October 7, 2004 9:24 AM PDT

In Japan, it's TV gadget heaven

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September 29, 2004
TOKYO--And they say Americans watch too much TV.

Japanese consumer electronics makers on Thursday showed off a wide range of new ways to view recorded video and TV programming at Ceatec, a large technology conference taking place here this week.

Although some of the products--like the 70-inch projection TV sets from JVC and Sony--are destined for the North American market, a lot of the more novel products will likely be released in Japan first.

Here is a rundown of some of the notable product ideas, broken down by manufacturer.

• Mitsubishi: Next year, the electronics giant plans to introduce the Scopo, a headset with a small, eye-level LCD (liquid-crystal display) screen that provides a viewing experience similar to that of a 10-inch screen.

The product, which is expected to cost about $400 initially, will first be marketed to industrial companies but will likely be pitched as a consumer device more actively as time goes on.

The Scopo consists of the headset and a small, belt-carried unit containing the silicon that creates images on the screen. The belt unit does not contain a hard drive for storing video; however, it can be attached to a cell phone or other device that can feed video into the headset.

Mitsubishi representatives cautioned against wearing the Scopo while driving.

• Sanyo: The HD Gorilla is a navigation device-DVD player with a 20GB hard drive and a GPS receiver. It can be used as a handheld device or put into a cradle in a car.

In navigation mode, the HD Gorilla serves up dynamically updated maps from the hard drive when the device is mounted near the car driver. (The "gorilla" name comes from a cartoon gorilla that represents the car or person in motion.) If it's mounted on a headrest, for viewing by people in the back seat, it will play movies. It can also serve as a car stereo. The price will be about $500, company representatives said.

Sanyo also showed off a cell phone that can receive broadcast television, similar to products that Samsung and others are said to be preparing. Starting at just over $200, it will come out in the middle of next year, the company said.

• Panasonic: At a product showcase in the center of Tokyo, Panasonic demonstrated a wall-size touch screen that measures 4.5 meters by 1.65 meters. The screen can serve up television, e-mail, multiple video streams and games simultaneously or be used for videoconferencing. The background "wallpaper" can be changed to suit the viewer's mood, said Yoshihiro Kitadeya of Panasonic's planning and special projects department.

Panasonic also showed off a kitchen table with four embedded LCD screens. By touching different graphics on the screen (for example, a fish), consumers could pop up personal calendars, messages or pictures. Open files could also be flicked from one screen to another with a finger. The Panasonic embedded screens, however, were demonstration units. The company has not announced any plans to release the technology as a product.

• Sharp: The Network Aquos is an LCD television that can receive high-definition video via 802.11a wireless connection from a unit with the video stored on a hard drive. The target market is senior citizens or others who might not be computer-savvy, a Sharp representative said.

• Toshiba: Each laptop PC in the Qosmio line contains a fairly thick LCD panel that can function as a TV or a stereo even if the computer is not turned on. It can also be used as a digital video recorder when the PC is off. As Sony has done with its latest wave of TVs, Toshiba has incorporated a home-grown processor in the notebooks for honing the digital images.

Toshiba, which makes the hard drive for Apple Computer's iPod, also showed off its new Gigabeat music players. It plans to release a 40GB version in November that comes in a variety of pastel colors (white, blue, pink and silver). In December, it will introduce a 60GB player in Japan, with a North American release to follow. All of the players come with a color screen and software that lets consumers display pictures in conjunction with the music.

The company is not marketing the Gigabeat as a game player, but "you can download and play games," a Toshiba representative said.

The Japanese consumer electronics giant is looking at ways to add fuel cells to LCD TVs in an effort to devise portable models, said Dr. Fumio Ueno, a technology executive in the display devices and components control center at Toshiba.

• Sony: The Type U is not a TV. Instead, it is a handheld Microsoft Windows XP-based computer with a Celeron M chip from Intel. The unit is about the size and shape of the portable computers coming out next week from OQO. It can be operated using built-in navigation buttons or a keyboard. It costs about $1,700 and is on sale in Japan.

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Japan, electronics company, Tokyo, Sanyo Electric Co., headset

 

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