TOKYO EDGE - October's coolest gadgets

The coolest home gadgets from Ceatec, Japan's largest electronics show

Japan's largest electronics show, Ceatec, kicks off October every year with all that's new and coming from the country's consumer electronics vendors. The 2007 show was certainly no let down and provided visitors a chance to catch some world-first technology, like a 3-millimeter thick TV, a laptop with super-charged graphics processing and new high-def video recorders.

The show has grown greatly over the last few years and this year hit a milestone: attendance of over 200,000 people across its five-day run. Organizers had been looking to break the record for the last three years so it came with more than a little relief that they finally managed it. Read on for our pick-of-Ceatec and other new gadgets from the last month.

Sony OLED TV

Without a doubt the coolest thing at Ceatec this year was Sony's OLED (organic light emitting diode) television. This is something we've been promised all year and the first commercial product doesn't disappoint -- except perhaps on price. The set has an 11-inch OLED panel and is 3mm thick. OLEDs offer other advantages over LCD and PDP technology, including wider viewing angles, faster response time, and better contrast and colors. However, the technology is difficult to manufacture and the OLED material degrades over time. Sony said the XEL-1 has a viewing life of 30,000 hours, which allows a user to watch eight hours of television each day for 10 years. The television goes on sale in Japan on Dec. 1, and will cost US$1,740.50. Currently, there are no plans to sell the television outside Japan, as Sony plans to manufacture just 2,000 sets each month.

Panasonic Blu-ray Disc recorders

Matsushita Electric Industrial (Panasonic) kicked off Ceatec by unveiling of three new Blu-ray Disc recorders. The recorders can cram up to 18 hours of high-definition video onto a 50G-byte Blu-ray Disc -- something that hasn't been possible until now. Previous recorders took the MPEG2 digital TV stream as it was transmitted and recorded it directly to disc resulting in a recording capacity of about 4 hours on the 50G-byte discs. However the new Panasonic recorders can convert this into the more efficient MPEG4 AVC compression system and thus the greater storage capacity on each disc. They also have built-in hard-disk drives. All three recorders will go on sale in Japan on Nov. 1 with the top-of-the-range BW900 costing US$2,600. There are no immediate plans to sell them overseas but Panasonic said it is examining the possibility.

Toshiba SpursEngine laptops

One of the cool gadgets being demonstrated by Toshiba was a prototype Qosmio laptop that includes a multimedia co-processor, called SpursEngine, based on the Cell Broadband Engine processor core. It's based on the same processor core found in the PlayStation 3 and aims to provide better video-processing capabilities for computers. One laptop offered facial-recognition capabilities that find a user's face, and then allow virtual makeup and different hairstyles to be applied and viewed in three dimensions. A second demonstration used the SpursEngine to search a video, and then break the video clip into scenes based on facial expressions, allowing a user to find a particular scene more easily. Toshiba has yet to finalize plans to commercialize SpursEngine.

Omron Okao Vision

While not strictly a gadget, Omron's Okao Vision is a software application that could certainly make other gadgets cool! A new addition to the facial-recognition family finds a face in a video image and then provides an estimation of how much a person is smiling (from 0 to 100 percent). The technology could be used, for example, in a digital camera to sense when photo subjects are smiling and ready for their picture to be taken. Sony's recently launched DSC-T200 has just such a feature -- branded Smile Shutter by Sony -- but it's not based on the Omron system. Omron hopes to find customers for the software this year.

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