Head games: A magician’s hand may be faster than your eye, but is your eye faster than hands on a keyboard? PC gamers now have the chance to find out with the new Neural Impulse Actuator (NIA) from OCZ Technology.

The NIA is a headband that uses built-in sensors to pick up electrical impulses from your head and then transmits them via a USB connection to your computer (Windows XP and Vista only). These signals are then converted into instructions for whatever computer game you are playing, allowing you to largely operate the game without having to use the keyboard.

The device doesn’t read your mind as such. Rather, the NIA reads electrical changes on the surface of the skin, basically from muscular movements such as frowns, jaw clenches and eye movements. These are then transmitted to the computer, which equates a particular facial gesture or movement with a keyboard instruction.

For example, you might grit your teeth and this would have the same effect as hitting the “J” key, causing your character in a computer game to jump. The system can also differentiate the strength of your muscle movement, so if a gesture is linked to, say, your character moving forward then the more you move your muscles, the faster the character moves.

The NIA can only substitute for keyboard actions, so you will still need to use your mouse. Moreover, you remain tethered to the computer via the USB connection to the NIA. A user decked out in the device looks like somebody who is wearing a headband with an electrical cord trailing off from it.

Reportedly it takes some hours of use to get to grips with this new form of hands-free control of computers, but it can lead to a noticeable cut in reaction times, a useful attribute in first-person shooter games in particular.

The current NIA is only going to be of interest to computer gamers and, at this point in its development, the technology offers only a marginal benefit beyond the initial novelty factor.

In the longer term, however, this technology looks like the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the tech rainbow, with possibilities that include empowering the disabled to operate an increasing number of computerized appliances.

The NIA is on the market now priced at ¥24,500. www.ocztechnology.com

Tougher watch: Solar power might not yet factor much into the average household, but it has made impressive inroads into the wristwatch market, increasingly pushing conventional battery- powered models to the back of the display case.

Another prime feature is radio control, which updates your watch’s time automatically each day.

Casio has incorporated both concepts into its distinctive G-Shock range, merging the tech credentials with the range’s claim of rugged style.

The latest twist to the lineup is Casio’s new Tough Movement concept. The selling point is the merging of improved shock resistance with the solar power and radio control abilities. The new movement uses metal and plastic parts to both cut the size of the watch and increase its rigidity. Casio intends to bring the new movement to both its G-Shock and Oceanus lineups. The first to get toughened up is the G-Shock Giez model GS-1200.

One feature of the new watch is that it will be able to pick up time-calibration signals from base stations in Kyushu, the U.S., the U.K., Germany and China. The watch, in chronograph or three-handed analog choices, will hit the market on Sept. 30 and cost ¥42,000.

In the bustle of daily life, you can never have too much toughness in a watch, but the existing G-Shock series did arguably have that aspect of timekeeping covered already. While the G-Shocks have proved popular, some prefer a more elegant, less cluttered watch face. But for those who need a watch so they can cling to old habits, instead of checking the time on a keitai (cell phone), the new G-Shock is an attractive option. www.casio.co.jp

Let there be light: Brand snobbishness is endemic to the world of photography. Knockoffs, even good ones, are always less expensive, but the absence of a big brand name carries the stigma of being cheap.

In truth, in lenses and camera bodies the name premium is usually justified, at least partly. Frankly, it’s harder to justify paying for the name when you are buying less vital accessories. One option is Sunpak and its stable of flashguns. These typically cost a lot less than the name offerings, but do a similar job.

Sunpak’s latest solution is the RD2000 flashgun, a lightweight and compact flash for Canon, Nikon and Sony Alpha DSLR cameras. The head of the smallish flashgun can be rotated up and down through 90 degrees to provide bounce flash. It runs on just two AA batteries and weighs a light 170 grams.

The Sunpak is not so much a substitute as an alternative for a brand-name flash, such as Nikon’s SB-600, a mainstay for its DSLR cameras.

The RD2000’s TTL (through-the-lens) functions are set by firmware, so you can continue to use it if you buy a new camera in the future.

On new batteries, the Sunpak lasts between 200 and 280 flashes, an endurance that is similar to what the SB-600 gets from four AA batteries.

The real difference is in the output. While the RD2000 has a guide number of 20 at ISO 100, the SB-600 offers up to about 50 percent more power. Of course, the SB-600 and others like it will set you back a shade under ¥30,000, whereas the new Sunpak is likely to cost around half that (prices have not yet been announced).

It really comes down to how much grunt you need out of your flash. If your needs are modest, then the Sunpak’s much lower weight and price make it a sensible alternative to the brand offerings. The Canon version will come out on Aug. 30; the Nikon and Sony models will be released Sept. 5. www.sunpak.jp


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