it while you exercise, brush your teeth, eat breakfast or drive to work.


“A local company is developing breakthrough technology and is offering us the chance to help them develop it,” said Repository Editor David Kaminski. “It’s a great opportunity for us.”

That company is Presteligence, a Lake Township company that has been developing technology for newspapers since 1990. It was a division of Graphic Enterprises, but the companies separated two years ago.

Presteligence President Bob Behringer said the technology is unique, and the company has filed for a patent.

Nobody else is doing it, Behringer said. “Not the way we’re doing it. We’re creating an audio version of a newspaper.” Other newspapers do podcasting, in which small segments of recorded audio are available, or have people read portions of the paper.

“We are taking the (entire) content of the newspaper that is in print and we’re converting it to audio,” Behringer said.

“It’s being read by what we call virtual newscasters.” That’s a made-up term for the computer-generated voices that result from the software process that converts printed words to audio.

“It sounds like someone’s reading you the story, but it’s the computer that’s reading you the story.”

But don’t prepare for something that sounds like “Danger Will Robinson!” because the computer voices sound more human than machine.


The pronunciations still are being tweaked. Kaminski listens for things that can be improved, but “they’ve come a long way in the quality of the synthesized voice since I first heard it in January,” he said.

“We’ll try to make the pronunciation as good as it can be,” Kaminski said. He said things such as proper names and local terms need to be pronounced better.

Presteligence’ s software does the audio conversion process and the company’s Web servers deliver it to subscribers.

“The tricky part is making the delivery simple,” Behringer said. That took six months, “but we leveraged technology that we’ve developed over the last 16 years.”

A tutorial on The Repository’s Web site at will take you through the registration process, and you can choose content such as sports, local news, financial news. There’s also a help button to e-mail Presteligence’s help desk.

Once your choices are downloaded to Apple computers with iTunes and to PCs with Windows Media Player, they can be downloaded to all models of iPods and MP3 players. Or you can burn to a CD and listen to it on the way to work.

“Anything they can listen to as an audio file, our software will work with,” Behringer said.

“We want to offer it to readers who think it will be fun; to readers who might use it when they can’t take the time to read; and to people with impaired eyesight who still want to enjoy the newspaper,” Kaminski said.

Registration gives you a free trial for 90 days. Kaminski said no decision has been made on the business part of the audio newspaper. In the future, it could be supported by advertising or by subscription, he said.

“We want to see how many people are interested in it,” Kaminski said. “We’ll figure out how it’s a part of our business sometime during the experiment.”

Philips launches new sound system

Royal Philips Electronics has announced the introduction of its new Micro Hi-Fi System, MCM275.

The new MCM 275 with dynamic sound performance is packed in a sleek design with MP3/WMA-CD and USB direct playback that can also be wall-mounted.

The digital sound control allows one to select pre-set modes that control the frequency bands of sound to optimise certain musical styles and different sound settings: Optimal, Jazz, Rock, Techno, Pop or Classic.

The MCM 275 is also equipped with Dynamic Bass Boost with emphasis on the bass content of the music throughout the range of volume settings-from low to high.

Bottom-end bass frequencies usually get lost when the volume is set at a low level. To counteract this, Dynamic Bass Boost can be switched on to boost bass levels to enjoy consistent sound even when you turn down the volume.

'Philips MCM275 offers a greatly enriched sound experience', commented Khalid Tuer, general manager for Philips Consumer Electronics, Middle East and Africa.

'With its super sleek and flexible design that can be wall-mounted, you can enjoy your favourite music with family and friends simply by plugging in your device to the USB port on your Philips Hi-Fi system. Your digital music will be played directly from the device,' he added.-

source:TradeArabia News Service

Fujifilm FinePix F30 review at Steves Digicams

Fujifilm F30 camera - Optical zoom
According to Steve Digicams: "At its 36mm wide angle extreme, it provides a field of view sufficient enough for most interior and landscape shots, while it's 108mm maximum telephoto focal length is effective both for portraits and to bring your distant subjects a bit closer. Overall it helps the F30 produce nice sharp images, with small traces of chromatic aberrations (purple fringing) around highlights as well as moderate barrel distortion at wide angle, but virtually no pincushioning at the telephoto end."

Fujifilm FinePix F30 review conclusion - Steves Digicams
Steve continues: "While the F10 had a maximum ISO setting of 1600, the Fujifilm F30 raises the bar with a sensitivity of 3200; something only more advanced dSLRs use to offer. The "Picture stabilization" mode, which uses this ability to offer faster shutter speeds in lower lighting conditions, reducing camera shake and motion blur. I was very surprised at how low noise levels were, even at ISO 800. Both ISO 1600 and 3200 are also quite low for a camera in this class, due to the in-camera noise reduction processing." You want to learn more about the Fujifilm FinePix digital camera? Continue to read the Fujifilm FinePix F30 review at Steve's Digicams!

About Steve's Digicams Online
Steve's Digicams was founded in the year 1997, by, indeed, Steve. Steve Sanders is well experienced in photography, 30 years, and wants to share this experience with everyone on the Internet. Steve's motto is: simplicity. The way the website is build makes it also possible for those who haven't got a fast connection to download the website very quickly. In the same way the reviews are being written. According to Steve, it should not be necessary to follow a course in photography to be able to understand a review. For this approach Steve is well known world wide and he is welcome to it by his many readers. Beside test reports Steve's site has various other items, like a forum, camera specifications, daily "breaking" news.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

HD-DVD, Blu-Ray, and Why to Boycott 'Em Both

I have a love/hate relationship with HDV. I love it when I play it on my PC or pipe it to my HDTV from the camcorder, where it looks sharp and clear. I hate it when I have to scale it down to standard definition (SD) for burning to DVDs to send to friends and family. But by introducing two competing standards—Blu-ray and HD-DVD—the industry is guaranteeing that this bipolar relationship will continue, and that neither 2006 or 2007 will be the year of high-res home video.

On one level, letting competing technologies duel it out in the marketplace is the American way. On another, I think, "Guys—this just delays acceptance of either." And this is much worse than the DVD-R/+R comedy: Both of those formats worked fine on $50 consumer players. Not so with Blu-ray and HD-DVD discs, which require players that still run many hundreds of dollars.

To show friends the video in all its glory, I've got no better option than to hook the camera up to a TV—a clunky way to use cutting-edge technology! So whenever I shoot in HDV format, I get this "all dressed up and no place to go" feeling—I've got gorgeous video but no good way to share it.

Still, I don't recommend holding off on buying an HDV camcorder, especially considering that prices will probably fall below $1,000 by early 2007. You're capturing memories in hi-def even if you can't quite produce the DVDs yet. Besides, if you buy that HDV camcorder (or another DV camcorder), you can shoot events with two camcorders and dramatically improve the perceived quality of your video. The setup is simple: Put old faithful, set to max wide angle, on a tripod in the corner to capture the entire scene. Use your new toy for the medium and close-up shots.

Merging the footage is also fairly simple, although a bit tedious unless your editor has a multiple-camera feature. But nearly all prosumer editors, such as Adobe Premiere Pro, Apple Final Cut Pro, and Avid Liquid Edition, already have this capability, and it will trickle down to consumer programs by mid-2007. In the meantime, for tips on shooting and editing with multiple cameras, check out Double-Barreled Video online at

Keep producing DVDs on your current recorder and join me in voting against Blu-Ray and HD-DVD with your wallet. Frankly, leaders in both camps should be embarrassed at presenting such a fractured nonsolution—forcing buyers to assume the risk of either technology falling by the wayside. As much as it hurts, I'm going to stay away from both technologies until the smoke clears and the DVD industry settles on a single standard.

Sony rolls camcorder based on AVCHD format

Sony Corp. unveiled its first high-definition video camcorders based on the AVCHD format.

The cameras use a proprietary MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 codec chip and image processor. The DVD model and hard-disk drive model will hit the Japanese market in August and shortly thereafter elsewhere.

AVCHD was originally proposed by Matsushita and Sony in May as a video camcorder format to record high-definition footage on a 8-cm DVD disk using H.264 video compression technology.

H.264 codec chips that handle low-resolution images have been available for some time. But the availability of a codec chip that can handle HD images using battery power has been considered a key hurdle for AVCHD camcorders development.

Sony has developed a one-chip solution that compresses original images and sound into a 1,080i HD signal with Dolby Digital 5.1 channel audio. Power consumption is 500 mW. The chip it thought to be less than 20 mm2 in a plastic package, but Sony declined to release details.

Sony has been developing the chip for more than a year in parallel with AVCHD format development. "The H.264 chip is one of key devices for differentiation. We have no intention to sell it to third parties," said Yutaka Nakagawa, Sony's executive vice president.

When the AVCHD format was announced in May, it lacked compatibility with other players.

Sony said its Blu-ray Disc products would be compatible with AVCHD. Its first BD player to be released this fall and its Playstation 3 will support AVCHD. Those BD products will be able to read AVCHD DVD disks.

Matsushita and Sony have expanded the AVCHD format to cover wider recording media beyond 8-cm DVD disks, including hard-disk drives and both SD card and Memory Stick flash cards.

Ten companies, including Canon, Pioneer, Samsung and Sharp, have have so far announced support for the format. Matsushita and Sony began licensing the format last week

Research dishes out flexible computer chips

New thin-film semiconductor techniques invented by University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers promise to add sensing, computing and imaging capability to an amazing array of materials.

Historically, the semiconductor industry has relied on flat, two-dimensional chips upon which to grow and etch the thin films of material that become electronic circuits for computers and other electronic devices. But as thin as those chips might seem, they are quite beefy in comparison to the result of a new UW-Madison semiconductor fabrication process detailed in the current issue of the Journal of Applied Physics.

A team led by electrical and computer engineer Zhenqiang (Jack) Ma and materials scientist Max Lagally have developed a process to remove a single-crystal film of semiconductor from the substrate on which it is built. This thin layer (only a couple of hundred nanometers thick) can be transferred to glass, plastic or other flexible materials, opening a wide range of possibilities for flexible electronics. In addition, the semiconductor film can be flipped as it is transferred to its new substrate, making its other side available for more components. This doubles the possible number of devices that can be placed on the film.

By repeating the process, layers of double-sided, thin-film semiconductors can be stacked together, creating powerful, low-power, three-dimensional electronic devices.

"It's important to note that these are single-crystal films of strained silicon or silicon germanium," says Ma. "Strain is introduced in the way we form the membrane. Introducing strain changes the arrangement of atoms in the crystal such that we can achieve much faster device speed while consuming less power."

For non-computer applications, flexible electronics are beginning to have significant impact. Solar cells, smart cards, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, medical applications, and active-matrix flat panel displays could all benefit from the development. The techniques could allow flexible semiconductors to be embedded in fabric to create wearable electronics or computer monitors that roll up like a window shade.

"This is potentially a paradigm shift," says Lagally. "The ability to create fast, low-power, multilayer electronics has many exciting applications. Silicon germanium membranes are particularly interesting. Germanium has a much higher adsorption for light than silicon. By including the germanium without destroying the quality of the material, we can achieve devices with two to three orders of magnitude more sensitivity."

That increased sensitivity could be applied to create superior low-light cameras, or smaller cameras with greater resolution.

Ma, Lagally, Materials Science and Engineering Assistant Professor Paul Evans, Physics Associate Professor Mark Eriksson, and graduate students Hao-Chih Yuan and Guogong Wang are patenting the new techniques through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. The team's work was supported in part by grants from the National Science Foundation Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, the Department of Energy and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Nokia N71

Nokia is not known for its clamshell handsets, but the company does occasionally make a foray into that world, and has done so with the N71.

In fact, despite Nokia’s reluctance to flip, there is already a clamshell handset in the N range – the N91. Where that is a very chunky beast, with a camera in its own clamshell independent swivelling section, the N71 has a rather more traditional clamshell design, being made in just two pieces, and hinged at its top edge.

The front screen offers just 96 x 68 pixels of viewing area and, a relatively limited range of features. It will show the handset status and the current time, and when you are playing music a button underneath the screen will pause and resume. But you can’t switch between tracks or fiddle with volume without opening the flip.

Design wise Nokia doesn’t seem to have really taken the full potential of what the clamshell format offers on board. Let’s start with the overall size, shape and weight. The N71 is thicker than the popular candybar N70 - the other Nokia handset I happen to have handy as I write. With the clam closed it is almost as tall, and it is heavier. Compare for yourself: N70 53 x 109 x 22mm, 126g; N71 51 x 98 x 26mm with the flip closed, rising from 98 to a shade over 180mm tall with the flip open and 139g.

When you open the flip there is room for a decent sized screen and for large, well spaced keys. What does Nokia provide? A screen which is nicely specified in terms of pixels – 240 x 320 of them – but a mere 2.4in diagonal in size. I’d have liked to see it larger.

The keypad is the bigger disappointment, though. The number pad and control keys are separated by a design feature – a slightly curved indent in the casing which to my mind just consumes potentially useful space.

There are several things I just don’t like about the keypad design design. The softkeys are a long way from the softmenus they map onto, and while you will get used to this it is a little disconcerting at first.

The navigation key sits in the centre of a familiar group – Call, End, and those softmenu keys. It could easily be a third larger, and its raised select button feels only OK under the fingers. The whole thing needs an element of digit-precision to use effectively.

Philips Lights Up World Cup 2006

If you watched any of the World Cup games over the past few weeks, you would have been hard pushed not to have noticed that Philips was a major sponsor. Besides the billboards all around the pitch, it was hard to avoid the Philips logo beneath the scoreboard that would appear at random points throughout the game.

But Philips’ biggest contribution to the tournament was the “Fan Fests” that were located in all the host cities around Germany. You know what I mean, those massive gatherings of fans who couldn’t get tickets to the games, watching huge screens – of course we only saw these locations whenever Gary Lineker wanted to highlight the “reaction of the fans” in the post match analysis.

Not only did Philips supply the massive screens for these outdoor gatherings, but the company integrated its much praised Ambilight system into them. So, at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Philips installed a screen measuring 77m2, complete with full surround Ambilight!

Despite actually watching a couple of the matches live, I can’t help but wonder what the images looked like on a screen that big. Could Ronaldo’s constant diving have looked more ridiculous? Could Sven have looked more clueless? Could Crouch have even fitted on the screen without the top of his head being cut off? And most important of all, could an Italian lip reader have spotted what Materazzi really said to Zidane?

But the question I really want answered is, where is that screen now? If it’s looking for a home now that the tournament is over I’d be happy to oblige. I could probably mount it at the end of my garden and watch the footie out of my bedroom window. Couple that with wireless networking and Internet shopping, and I’d never have to get out of bed again!

Samsung X60 Centrino Duo Notebook

This particular X60 is pretty much fully loaded. Samsung has squeezed in an Intel Core Duo T2500 CPU running at 2GHz, and this is backed up by a generous 2GB of RAM. There’s a capacious 100GB hard disk, which should keep even the most space hungry user happy. But if you do want to free up some space on the hard drive, you can make use of the integrated dual layer DVD writer.

The X60 is finished in Samsung’s regular matt silver with black detailing – it looks good, but not what I’d describe as drop dead gorgeous. Lifting the lid reveals a 15.4in widescreen display with a high contrast glossy coating. As always I’ll mention that opinions tend to be split on these coatings, but I quite like them and find the more vivid colours and brighter image a bonus. This particular screen is a fine example and doesn’t suffer from excessive reflections in environments with multiple ambient light sources. Samsung has also done the smart thing and used a screen with a 1,680 x 1,050 resolution, making sure that you’ve got loads of desktop real estate – I’ve seen many 15.4in notebooks that have a 1,280 x 768 resolution, which represents a poor use of physical size.

The screen is driven by an ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 graphics chipset with 256MB of dedicated memory. This means that the X60 should be able to turn its hand to the odd bit of gaming, although as our 3D gaming tests show, you may have to drop down from the native resolution if you want decent frame rates.

The keyboard is a decent full size affair that’s slightly recessed into the chassis. There’s a good amount of travel in the keys and a solid break ensuring a fast and comfortable typing rate. The Shift, Caps Lock, Tab, Return and Backspace keys are all large, as they should be. Unfortunately the Fn key is located in the bottom left corner where the Ctrl key should be, but to be fair to Samsung a great many notebook manufacturers do the same thing.

Below the keyboard is a touchpad with a widescreen aspect ratio to match the display. The right side of the touchpad can be used for scrolling vertically through web pages or documents and Samsung has labeled this accordingly. There are two brushed silver buttons below the touchpad that respond with a solid click when pressed. There's no fingerprint scanner between the buttons as seen on the X50 though.

Either side of the touchpad are microphones. Samsung’s decision to use two microphones in an array is a good one, and means that the quality should be greatly improved when using VoIP services without a headset. Samsung used a similar setup with its Q1 UMPC to good effect.

To the right of the keyboard are controls for Samsung’s AVS media playback environment. From here you can listen to music, view photos or watch video. AVS has been around on Samsung notebooks for some time now and it works reasonably well, although its video codec support is somewhat lacking. A nice touch is the inclusion of an infrared remote control for AVS that sits snugly in the PC Card slot for ease of transport.