April's coolest gadgets from Tokyo

Books are one of a number of everyday items that seem just perfect as they are, but that hasn't stopped several companies trying to replace them with electronic versions. Sony Corp. will try later in April, when it launches a new electronic book reader with a newly developed display that is said to look almost the same as a newspaper. It's one of a number of noteworthy new products that Japanese consumers can look for in electronics stores from this month.

Also new is an updated version of Toshiba Corp.'s cool Gigabeat digital music player, a cell phone that can be used to watch television and, after a long delay, the first product to support a removable hard disk drive system called IVDR.

Sony EBR-1000EP E-Book Reader

Sony Corp. is the latest company to try to sell the idea of electronic books to what has been a skeptical marketplace to date. On April 24 it will launch an electronic book reader in the Japanese market that is compatible with a new format called Broadband e-Book (BBeB). Sony has worked with E Ink Corp. and Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV on the 6-inch display used in the EBR-1000EP. The display has a resolution of 170 ppi (pixels per inch) and is said to be easy to read with an appearance similar to that of a newspaper. Electronic books can be transferred via USB (Universal Serial Bus) from a personal computer or read from Memory Stick cards. The device has 10M bytes of internal memory which is enough space for around 500 books, assuming a count of 250 pages per book, Sony said. The device measures 126 millimeters by 190 millimeters by 13 millimeters and weighs 190 grams. Sony says a set of four AAA alkali batteries should provide enough power for around 10,000 pages of reading. It will cost around ¥40,000 (US$370). Web: http://www.sony.co.jp/LIBRIE/ (Japanese)

Toshiba Gigabeat G21

One of the coolest hard-disk based digital music players has been upgraded. Toshiba Corp.'s new Gigabeat G21 now boasts the ability to connect to a local area network, via an adapter, so data on its 20G-byte hard disk drive can be accessed by more than one user. You can load Windows Media or MP3 files into the Gigabeat but they need to be sent via Toshiba's own application software, which means that support is limited to Windows machines. This is probably the biggest complaint about the device because it means that while users of machines running Mac OS or other systems should be able to connect to the Gigabeat and even store music files on its hard disk, they will be treated as data files and the music player software won't recognize them. Like the previous version, the interface language can be switched between Japanese, English, French, German and Spanish. Toshiba says it is seriously considering putting the Gigabeat on sale in the U.S. or Europe but has yet to make a final decision. It went on sale in Japan on April 9 for around ¥52,000 (US$480) with the LAN adapter or ¥47,000 without. Web: http://www.gigabeat.net (Japanese)

Sony NV-XYZ77 Car Navigation System

The lack of street names makes car navigation systems almost indispensable in Japan but driving often remains more of a frustration than a pleasure due to frequent traffic jams in places like Tokyo. Sony Corp.'s latest car navigation system could change all of that and get people jumping in the car to take a ride just so they can see its video-game like graphics. The system uses a 3D graphics engine to produce some of the coolest images yet to be featured in such a product: a 3D representation of the road ahead, complete with landmarks and major buildings, and your course marked out with a gold line. There's a host of other functions, such as a music player and television mode and the map is stored on a 30G byte hard disk drive that can be updated via an Internet download service. An optional second screen is available for passengers in the back seat and can be programmed to show TV or DVD content while the driver's screen shows the map. As you might expect, such wizardry doesn't come cheap -- the top of the line model costs ¥210,000 (US$1,940). Web: http://www.sony.jp/products/me/xyz (Japanese)

Matsushita SV-AP30 Printer

Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd., better known as Panasonic, will launch a new home photo printer in Japan later in April. One of the SV-AP30's main features is support for PictBridge, a recently introduced standard that allows users to directly connect compatible cameras and printers together and then control the printer via the camera's interface. It does away with the need to run images through a personal computer, therefore making it perfect for anyone who wants to use a digital still camera but isn't keen on using a PC. Resolution is 259 dpi (dots per inch) and the printer can accept four different paper formats. In addition to PictBridge, users can load images directly from an SD (Secure Digital) memory card or connect to the printer to a PC via USB (Universal Serial Bus). It measures 180 millimeters by 68 millimeters by 280 millimeters and weighs 1.6 kilograms. It goes on sale on April 24 and will cost around ¥26,000 (US$240). Web: http://panasonic.jp/dc/ap30/ (Japanese)

IO Data IVDR Mini Disk and Drive

If you bought an iPod or hard-disk drive based video recorder last year you might be avoiding electronics stores today. The quick advances in storage technology now mean devices offering double the storage capacity are probably available at an equivalent or even lower price. Enter IVDR, a removable hard disk drive system first announced two years ago and now finally making its commercial debut. An IVDR disk is little more than a hard disk drive in a plastic case with a common interface but its introduction could mean that equipment you buy today doesn't become obsolete so quickly. That's because upgrading becomes as easy as pulling out one drive and inserting another higher-capacity one. It also means that transferring a large amount of data, say a video file from a PC to TV, is as simple as transferring the disk rather than messing around with cables and possible network delays. The success and usefulness of the system depends on the number of devices that will support it but right now there's just one: a USB disk drive from IO Data Device Inc. It will go on sale later this month in Japan bundled with a 20G byte IVDR Mini disk for ¥34,000 (US$315) while the disk alone will cost ¥24,000. No plans for an overseas launch have been announced. Web: http://www.iodata.jp/prod/storage/hdd/2004/usb2-ivdr (Japanese)

Sony DSC-T11 Digital Still Camera

Sony Corp. will launch a new digital still camera, the DSC-T11, in Japan on April 29. If the name didn't give the game away then one look at the camera immediately reveals that its a development from the DSC-T1, which was launched last year. The new camera looks a little more stylish and the sliding front panel is gone. Like its predecessor it has a 5.1 megapixel CCD (charge coupled device) image sensor, 3X optical zoom, 2.5-inch LCD (liquid crystal display) monitor and support for PictBridge. It's slighter longer but also a little thinner than the T1 and measures 102.5 millimeters by 60 millimeters by 17.3 millimeters and weighs 161 grams. It will cost around ¥58,000 (US$535). Web: http://www.sony.jp/products/di-world/cyber-shot/ (Japanese)

Toshiba V401T TV Cellphone

After becoming the first cellular telephone operator in Japan to offer a handset with built-in TV tuner in December last year, Vodafone Japan KK will soon add a second TV model to its line-up. Like the V601N from NEC Corp., the new V401T from Toshiba Corp. features an analog TV tuner but adds a video recording function to the mix. The handset has a limit of 12 minutes of video recording and also has the ability to capture still images from TV broadcasts. You can switch between horizontal or vertical display of images and it will notify the user of incoming e-mail or calls while in TV mode. Like the NEC, handset it falls down when it comes to battery life in TV mode -- it's about an hour. Other features include a 2.2-inch QVGA resolution (320 pixels by 240 pixels) display, 320,000 pixel digital still camera and an FM radio tuner. It goes on sale in late April at a price yet to be announced. Web: http://www.vodafone.jp/english/

Matsushita TH-LB10NT Projector

The performance that usually accompanies the arrival of a new speaker at a conference or meeting -- unplug a notebook, plug-in a new notebook, mess with settings to try to get a picture, reboot the notebook, finally get a picture -- might be about to change. A new projector from Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd., better known as Panasonic, uses a IEEE802.11b wireless LAN to connect to up to four computers at the same time. This makes changing between computers as simple as pressing a button, and the projector can also tile images from the four machines so all can be viewed at once. The TH-LB10NT has a brightness of 2,000 lumens, a contrast ratio of 500:1 and will cost around ¥400,000 (US$3,700). Web: http://panasonic.biz/projector (Japanese)

Sanyo Electric Banryu Robot

Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd. has started renting out its Banryu "utility robot," which was developed with Tmsuk Inc. in western Japan. The four-legged device has been styled like a dinosaur, is almost a meter tall and weighs a hefty 36 kilograms. Sanyo is promoting it as a sales promotion tool or gimmick with which to attract attention. It has some speech recognition and speech synthesis functions and can be controlled via either wireless LAN or NTT DoCoMo Inc. 3G mobile phone. A camera inside the robot can also transmit live images back to the operator. Sanyo will rent it for a single day, at ¥239,400 (US$2,210) per day, or for a month, at ¥18,800 per day, but wherever its used, it will need to return to a power source at least every two hours to be recharged. Web: http://www.sanyo.co.jp/banryu/ (Japanese)

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