YEAR END - TOKYO EDGE - 2007's coolest gadgets

The end of the year provides us with the perfect excuse to look back at some of the coolest gadgets that have come out of the consumer electronics giants of east Asia in the last year. As you might expect, the continuing convergence of all sorts of products into smaller and more functional devices was a big theme in 2007. Some of the gadgets also reminded us of the importance of services that often go hand-in-hand with hardware and are a big but often forgotten part of the "cool factor" we attach to such products.

Take for example Casio's Exilim EX-S880. Like many other digital still cameras on the market it does a good job of shooting video but Casio innovated by adding in a capture mode that records videos in the format preferred by YouTube. Combined with a desktop application to upload the videos, this means that movies can be online minutes after you've shot them and with nothing more than a couple of mouse clicks.

On the hardware side, there's been plenty of impressive gadgets and we've also witnessed the birth of a completely new product category: OLED (organic light emitting diode) televisions. Several companies have been promising these for years and in the end it was Sony that made it first to market. You've got to see this TV to fully appreciate its coolness! At just 3 millimeters thick, the TV was the star of October's Ceatec show in Japan and leads off our look back at the coolest gadgets of 2007.

Sony OLED TV

Without a doubt the coolest product of the year was Sony's OLED TV. First shown as a prototype at CES in January, the commercial version came along in October and didn't disappoint -- except perhaps on price. The set has an 11-inch OLED panel and is 3mm thick. OLEDs offer several 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 every day for 10 years. The television went on sale in Japan on Dec. 1 for ÂYEN 200,000 (AU$2,000) and promptly sold out. It's not only a cool TV set but perhaps the first product for a few years from Sony that really makes you say "wow." After the turmoil of recent years could Sony finally have its mojo back?

Toshiba Dynabook SS RX1

It may not look very special at first glance, but pick up the Dynabook SS RX1 (called the Portege R500 in some markets) and you'll immediately realize why it was one of the coolest laptop PCs we saw all year. This 12.1-inch screen laptop weighs just 768 grams in its lightest configuration -- more than 100 grams lighter than Sony's impressive Vaio G laptop. At the computer's heart lies a 1.06GHz Intel Core2 Duo processor and on some models you'll also find 802.11n Wi-Fi. Toshiba has put a lot of work into smart design so that it's thin and light. The laptop has also shed a few grams thanks to the use of a 64G-byte solid-state disk (SSD) in place of a conventional hard-disk drive. It costs around AU$2,287.

Casio YouTube digital still camera

Casio brought up the first digital cameras with a video mode optimized for YouTube: the Exilim EX-S880 and EX-Z77. Getting a clip onto YouTube is easy: Shoot it, put the camera in the dock, and click a couple of times on the PC uploader application and you're done. The EX-S880 can take 8.1-megapixel images, has a 3X optical zoom and costs about AU$343. YouTube mode has subsequently made it into other Casio models. The Casio deal with YouTube gave them exclusivity until the end of the year so you can look for it in devices from other makers in 2008.

NEC Lui concept PC

Imagine most of the PC innovations you've seen in the last few years thrown together inside a single box and you start to get an idea of what the Lui from NEC is all about. The machine is a PC running Windows Vista that can also act as a home server. It has two digital HDTV tuners, so you can watch one channel while you record another. It has DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) connectivity so that programming -- live or recorded -- can be streamed to other DLNA devices over Ethernet, and it will come with a Blu-ray Disc writer so that TV shows can be copied to disc. Users outside the home can log into the server and access content in the same way Slingbox or Location Free TV works. The PC is due on the Japanese market in the first half of 2008 at a price yet to be announced. NEC is one of Japan's leading PC makers despite not being well known for PCs in all countries.

Hitachi Blu-ray Disc camcorder

The first camcorders based on an 8-centimeter Blu-ray Disc appeared in 2007 from an unlikely vendor: Hitachi. The company launched two models, the DZ-BD70 based solely on disc and the DZ-BD7H, which adds a 30G-byte hard disk drive. A single-sided 8 cm recordable (BD-R) or rewritable (BD-RE) disc can store about an hour of footage shot in full high-definition quality (1,920 pixels by 1,080 pixels). The hybrid model can store an additional four hours of high-definition video on its hard-disk drive. The cameras have a 10X optical zoom lens, a 2.7-inch widescreen monitor and a viewfinder. Additionally, the cameras can be used to take still images at up to 4.3 megapixel resolution (2,400 pixels by 1,800 pixels). The DZ-BD70 costs about AU$1,485 and the DZ-BD7H about AU$1,714.

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Martyn Williams

IDG News Service

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