April's coolest gadgets

April in Japan is a time of change. The month brings the first seasonal winds of the spring, warmer weather, cherry blossoms and, at least this year in the gadget space, a whole bunch of new products that are likely to spur a few shopping trips over the coming months.

Seiko Epson Corp.'s Photo PC player wins the coolest of the month award, adding a large display onto what is essentially a portable hard disk drive, and producing something that should help many digital photographers. The increasing use of wireless LAN in the consumer electronics space is again highlighted this month with a couple of new TVs from Sony Corp. and Sharp Corp., while a very interesting prototype shown by Toshiba Matsushita Display Technology Co. Ltd. provides a glimpse into the future.

Epson Photo PC Player P1000

If you do a lot of digital photography, especially on the road, Seiko Epson's Photo PC Player P1000 is sure to excite you. It's a portable 10G byte hard disk drive with 3.8 inch VGA (video graphics array) quality (480 pixels by 640 pixels) color LCD (liquid crystal display) all in the same case. That means it's a neat and convenient way to store pictures from memory cards -- thus freeing up the cards for further use -- while also allowing you to look at the images you have taken on a screen considerably larger than those on most digital still cameras. You could also use it as a quick and easy way to view your favorite shots, or as a digital photo album. Even cooler, it can hook up to a compatible printer and print out images or archive images onto a USB (Universal Serial Bus) CD writer drive. Epson plans to put it on sale in Japan in the middle of the year. A price and overseas sales plans have not been worked out yet.

Sony Cocoon Series

Sony has expanded its "Cocoon" line-up, which currently consists of a hard-disk based video recorder, with a digital recorder and home theater system. The NDR-XR1 is a video recorder with DVD-R/-RW and 80G byte hard disk drive with Internet connection. The DVD drive makes it possible to back up recorded TV contents onto DVD discs for archiving while the Internet connection allows access to an online TV guide. The NAV-E900 and NAV-E600 home theater systems also have an 80G byte hard disk drive and Internet connection. The hard disk drive can be used to record music CDs that are free of copy protection, television programs and can be used to store digital photos. All products went on sale during April. The NDR-XR1 costs

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