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Change of view: Traditionally, the preferred methods of delivering content have been over the airwaves or on video tape or disc. In the wings, though, is the rival technique of watching TV footage sent into homes via the Web. Toshiba is trumpeting this newer method with its latest Regza LCD televisions, the Z1 series. Featuring LED lighting for the screens, the Z1 quartet offers the ability to watch TV via a LAN hookup or USB connection. As part of the package, the Z1s include support for watching video-on-demand. Users can also record footage using the LAN or USB methods, but none of the sets come with built-in memory and thus need to be connected to an external storage device. The lack of memory is a drawback, but the ability to bypass the traditional distribution methods of airwaves or disc is an early peek into the future. It is an innovation that holds as much (if not more) promise as 3-D imagery. Using the Web to get your TV opens up myriad sources, everything from amateur clips on YouTube to the latest Hollywood flick. Quality also comes into it as the likes of 3-D and other technical marvels are going to demand huge amounts of bandwidth. Such demands will challenge the physical limits of the likes of Blu-ray.

In anticipating such a potential future, Toshiba starts off with a selection of four choices in the Z1 series: 37-, 42-, 47- and 55-inch models. All four come with full-HD resolution of 1920 × 1080 and contrast ratios of up to 2,000,000:1. When numbers get that high it is hard to see the meaning, except that the image quality is crisp with clear and deep shadows. Each set comes with a trio of digital tuners, a pair of satellite tuners and a single analog one. Apart from the LAN/USB connections, the Z1s also have 4HDMI plugs and an SD/SDHC slot for tapping into content on the popular memory cards. They have a pair of 10W speakers and a pleasant, minimalist style with simple dark-colored bezels.

The real drawback with these TVs is price. The 37-incher will cost ¥250,000 and the 42-incher will be ¥300,000 when they come out in late June. The larger models will precede these, with price tags of ¥380,000 for the 47-inch model and ¥480,000 for the 55-inch set. www.toshiba.co.jp/

Small package: “Bigger is better” appears to be the motto for portable computing with netbook makers pushing the average screen size up past the 10-inch mark and Apple’s iPad looking to bring tablets to life with a 9.7-inch screen. The middle ground lies between these and the likes of the iPhone and iPod touch, with screens topping out at around 4 inches.

Sharp must be eyeing this potentially fertile ground with its latest, the NetWalker PC-T1. This looks like last year’s PC-Z1, a kind of PDA throwback. But in ditching the keyboard from the earlier model, Sharp has in effect produced a miniature tablet computer, taking a less-is-more approach to combating the incoming Apple behemoth. The heart of the device is a 5-inch touchscreen with an oddly proportioned 1024 × 600 resolution and Freescale i.MX515 processor. It has 512 megabytes of memory with storage space of 1.5 gigabytes. It measures 150 × 90 × 18 mm, and the lack of a keyboard has it weighing just 280 grams, a full 120-gram cut from its predecessor, the PC-Z1.

In keeping with its heritage as a successor to the famed Zaurus PDAs of years gone by, it nixes the mainstream operating systems in favor of Ubuntu 9.04. It uses USB and MicroSD ports for expandability and offers Bluetooth and wireless options. The PC-T1 comes with an English-Japanese dictionary. The PC-T1 further emphasizes its reading potential by providing access to Sharp’s e-book store, which has over 25,000 titles.

Sharp has made a potentially smart move aiming at an under-serviced market segment. But two major drawbacks mar its potential. First, the six-hour battery life really hampers its usefulness. Second, the ¥47,000 that it will cost when it comes out next month could buy a decent netbook with money to spare. www.sharp.co.jp/

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