IFA round-up

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Here’s the Tech Digest round-up of the best of the rest of the world’s largest consumer electronics show IFA. We’ll have detailed analysis of the show along with a easily digestable instant guide later in the week.

* Bluetooth personal CD player
* The fantastic Broadband Box
* Samsung votes for DAB
* More digital radio
* Philips’ coin-sized optical disk
* Recordable DVD price war

Bluetooth personal CD player

No we didn’t believe it either as we assumed Bluetooth doesn’t have the bandwidth to carry audio data, but, unless we are the victims of a huge French practical joke, a Blueooth wireless personal CD player will be in UK stores by the end of the year.

The perpetrators are NafNaf Electronique, a high-tech wing of a fashion house, who were extremely excited about their innovation. It plays back both standard audio CDs and CDs with MP3s outputting its signal to a Bluetooth headset. Given its 10 metres radius, its user can listen to music even if their player is in a bag. Controls for the player are integrated into the unit’s headphones. The included rechargeable battery will function for around four hours

The demo we received was passable – the sound quality was fine, but the music did keep disappearing. NafNaf clearly has some work to do before it can get the product to market.

Still it hopes to launch the product in Europe (including the UK) before Christmas costing around 20% more than high-end personal models. (apologies for the rubbish picture and hearty thanks to eagle-eyed Tom @ Stuff for the tip-off)

How cool is this?

Fancy binning your DVD player, VCR, CD player and, while you are at it your PC, and replacing them with one box that sits under your TV? Well we’d read about the Broadband Box that does all the above and more, but when we saw it in action at IFA we were simply blown away.

It’s not just that the features list is awesome

* Full Windows XP Intel Pentium 4 PC
* A huge 256Gigabyte hard disk
* DVD player/CD-writer
* Digital or analogue TV tuner
* Hard disk video recorder with two week electronic programme guide and cool search facility
* FM tuner
* All the usual PC applications (Internet Explorer, Outlook, Word etc)

But the really cool thing is the way it has this superb interface which gives it a proper consumer electronics feel. It really is a cinch to use.

There’s also the possibility of video-on-demand to complement its streaming facilities. It has wireless functionality, virtually every connector you can think of and it is all controlled via its accompanying wireless keyboard. It is compatible with all screens from plasmas to conventional CRTs.

Best of all it is coming to the UK (apparently a deal has been signed) very soon. You’ll pay around around £1800. Alternatively for around £4000 it can be purchased in tandem with a 42inch plasma screen.

Read more here

Samsung votes for DAB

IFA had plenty of good news for digital radio, or DAB (Digital Audio Broadcating) to give it its proper title. While Perstel were unveiling some innovative devices in the Hong Kong hall (see below), Samsung was taking the wraps off a home entertainment system with an integrated digital radio tuner.

The HT-DB770 is a compact home cinema model complete with a DVD player, surround sound decoders/amplifiers (Dolby Digital, DTS, Dolby Pro-Logic II) and a total power output of 600watts via its six speakers. It is expected to go on sale for around £400 in September.

Samsung also gave another fledgling technology a well-needed boost by delivering the HT-DB390 – the company’s first home entertainment system to feature wireless Bluetooth rear speakers (fellow Korean company LG also unveiled a similar package. The system also features a DVD player, surround sound decoders etc, but it significantly larger and comes with thin floor standing speakers. Coming next month for around £400.

Samsung is also following Apple, Philips and co into the hard disk MP3 personal market. Due in October the YP-900 features a 20Gigabyte hard disk, has rechargeable batteries with a life of around ten hours and connects to a PC via its USB2.0 socket. Its price will be around £300 the same as the 15Gigabyte Apple and Philips devices.

More digital radio

More good news for digital radio. British-based company Perstel is readying a device that will pick up video signals transmitted via DAB. Although so far no group has yet committed to launching video over DAB in the UK, experiments are underway in Germany and broadcasters are aiming to broadcast the 2006 Football Word Cup in this format. The device, the DMR23, features a 7inch TFT LCD screen, an MP3 player and storage via an MMC card.

Due later this year is the DR 301, a portable digital radio receiver that also includes an integrated FM radio tuner, an MP3 player and voice recording facilities. Users can also record digital radio, which is then saved on to a MMC card. Expect to pay around £150.

Philips puts its money on coin-sized disc

It’s been shown before in various guises, and at various shows including last year’s CEATEC show in Japan, but now it seems that Philips is nearly ready with its ‘Portable Blue’ optical disk.

Instead of the conventional idea of using revolutionary Blu-Ray laser technology for greater storage capacity on DVD discs (as is popular in Japan where extra storage capacity is needed for high def TV) Philips has turned this idea around and miniaturised the disk while keeping storage capacity as high as possible. The end result is a device that can hold up 1Gb – that’s 1.4x as much as a CD-Rom – on a single layer, single sided disk measuring just 3cm across.

Philips claims the tiny optical disk will be incorporated into portable audio devices, mobile phones, PDAs, notebooks and digital cameras but hasn’t yet given a launch date for specific products. It could also be used for audio storage.

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Mobile phone takes control

With all these incompatible wireless formats kicking around, taking control of everything in the home certainly isn’t going to be easy. But Philips has come up with a potential solution.

Demonstrated at IFA was a new application that enables the user to control wireless household products – including those boasting 802.11, infra-red and Zigbee technologies – via a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone. A ‘connectivity mediator’ device automatically detects when a mobile phone is in its vicinity and sends an appropriate control menu to the handset.

Commands from the user are transmitted to the mediator via Bluetooth and then converted into the appropriate technology (such as wi-fi or infra-red) so the TV, DVD player or even wi-fi household device can be controlled at the touch of a button.

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Recordable DVD price war

How far is the price of DVD recorders going to fall this year? Well we’d been promised that a glut of cheapo DVD+RW recorders from the far east would drive the price down, but they don’t appear to be arriving. Weirdly, the cheapest player at the moment is Philips DVDR70.

Perhaps Hong Kong based company Mico will come to the rescue. It has a DVD+RW recorder, the DVDR300, ready to launch in the UK in October. Available exclusively from Sainsbury’s supermarket, the recorder will retail for between £250-300. Unlike the DVDR70 the recorder also has an ilink digital video input.

Mico is also set to move into the LCD market offering a 20inch 4×3 TV next year for £1000. A 30inch widescreen model will follow later in 2004.

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