Toshiba launches an impressive new product fest in time for Christmas

It seems the technology wizards at Toshiba have been burning the midnight oil this year to ensure an impressive range of new products comes out in time for Christmas 2011. There’s the UK’s first glasses free 3D television for a start, a suite of new Blu-ray players, three new Camileo camcorders, an ultra thin tablet and an all in one PC.

Toshiba-Camileo

The 55 inch ZL2 is a glasses free 3D television that features face tracking technology to provide the best picture wherever you’re sitting, a quad HD image system with 3840X2160 display, no less than four HDMI connections and built in wifi.

The BDX2250 and the BDX1250 are Hi definition 1920X1080 blu ray players at entry level price points. The 2250 also features an integrated ethernet port for online access to You Tube, BBC iPlayer and Picasa.

The HD Camileo camcorder range provides three models designed specifically for very different scenarios. The entry level Camileo X200 offers 1080p full HD resolution with smile and motion detection technology and three zooms from 12 to 60X at various resolutions.  The X400 will let you have plenty of face time with its 23x up to 120 X optical zoom and a 5 MP CMOS sensor will give you some sharp still images too. For outdoor types the ultra compact weather proof Camileo Clip will get you those seat of action views through a purpose built clip design that will fit most helmets and handlebars.

The ultra thin 7.7mm AT200 Android based tablet features a 10.1” HD screen and up to eight hours of battery time.

Finally, the Qosmio DX730 is Toshiba’s very first all in one PC with a 23” HD touchscreen display, Intel Core processor, 6 gig of memory, integrated blu-ray and Onyko built in audio

Blu-ray gets the blue sky treatment from Sony

Man, those wizards at Sony know a thing or two about audio and visual heaven. Not content with just creating achingly glorious works of what could be termed as electronic modern art (their sleek black lines and slim bodies transforming our living rooms into cutting edge galleries) but they deliver the goods each time too.

Sony-BDV

The wrappers are off Sony’s new affordable 3D ready Blu-ray 2.1 home entertainment range and once again, the format has been redefined.

Sony’s new 2.1 Blu-ray HD systems, the BDV-EF200, BDV-L600 and the flagship BDP-S780 are jammed full of bells, whistles and many other various forms of musicality. The built in Bravia Internet video platform lets you stream YouTube videos, watch BBC iPlayer, rent movies via Lovefilms and watch Sky News live through the dedicated TV application. Two HDMI ports provide simple connectivity to other HD devices such as set top boxes and consoles, whilst the built in Apple dock provides easy access to your music and video files and control through iPod touch or smart phones.

They might be just 2.1 home cinema systems albeit blu-ray, but the built in S-Force PRO 3D virtual surround sound audio will deliver plenty of power without any ugly wires cluttering up your room and Sony’s IP noise reduction technology will provide sharp images even from internet content.

Sony’s flagship player the BDP-S780 has even more under the bonnet with 2D-3D up-conversion and a pro version of its IP noise reduction technology together with super Bit Mapping to make those images razor sharp. It’s Skype enabled, so get those free calls in, and the built in wi fi will let you control the unit from your smart phone using Sony’s media remote app.

All three players offer improved load and start up times, something Sony already leads the market in, and consider they all come in under £250, you get a lot of blu-ray bang for your buck.

TWIG: Three’s Human Hotspots, Chilli WatchCam and LG’s NetCast

The Week in Gadgets

If you see one of these dudes in the streets, sidle up to them, they’ll probably have something you’ll find useful  – wifi. The ‘Human Hotspots’ will use Three’s MiFi®, which uses Three’s 3G network to create a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot.

Three-Human-HotSpots

I own a MiFi (I went out and bought one … well it was online so I stayed in and bought one … the point is Three didn’t give one to me) and it’s a spectacularly useful device – especially with the array of tablets, smartphones and gaming devices I carry on my person. Research by Three has shown that one third (31 per cent) of Brits are planning to buy one of this year’s hot mobile gadgets such as a tablet, Sony Playstation PSP and an Amazon Kindle, as a gift this Christmas, while 60 per cent of people already own a mobile gadget themselves.

You’ll find Three’s Human Hotspots in:

  • London  (Friday 19th November, if you can turn back time)
  • Cardiff (Friday 26th November)
  • Bristol (Saturday 27th November)
  • Nottingham (Saturday 4th December)
  • Newcastle (Saturday 11th December)

It seems like only yesterday that we were looking at Swann’s range of spy gadgets. Because it was. But it you didn’t quite get your fill of espionage related goods then you are in lucky as Chilli Technology have released the Watch Cam, a £44.99 time piece with a secret. Well a secret heavily implied in the name. The Watch Cam comes equipped with audio and video recording capabilities and can take jpeg stills as well. Recording is a one-touch affair and videos can be played back or edited on the PC. The internal memory is 2GB, which stores up to 2 hours of video captured via the 1.3 Megapixel/CMOS image sensor. The resolution is nothing fancy – simple 640 x 480 VGA, but you are unlikely to record a feature film on a watch (insert Clockers, Watchmen or War and Timepiece joke here). The battery should accommodate 2.5 hours of recording time. Chilli-Tech.

Own an LG TV? There’s a chance it just got a little bit better. Unlike the rapidly disappearing functionality of the Google TV, LG has enhanced its NetCast service to bring more internet TV services to users. Apps for your TV are the “next big thing” and LG have expanded their service offering to include Acetrax, Picasa, Google Maps, Facebook™, Twitter™ and an internet radio application. Bear in mind that a lot of these TVs feature DLNA, which means they can access your movies, pictures and music streamed over your home network. Which is insanely cool and slowly makes those set-top boxes piling up under your TV obsolete.

Digital Stream DPS-1000: Catch-Up TV player … plays catch up

With the digital switch-over in full swing, now has never been a better time for manufacturers to unveil the latest in set-top box technology.

In August we had a look at some of the market’s best options for those who hadn’t made the step-up to digital television yet, with the Boxee Box – a hub allowing you to watch content from your computer – leading the way in innovation.

DigitalStream

But now John Lewis has announced that they’re putting on sale the Digital Stream DPS-1000 Catch-Up TV player, at a price of £89.50.

The box’s selling point is all about watching catch-up television (BBC’s iPlayer etc.) without the need to connect to a computer. Yes, that’s right – missed that episode of The Apprentice? Well you don’t need to get up, find your laptop and load up your browser anymore. Simply connect the set-top box to your Internet connection and your TV and away you go.

It also lets you connect to streaming outlets such as YouTube, CNN Daily Video and Delicious TV – but we’re left wondering if the first of three is the only one of real use.

One of the more redeeming features here however is social networking connectivity, with the likes of Facebook and Twitter on hand – although older devices like Microsoft’s XBOX 360 foreshadowed this some time ago.

One glaring drawback of the Catch-Up Player is its lack of wireless ability, meaning that you’ll have to have the box near enough to phone-line access to connect the Ethernet cable to – no Sunday morning catch-up of Doctor Who in the cosy loft then.

Compared to the other set-top boxes and digital television delights we looked at – including integrated Freeview HD – the Digital Stream Catch-Up TV player seems quite like the Emmerdale of set-top boxes. It’s got good intentions, but with strong competition, it doesn’t quite cut it.

“From the laptop to the living room”: The Smartbox 8000

Sky and IP Vision invited us to have a look at the range of content that the Fetch Smartbox 8000 Freeview+ box gave access to. The key feature they wanted to highlight was of course, access to the Sky Player that the Fetch Box enables. If you didn’t know, Sky Player is Sky’s online TV service that allows access to a range of live channels and on-demand services such as sport, movies and Ross Kemp documentaries.

Box

The Smartbox 8000 box has an Ethernet port and wireless built-in and the quality over a standard broadband connection was impressive (you wouldn’t be able to tell it wasn’t regular TV playing). You can also pause Live TV.

The Smartbox 8000 attempts feel like me the night before my History A-Level – cram in as much as possible However, here the results are a lot more successful. Featuring a Twin-Tuner DVR, Connection to Sky Player, iPlayer Access, Video on Demand and a Media Centre, the Fetch Box is a noble attempt to be the one box you ever need. Assuming you have no Blu-rays. This one box approach extends to the actual box, which not only contains the unit and remote but also batteries and all the leads you could desire. A small but classy move.

Set up is simply plugging into a TV, (it has an HDMI out) and adding an aerial and Internet connection. No more waiting for the Sky engineers to work their magic. The Smartbox 8000 also provides access to the BBC iPlayer, bringing online content “from the laptop to the living room”. Of course, there are other ways to do this – on the Wii for example, but it’s great to see the iPlayer built into a set-top box.

It gets better. With a twin-tuner and built in 160 Gb HDD it is trivial to record material from the Electronic Program Guide at the touch of a button – and even to record programs at the same time. And with access to On-Demand TV services, the need to actually record programs diminishes significantly. And even if you do record masses of content there are not one but two USB ports that you can attach external HDDs to store content on.

And in true Ginzu fashion, there’s more. The unit has basic but functional Media Centre abilities. Whilst this appears to be just “thrown in” the Smartbox 8000 can access a home network running a Windows Media server (or a Mac running a UPnP server) and playback music, pictures or video files – even high definition *.mkv files and stream them over the network. Or play them back via a USB key. Whilst the interface lacks the slickness of, say the Apple TV or the Boxee Box it trumps both those in terms of playback range (the former) or the ability to be purchased in the UK (the latter)

With a bit of something for everyone the FetchTV SmartBox 8000 with Freeview+ is “full of win” as the kids would say. Yours for £219 from John Lewis, Carphone Warehouse and Currys online.

Blink and you won’t miss it – TV anywhere, anytime with Blinkbox

As broadband speeds increase, more and more consumers are using the internet as a way to digitally replace physical goods. It happened with CDs, when Apple’s iTunes and Spotify started supplying buy-to-own and advert-supported models respectively, and now blinkbox aims to do the same with video.

The blinkbox service combines both Apple and Spotify’s selling strategies, offering paid-for feature titles, alongside free ad-supported TV and film content. And with over one million unique visitors a month, a selection of over 6,000 Hollywood movies and a wide array of both UK and US TV series, the technique is clearly doing quite well.

BlinkBox-Screenshot

Both purchased and rented content from blinkbox is stored online on the company’s servers, and while rented films can be watched an unlimited number of times within 24 hours from the moment the film starts playing, purchased films are saved onto your account permanently (or, as is the problem with all streaming services, at least until the service goes out of business).

By allowing users to stream movies directly from their servers allows, blinkbox has managed to make the service compatible with almost any computer with a Flash player, so Windows, Macs and Linux users should be content, although iPad and iPhone purchasers are out of luck.

blinkbox also allows an additional option for PC users only, to download and store content to their computer, which means the risk of an interrupted stream is minimised – although the use of DRM does mean that playback options are severely limited. However, with prices starting as low as 39p for a TV episode and 99p for a movie, and buy-to-keep prices starting at 89p (TV) and £2.99 (film), these limitations can probably be overlooked if you have a decent internet connection and a big monitor.

The website itself is easy to navigate, cleanly designed and even if you are feeling lost, the search box will point you to the right place. Sadly, despite content deals with Warner Bros., Universal, Paramount, Sony Pictures, and Twentieth Century Fox and more than 15 leading independent producers such as Fremantle Media, All3Media, Revolver, Zig Zag, and Aardman Animations, there is still a lot more content that needs to be uploaded to convince people to cancel their lovefilm accounts.

The Road Test

We tried blinkbox this weekend with some interesting results. First, and most importantly, when watching a movie the server supplied content without stuttering once (on my 6mb/s home connection). However, compression issues left a few noticeable artefacts during dark, high-octane scenes. Although these moments were rare, they did remind you that you’re watching a compressed file rather than a DVD.

Watching a film for free is also great, however the adverts break up the action more often than you would like – however, no more so than Film Four or a regular TV movie, and at least you can see how long they’ll last.

Finding a movie to watch was easy – a simple user interface, complete with the search box made picking a film fine. However, as mentioned before, in the grand scheme of things, 6,000 movies just isn’t enough if you’re looking specifics, or if you have a penchant for French art movies circa 1920.

Other things to note were a few HTML issues, and the downloaded (not streamed) video file’s DRM prohibiting playback in some media players.

While the idea that film-rental giant Blockbuster Video could soon go out of business is pretty sad, the ability to choose from over 6,000 leading blockbuster films without ever having to leave the house means that at least I won’t have to be reminded of Blockbuster’s failure by walking passed their abandoned stores.

However, when the 6,000 films include pictures like “Oasis of the Zombies”, its obvious that to really thrive, the service will need more films – I’m sure that as blinkbox grows and adds more films, the small video artefacts can easily be overlooked.