Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD1

With the Xacti VPC-HD1, Sanyo joins Sony in the high-definition camcorder market. The device, which shoots 720p HD video, is very portable, measuring 3.1 by 4.7 by 1.4 inches and weighing only 7.4 ounces. (without battery). In fact, it reminds me of the diminutive Samsung SC-X105L MPEG-4 Sports Camcorder. Based on the performance we saw in Sony's recent HD camcorder, the HDR-HC3 HDV 1080i Handycam, we were prepared to be blown away. Unfortunately, my lab and real-world tests revealed that this camcorder's video quality is mediocre at best. And with a street price of $800, it costs too much for such lackluster results.


DVD home theater systems in Middle East

Panasonic has announced the launch of its new range of DVD home theatre systems in the Middle East that promise a whole new viewing experience, thanks to a host of innovative features including VIERA Link, HDMI Easy Connection and 360 degree sound.

Panasonic’s new range of home theatres includes SC-HT995, SC-HT895, SC-HT340 and SC-HT540. The SC-HT995 and SC-HT895 come with 360 degree sound and surround enhancer that projects virtual speakers at the sides and rear of the central listening position to complete the circle of sound and enhance the wraparound effect. The dramatically improved audio characteristics in the subwoofer result in ultra-robust bass sounds that add to the dynamism and atmosphere of movie and music reproduction.

“Panasonic’s unmatched focus on offering products that perfectly meet customer expectations is fully evident in these new DVD home theatre systems that we have launched. In home theatre systems it is the quality of sound that makes all the difference to the overall viewing experience and this is precisely what we have focused on through our pioneering technology innovations,” said Koji Naka, Product Manager (AV), Panasonic.

The SC-HT995 and SC-HT895 also feature the revolutionary HDAVI Control or VIERA Link technology, which means that just pressing a single button on a remote control switches on the Home Theater and TV, makes the appropriate selector settings, and starts playback automatically.

With the HDMI Easy Connection feature of the SC-HT995 and SC-HT895 digital video and audio signals can be transmitted at high speeds without being compressed, by just connecting a single cable. These home theatre systems also come with a music port that allows users to enjoy high-quality sound from a portable audio player through the home theatre system. The SC-HT995 has an output of 7500W (PMPO) and 1000W (RMS), while the SC-HT895 has an output of 6800W (PMPO) and 850W (RMS). Both the models come with a quartz-synthesized digital tuning system, sound field control, built-in dolby digital & DTS decoder and karaoke functions.

Panasonic’s SC-HT540 and SC-HT340 also offer most of the features of the SC-HT995 and SC-HT895 except 360 degree sound, HDMI and VIERA Link technology. The SC-HT540 boasts of a powerful 6800W (PMPO) and 850W (RMS) output, whereas SC-HT340 has an output of 3500W (PMPO) and 330W (RMS). The stand-out feature of the SC-HT340 is its space saving slimmer size.

“The Middle East markets have always shown a great demand for high quality home entertainment products, as watching movies with the family ranks very high as a form of entertainment and recreation for people in the region. The superior quality and technological excellence of Panasonic’s home theatre systems give us an added advantage to effectively cater to the demands of the Middle East markets,” concluded Naka.


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Digital tools help the Web evolve

We're at one of those stages in computer evolution where ideas are popping like they did in the "tech bubble" days of the late 1990s.

Social networking sites -- using input from readers in building and rating content -- are merging with multimedia to produce a flock of new companies. History says few will last, but sorting out those that will is a fascinating exercise. So is figuring out just where small, powerful digital tools are taking us.

Evoca, for example, is a Savannah-based company with a jazzy idea that's gaining traction.

The company specializes in online audio, offering user-friendly ways to post sound clips on Web sites and set up podcasts, those downloadable audio programs that let you take your content with you on a portable music player. The concept is that until a new trend becomes easy to use, it will remain in select hands. Simplify it, and a mass audience might just appear.

I'm seeing more and more Web logs that use podcasts, a nice way to manage content for those who are on the go but want to keep up with their favorite sites. But posting audio snippets doesn't have to be a function of Web log publishers alone. Evoca (www.evoca.com) lets you cut and paste HTML code to embed audio into any kind of Web page. You might want to describe a product you're selling on eBay via a sound file, or use the medium to play snippets of music you've created.

To take the headaches out of posting sound files, Evoca is telephone-friendly. You can record your thoughts by telephone call, after which they will make their appearance in a holding area at the site. Your words go public when and if you choose to enable them. Telephone options like these (Evoca lets you record Skype calls with a $5 a month premium account) free you from microphones and let you post audio observations from anywhere you have a cell phone signal.

Podcasts can be enabled with RSS feeds so users are alerted when new content appears, making Evoca a useful audio blogging tool. The community aspect is reinforced by tagging, in which users add key words to make their recordings easier to find. Searching gets more interesting when you use Evoca's speech-recognition tools, which provide full search capabilities for sound files, a technology that will grow in importance as online audio takes off.

But what online audio services lack are the editing capabilities that would allow users to apply tweaks and finishing touches to their podcasts. There are good PC-based applications for doing such things (I prefer an open-source program called Audacity), but where they would really come in handy online is in travel situations, when updating content on the road would require only a Web connection.

Evoca still has a lot of rough edges: Even its Web site could use some work. In addition, the amount of content posted by users at the site is minimal, in contrast to rival Odeo's claim of one million audio files (www.odeo.com). But watch how this sector develops, and if you get interested, take a look at what ZapZap is doing with multimedia content management.

The site (www.zapzap.com) is designed to be an aggregator of video and audio feeds. But treating it as a simple directory of multimedia would be a mistake, because ZapZap provides playlist capabilities that can add the podcasts, and videos users download most into a playlist. That results in a community-defined popularity ranking, letting you see or hear which content is getting the most play, and feeding it into your audio player. Its automated features make ZapZap an interesting contribution to online multimedia.

Years ago, I had a friend who, while traveling in the Sudan, worked as a stringer for Time magazine, the idea being that if something happened in that country, he would report in to allow the editors to decide how to cover it.

Today, we're creating stringers out of anyone with a video or audio recorder who wants to contribute. Think of the video footage coming out of Lebanon on YouTube.

Sure, this technology is in its infancy, and much of today's content is sophomoric, but the longer-term picture is fascinating. As tools improve and people record what they see and hear, a multimedia-enabled public journalism emerges on the Internet. This is surely a plus for the process of news gathering, because it helps to provide the raw content upon which ideas are based and decisions made.