Warp factor: “Star Trek” has done far more than just entertain us over the decades. It has also inspired technology creators to reach for the stars (quite literally, if we ever manage to invent warp drive for faster-than-light travel).

Nikon, however, is taking its cue not from the technology of the Starship Enterprise but from its aesthetics. Its latest, rather startling, gadget is a multimedia-playback headset with a look borrowed straight from the science- fiction series’ Borg drones. The cyborg creatures in “Star Trek” are instantly recognizable, with their laser-mounted headsets covering one of their eyes.

Nikon’s wireless UP300x is an elaborate set of headphones with a miniature screen propped on a boom that connects to the headset in front of the user’s right eye.

Beyond the distinctive appearance, the unit also emulates the sci-fi classic in being fabulously creative. One of its core functions is as a portable video player. The user watches the show on the small screen, which Nikon claims is the equivalent to watching a 50-inch screen from about three meters away. The screen is a 0.44-inch transmissive LCOS with a resolution of 640 x 480 dpi and 16,770,000 colors.

Similar products with small screens that simulate a much larger one at a greater distance are already on the market. But typically these resemble sunglasses, covering both eyes and obstructing regular vision. The UP300x’s screen can be folded out of the way when you don’t need it.

The Nikon gadget is also a photo player, and the smart-looking headphones deliver decent audio. Taking advantage of the UP300x’s WiFi connectivity, Nikon is setting up its own Internet service, Uplink, for downloading music and videos.

The UP300x has 8 gigabytes of built-in flash memory, sufficient for up to 160 minutes of MPEG-2 video footage or a maximum 500 minutes of WMV video. The UP300x also works with MPEG-1 movie files, as well as MP3, AAC and WMA9 music files. The whole unit weighs 385 grams, including the two AA (LR6) batteries that power it. The batteries can handle up to 120 minutes of video playback or up to 270 minutes of music. The UP300x can also be connected to other portable players, such as a mobile phone or an iPod, to play audio and visual content stored on them.

One last neat trick is that basic controls, such as volume, can be operated via gestures, such as a shake of the head.

Apart from getting used to watching video up close on a very compact screen, there is the added challenge of doing it one-eyed. Moreover, while the Nikon device is a cool gadget, it won’t be cheap, costing ¥69,800 when it is released in mid-December.

A more basic unit, the UP300 will also be on sale, although there is no word on pricing yet. It will have 4 gigabytes of memory and lack several capabilities, such as the head-movement controls and ability to connect to other AV units.

Like the similar devices covered here in the past, the Nikon is a piece of promising technology that needs more time to mature, but if you can afford it, the cool factor is hard to pass up. www.upstore.jp

Crank it up: Onkyo is also in the business of expanding audiovisual options. However, in the case of its new SE-U33GXV USB digital audio processor, the focus is on compensating for the generally limited audio abilities of the average PC.

The SE-U33GXV, for Windows Vista and XP machines only, works through your PC’s USB port to enhance the output of the sound card and eliminate digital noise using its own VLSC circuit and audio condenser.

Beyond improved playback, the SE-U33GXV expands a PC’s audiovisual abilities. An external audio device, such as a stereo, can be connected via the Onkyo box to the computer, allowing the PC to record straight from the audio device. The device has stereo RCA plugs, one each for line in and line out, as well as headphone and microphone sockets and a volume control. The unit weighs 200 grams and, as you would expect from Onkyo, the small black box is a stylish bit of kit.

One limitation for the Onkyo unit is that it only works with Windows machines, which hits the wrong note with Apple Mac and Linux users. Costing ¥14,800, the SE-U33GXV can be purchased from Onkyo directly.

Home cooking: Man (and woman, presumably) does not live by bread alone. Which is just as well considering the cost of a loaf of bread these days. One option is to make your own, though many might feel that boiling water for instant noodles is an easier alternative.

Toshiba, in a bid to convert skeptics, has announced a new home bakery: the ABP-10S1. The device looks like an unusually tall rice cooker with the addition of a round glass window on top for checking progress.

The operation emulates the simplicity of a rice cooker. But you can also produce sweet buns, cakes, pizza dough, homemade pasta and noodles.

The ABP-10S1 goes on sale Nov. 1 priced at ¥26,000.

The economy of buying such a device is debatable: While the cost of ingredients almost certainly would be less than the price of a loaf at the local supermarket, you would want to get a lot of baking out of the ABP-10S1 to recoup the cost of buying it. But half the point of such gadgets seems to be the flexibility that they give you, as you can tailor the ingredients to your tastes.

As somebody who enjoys eating the crust, and abhors the lack of it on most Japanese loaves, I can also appreciate the merits of the DIY loaf. Some people might even enjoy the simple act of baking. www.news.kakaku.com


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