Going HD: As television sets get more advanced, so too do video camcorders, and that means going high-definition. Hitachi’s recent DZ-BD7H camcorder records onto Blu-ray discs alongside its 30-gigabyte hard disk. But Hitachi has upped the stakes with its new DZ-BD9H, out in February and keeping the Blu-ray ability but doubling the in-camera storage to 60-gigabytes. A second new model, the DZ-HD90, omits the Blu-ray. Both camcorders offer 5.3 megapixels of resolution. Prices are estimated at ¥180,000 and ¥140,000 respectively.
This year’s black: One of the key arguments in favor of plasma TVs over LCD has been that technology’s ability to offer better contrast, most particularly to provide blacks that are more than just grays with pretensions. Panasonic, a key promoter of plasma despite the recent swing by consumers in favor of LCD, is trumpeting the virtues of contrast with its new PX80 series plasma TVs. The just-announced lineup comes in 37-inch, 42-inch and 50-inch sizes with the headline feature of 15,000:1 contrast ratio. What this means in practice is a higher contrast and better picture than rival sets. The three are compatible with the Viera link system, which allows different Panasonic products to talk to one another. They come in resolutions of 1024×720 for the smallest model, a pretty standard 1024×768 for the 42-inch version and a more arresting 1366×768 for the 50-incher. More information is online at panasonic.jp/viera/products/px80/.
Shedding light: Features gluttony has been an all-too common ailment among electronic dictionaries in recent years, with such unnecessary bolt-ons as TV tuners and color screens. Sharp is going for a more practical and surprisingly rare addition to its top-selling Papyrus range — the humble backlight. Such a feature might seem inconsequential, but when you can’t read your obscure definition because the illumination is so bad, you too might see the light. Sharp’s new PW-GT570 and PW-AT770 models both boast 5.5-inch high-resolution monochrome touch-screen displays with backlighting. They also keep the increasingly popular handwriting- recognition feature, which allows the user to write kanji, for example, on the screen and get the English translation quickly and easily. The PW-AT770 is on sale now for about ¥35,000. Its sibling, featuring a slightly different set of dictionaries, is due Feb. 9 (¥37,000). Both run on two LR03 (known overseas as AAA) batteries for 120 hours of use.
Facing up to the future: A new development in face-recognition offer intriguing possibilities. NEC brings its skills in biometrics to the aid of the video-clip boom on the Internet; its new face-recognition system can be used to analyze video clips and rank people on the basis of how they appear in the clip. The system does so by using complex algorithms, studying the lighting and movement in a clip to craft its rankings. NEC claims the system is 80 percent accurate and hopes to boost that success rate before it goes commercial. The idea would seem to have a future in helping Internet search engines index the content of videos, a rather challenging task now as Internet search is really best-suited to finding words in text.
Eyes wide shut: Toyota has a very different purpose for having our electronic keepers gaze at our faces; it is empowering its existing Pre-crash Safety System to assess whether a car’s driver has their eyes open or not. A camera watches the driver, and a computer analyzes the images to determine the position of the driver’s upper and lower eyelids. If an impending collision is detected and the system decides that a driver’s eyes are not open properly, or the driver is not looking ahead, then it issues a prompt warning. The new ability to nag people is to be offered in vehicles sometime soon.
Cute tones: Disney and SoftBank resolutely believe that what our mobile phones need is more cuteness. The American entertainment behemoth is to bring its Disney Mobile service to Japan in March, in effect offering its own telephone network based on its stable of famous cartoon characters. Rather than going it alone, as it tried unsuccessfully in the United States, Disney will piggyback on the SoftBank network to get Mickey and Co. going here. It will initially offer three Sharp handsets decked out in Disney glory.
Mechs go mobile: SoftBank brings cartoon communication to its own network with a new “Gundam” phone. The special-edition handset offers ring tones and screen savers based on the popular anime, alongside one-liners from the TV series that do extra duty as message notifications. The phone is a decked-out version of Sharp’s 913SH model and is expected to sell for something over ¥10,000. Adding to the appeal, the phone’s recharging dock looks like a helmet from the show. Check it out at mb.softbank.jp.
Whale of a game: Proving that geeks can have both a sense of humor and a streak of social activism is a new game out on the Net. The catchily titled “Harpooned: Japanese Cetacean Research Simulator” is a satire on Japan’s research-whaling program. Created by U.S.-based Garage Games, it is offered as a free download at harpooned.org.