Wednesday, January 9, 2008

High-Def Camcorders Go Small and Light

Newest models use flash memory, have high still-image resolutions.

Camcorders don't usually cause much buzz at CES. This year was different, because the products on show could finally capture the imagination of long-wary consumers.

Over the years, camcorders have been of only modest interest to most consumers, due to the devices' bulk and weight. It also hasn't helped that most decent still cameras can take short video clips.

Sony HDR-SR12

Such resistance could fade now. Sony, for example, debuted two small high-definition camcorders: the HDR-SR12 ($1400), which includes a 120GB hard drive, and the HDR-SR11 ($1200), which has a 60GB hard drive. Both can take 10-megapixel photos--more than enough resolution for you to use the camcorder as your still camera. And, of course, both can record in high definition at 1920 by 1080. Both models will be available in March.

In addition, the two camcorders have another great feature in face-detection technology that automatically identifies up to eight faces and corrects focus, exposure, and color controls for both video and still photos.

Flash Memory Takes Center Stage

Faster operation and the use of flash-memory cards have allowed the major camcorder companies to reduce the size of their products to unheard-of dimensions for high-performance consumer camcorders.

Samsung's SC-HMX20C records video and stills to 8GB of built-in flash memory, instead of to a hard drive or DVD. As a result, the camcorder is smaller than a soda can and weighs only 10.9 ounces. The SC-HMX20C will take removable SDHC/MMC+ cards if you want extra storage.

Flash memory also means that the SC-HMX20C will start up a lot faster than competitors that use other media. Samsung says it will start in under 3 seconds, a claim the company verified on the show floor. Though the SC-HMX20C isn't in the same league as Sony's models on the still-photo front, it can take 8-megapixel stills, which is very good. Pricing is expected to be between $1000 and $1100, and the camcorder should be available in May.

Panasonic HDC-SD9

Flash memory, specifically SD Card memory, allowed Panasonic to slim its HDC-SD9 down to a mere 0.606 pounds, or about 9.7 ounces. The HDC-SD9's heavier and bulkier relative, the HDC-HS9, is a hybrid model that can record either to SD (or SDHC) media or to its built-in 60GB hard disk.

Both camcorders have face-detection technology and offer Panasonic's Intelligent Shooting Guide, which will detect when shooting conditions are poor and then show tips on the LCD to help the user correct the error before recording the content.

The two models will be available in March with manufacturer-suggested retail prices of $800 for the HDC-SD9 and $1100 for the HDC-SH9.

Innovations From Canon, Sanyo

Canon Vixia HF10

Canon, too, has taken the flash-memory route, using what the company calls Dual Flash Memory in its new top consumer camcorder, the Vixia HF10.

Dual Flash Memory allows the user to record to the camcorder's internal flash drive even if they don't have a spare SDHC memory card. This particular model has 16GB of internal flash, the largest capacity seen at CES. A second, lower-end version, the HF100, features an SDHC memory-card slot only.

Also included in the two camcorders are a newly designed Canon 12x HD video lens and a Canon 3.3-megapixel Full HD CMOS image sensor.

Both are expected to be available in April. Prices were not announced.

Sanyo Xacti HD1000

If weight is a concern for you, Sanyo's new Xacti HD1000 could be what you're seeking in a camcorder.

It weighs just 9.5 ounces and has a total volume of only 16.6 cubic inches, which the company says makes it the world's smallest and lightest digital camcorder capable of Full HD recording (1920 horizontal and 1080 vertical pixels).

How do they do it? If you've been following along, you already know: with an 8GB SDHC memory card.

A Word From a Memory Maker

The majority of the camcorders that drew the most attention at CES were able to shrink because of the use of flash memory, either built in or taking the form of removable SD media. But not just any SD media.

For most of these high-def camcorders to work properly, they must use SDHC cards, which operate more quickly than a standard SD memory card does. SanDisk, a leading SD Card seller, recommends SDHC, which can handle data transfers of up to 40 mbps. The 4GB version retails for $80, while the 8GB version retails for $140.,141238-c,ces/article.html

OLED TVs Shine at CES

Sony and Samsung are showing off super-thin, super-expensive OLED TVs--one on sale now.

LAS VEGAS--Two of the world's largest consumer electronics companies are displaying flat-screen TVs at the International Consumer Electronics Show that are as thin as a framed picture on the wall, with one already on sale.

The TVs are based on OLED (organic light emitting diode) technology that uses an organic material which emits its own light, the secret to its slender design. LCD TVs (liquid crystal display) require a backlight, but OLED TVs don't. Removing the backlight means companies can make much thinner, lighter flat screen TVs.

OLED technology is being fiercely developed by many TV makers because it offers a brighter, more vivid picture than today's LCD panels.

Sony and Samsung are both showing off OLED TVs at CES, and Sony is already selling one model in Japan and the U.S.

Sony's 11-inch OLED TV, called the XEL-1, is just 3 millimeters thick, considerably less than that of competing flat-panel sets, but with a beautiful picture. The price isn't so pretty. The XEL-1 costs about US$2,500, which is considerably more than a comparable but thicker set built with LCD.

The XEL-1 went on sale in Japan in December and was launched in the U.S. this week. Sony is also showing off a 27-inch prototype OLED TV at CES.

Samsung is showing off two different size screens at CES, a 14-inch and a 31-inch, but the company doesn't expect to put them on the market for at least another year as it continues to develop the technology and reduce the cost.

There are detractors to the idea of OLED TVs.

Japan's Sharp, a leading LCD TV maker, is exploring OLED technology, but the company offered a few reasons OLED needs further development before it will make such a TV.

The main issue is product lifetime. The expected life of an OLED screen is just three to four years, said a Sharp executive, and the company won't considering an OLED TV until its lifetime is at least 10 years.

It's also difficult to mass-produce OLED TVs in the large sizes people want in their homes.

"OLED technology is promising but it's not ready for prime time yet," said Michael Troetti, president of Sharp's U.S. marketing arm, during a press conference at CES. In terms of pricing and manufacturing ease, OLEDs can't compete with LCD technology, he added.

But Sony and Samsung are forging ahead with heavy investments in OLED TV technology.

"The name of the game at CES and at Sony remains the next champion product," Sony CEO Howard Stringer said introducing the XEL-1 at a CES news conference. "Once in a great while a product comes along that not only has the ability to set the standard for others to strive for but symbolizes where Sony is as a company today as well as our direction for the future. I believe we have such a product."

See PC World's ongoing coverage of the Consumer Electronics Show at our Info Center.,141153-c,tv/article.html

Toshiba launches 20 new LCD Tv's

At this years Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas Toshiba has launched an impressive 20 new LCD TV's across a total of five distinct ranges.

The entry level AV500 Series will offer screen sizes of 19in, 22in, 26in, 32in, 37in and 42in and feature 'DynaLight' dynamic backlight control to improve black levels. Finished in gloss black (with the 19in having an optional gloss white finish) all screens come equipped with an ATSC/QAM digital tuner.

The step up Regza CV510 will be available in 32in and 37in sizes and will be equipped Toshiba’s PixelPure 4G processor. With a thin 1.5in bezel and SoundStrip speaker system the CV510 will no doubt appeal to the fashion conscious among us. Technological innovations include Toshiba's new gaming mode with faster response times. They CV510 also features 3 HDMI (v1.3) inputs along with Regza link for seamless connection to other Toshiba products.

The 1080p full HD (1920 x 1080) Regza RV530 series features a 15,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio along with an impressive 4 HDMI inputs. The RV530 will offer 32in, 37in, 42in, 46in and 52in models and sports Toshiba’s new two-tone 'Surface Tension' design with black bezel.

The Regza XV540 range has the same specification as the RV530 series with the addition of 100Hz processing. Designed to appeal to those who watch a lot of fast action material, the XV540 wil be available in 42in, 46in and 52in sizes.

Finally, the Cinema series Regza XF550 has been designed primarily for the style conscious consumer. With a super narrow bezel of just 0.9in and Toshiba's SoundStrip 2 speaker system they are certain to be some of the most stylish LCD's around. The XF550 also comes equipped with 1080p full HD resolution and ClearFrame 120Hz processing. They will be available in 40in, 46in and 52in sizes along with 3 HDMI (v1.3) inputs and the Regza link for easy component connections.

Wireless Plasma & LCD TV's come of age

Some of those unsightly wires dangling from the back of your wall mounted Plasma or LCD TV could soon be a thing of the past with a number of major manufacturers promising wireless enabled solutions by this summer.

One of the wireless technologies competing for consumer affections is 'WirelessHD' from a heavyweight consortium headed by Toshiba and Sony.

WirelessHD technology uses a previously unused part of the radio spectrum, at around 60 gigahertz. An important feature of the new technology is that it avoids interference from other networking kit - this new spectrum allows it to achieve this goal. Unlike other wireless technology, WirelessHD will maintain a very high quality stream, as it does not need to compress the signal.

Significant technical hurdles have been overcome with WirelessHD to make it practical in and around the home. While it can cover a large floor space (up to 30 feet) it employs techniques which prevent the signal 'leaking' into next door's living area, or even into an adjacent room.

Another solution will be showcased at this years Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The Korean electronics giant LG will be demonstrating LCD and plasma screens operating with Wi-Fi wireless links.

Wi-Fi is a proven technology although it has the disadvantage of having not being specifically designed for streaming video. It is slower than WirelessHD, and requires significantly more compression when used for High Definition video.

LG will be selling two Wi-Fi enabled LCD models early this year at 47in and 52in alongside 50in and 60in Plasmas. The LCD models are equipped with a wireless transmitter with a 15m range. The transmitter will be optional on LG's plasma models

If you are hoping to remove wires from the back of your flat panel TV's for purely aesthetic reasons, then remember that you are still going to have a power source ... Manufacturers are also working on this technology, but it won't be ready for a good while.

Best LCD and Plasma TV's for Standard Definition

While there is nothing to compare with the pristine quality of High Definition pictures on your LCD or Plasma TV, the fact is that for most of us the majority of our viewing schedule will still be Standard Definition (SD) quality.

Having seen a HD demonstration at their local electrical outlet, many consumers have been disappointed when the same TV displays SD pictures.

While the choice of TV is a very subjective and personal choice, we can make some observations on SD/HD pictures and offer some suggestions for TV's that in our opinion perform well with SD material.

We have to point out that here at HDTVorg we are Plasma fans when it comes to SD pictures. We like the 'softer' pictures a Plasma produces, although we realise that there are many of you out there who simply prefer LCD, and there are in fact a few LCD TV's that have made it into our top ten that fully deserve to be there.

We strongly recommend that you compare as many LCD / Plasma TV's alongside each other with SD and HD material on screen. Any retailer worth their salt will go out of their way to help. Also remember;

(i) Viewing distances usually differ with SD and HD for the same screen. HD will invariably be better viewed close, while moving away from the screen will produce better results for SD.

(ii) Generally, but not always, smaller screens make for better SD viewing, and Full HD (1920 x 1080) screens sometimes struggle to handle an SD source because more upsacling is required for a lower quality SD source to 'fit' the extra resolution.

(iii) Ultimately, the picture processing technology employed on a TV will be the single most important factor which determines how good the SD and HD picture is - again, we would like to stress how important it is to compare as many TV's as you can with SD and HD material.