Bluetooth as Big Brother: Humans are naturally gregarious, which is just as well since it seems that the intent of modern communications is to keep us all connected 24/7 — whether we want it or not.

Panasonic appears to be clearly on this course with its latest Strada F-Class car navigation systems, which are intended to tie the family car even more to the family home.

The CN-HX1000D and CN-HW1000D include the usual onboard gadgetry like GPS, DVD, MP3 playback, 1-Seg mobile digital TV tuner, remote control, iPod link and a 7-inch Viera screen. Beyond those features, the devices let you venture into Big Brother territory.

In what Panasonic calls its “From Home to Car” concept, drivers with Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones can connect with the satellite-navigation system and order the Strada to “phone home” and check up on what’s happening there. Working via this connection, the Strada can remotely operate a growing list of Bluetooth-capable domestic appliances like lighting, air conditioners and video recorders. You can even monitor Webcams you’ve installed on your home’s personal area network.

Panasonic lauds this as effectively turning your car into a second living room.

Creating such a virtual home away from home does come at a cost. Both models will be priced at ¥354,900 when they hit the market — the in-dashboard CN-HX1000D on June 13 and the on-dashboard CN-HW1000D on June 20.

This is only one piece of the “home to car” puzzle. You’ll also need to have a network like Panasonic’s Lifiniti home system installed.

The cost of adding this convenience, plus a few Bluetooth appliances, can quickly reach the ¥600,000 range. Ironically, these new car-based devices could turn out to be the overdue savior for Japan’s networked-home- appliance makers, which have been waiting more than half a decade for Bluetooth to take over consumers’ kitchens. panasonic.co.jp/

TVs get back into black: Boosting contrast levels has become a crusade for TV makers because LCD televisions have a reputation for not delivering true black. This particular problem, especially evident in home-theater systems, has given plasma TVs a definite advantage.

Sharp’s new R series Aquos LCD models boast contrast ratios of 3,300-to-1, a major improvement despite being just one-third of the 10,000-1 ratio found on top-end plasma sets.

The new R series models feature full high-definition resolution (1,920 by 1,080 pixels) and are equipped with analog and digital TV tuners, three HDMI ports and support for EPG (Electronic Programming Guides).

The LC-46RX5 (46 inches), LC-52RX5 (52 inches) and LC-65RX5 (65 inches) will hit the market in July with a choice between a brown or black body. Sharp has opted for open pricing, but existing Sharp 46-inch models range from ¥200,000 to ¥300,000, 52-inch models from ¥300,000 to more than ¥500,000, and the 65-inch Aquos in excess of ¥750,000.

Bear in mind that LCD and plasma TVs each have their own strengths and weaknesses, and getting that higher image quality is an investment that may look shortsighted as organic LED — already promising contrast ratios of 1 million-to-1 — moves to the fore. www.sharp.co.jp/

Dressed to bill: Internet shopping might be the growth segment of retailing, but it is far from “one size fits all.” For those who already find it hard to find a garment that fits at a store, the advantage of shopping online has been negligible.

Web services developer Avielon Co. has crafted a new program for online retailers that answers one of the most vexing questions in a potential clothing purchase: “How will that look on me?”

The Awaseba service allows users to virtually try on clothing or accessories from the comfort of their PC. Shoppers upload a photo of themselves onto the Awaseba server. Then, when they log onto a participating retailer’s store and find a garment that they like, one click superimposes an image of the garment on top of their Awaseba photo. Customers can use the same picture of themselves for any shop using the service.

Online retailers can rent the Awaseba program from Avielon for ¥630,000 a year. The retailers then offer the virtual try-on service free to their customers.

Luxy Coordinate Collection ), a junior ladies fashion retail site, and ( Upsold.com ), a general “design goods” online shop are starting the service soon.



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