May's hot Japanese gadgets

Toshiba's quad-core laptop, Samsung Android phone, LG's wireless HDTV debut in Asian markets

May has brought a clutch of graphics-oriented gadgets from East Asia's electronics powerhouses including a couple of products featuring Toshiba's SpursEngine processor.

The SpursEngine is a graphics co-processor that features some of the same graphics technology found in the Cell chip, which runs the PlayStation 3 and which Toshiba helped develop. The chip is designed to run alongside a main processor and handle all of the heavy graphics work that is better suited to a multicore processor than a conventional CPU. It also has a hardware video encoder and decoder engine.

Elsewhere in our roundup Samsung's latest digital video camera has a function you don't often see on video cameras: time-lapse. And LG turns to wireless to cut down on cabling required with its latest TV sets while Sony launches its second new Walkman players in as many months.

SpursEngine laptop

Toshiba is putting its quad-core SpursEngine chip to use in several new laptops to improve the quality of Internet video images. The company's new Qosmio machines, which have just launched in Japan and will soon be available worldwide, use the graphics processing chip to clean up video from sites such as YouTube. The function will work when playing video fullscreen -- not when it's played in a window on a Web site -- and only when using Internet Explorer. In a short test edges were sharper, colors were a little richer and brightness and contrast adjusted so that black areas of the screen appear black and not grey. The system also creates new frames so that fast-moving video appears to flow more smoothly. This is something especially noticeable where a camera pans across a scene. It's a neat system but it doesn't come cheap as it's in the big, heavy, multimedia Qosmio laptop that costs ¥340,000 (US$3,420) for the top-of-the-range model.

Sharp laptop with optical pad

Sharp has come up with a first-of-its-kind laptop that replaces the traditional trackpad-LCD panel combo with an embedded optical sensor. The 4-inch LCD panel packs optical sensors between the screen's pixels so it can both display an image and sense fingers or pens placed on its surface. In its most basic mode the small screen acts as a conventional mouse trackpad, but can also be used to launch applications by tapping on-screen shortcuts. You can also use it to doodle on pictures, which is a lot of fun. Most touchscreens can manage just one or two fingers at once but the small screen in the new laptop can sense up to four, so Sharp has also installed a simple keyboard application that can be used for simple tunes. The Atom-based laptop will hit Japan this month for around ¥80,000 (US$808). International launch plans have yet to be announced but it will likely hit Asian markets first.

Sony E-series Walkman

For the second month in a row Sony has a new Walkman music player. The NW-E040 is a USB-stick device much like the iPod Shuffle but unlike the Apple player comes in 20 colors and has a small, color screen on its body alongside some basic control buttons. The look of the player can be changed with skins and each Walkman includes one additional skin. It's available in three versions: 2GB, 4GB and 8GB, with the latter device having sufficient space for up to about 2,000 average size audio files. The battery can be charged via USB and a full charge should last about 28 hours. They will cost from ¥8,000 for the 2GB version to ¥12,000 for the 8GB version and Sony has yet to detail international launch plans for the product.

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Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
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