Archive for March 3, 2009

Internet connectivity, wireless a focus for new Sony TVs, Blu-ray players

Sony Bravia W-series LCD TVs
At Sony’s annual line show this week, Internet connectivity—both wired and wireless—was a major theme, with the introduction of a new W-series line of Bravia LCD TVs with Ethernet ports, plus the company’s first Wi-Fi enabled Blu-ray DVD player.

The W-series Bravia LCDs—the 52-inch KDL-52W5100, the 46-inch KDL-46W5100, and the 40-inch KDL-40W5100—offer some of the interactive TV features found in higher-priced lines such as the Z5100 and XBR9 sets at a lower price, Sony says, although it won’t release pricing until closer to the TVs’ spring release. W-series sets (Click on image above for a closer look), which have Sony’s MotionFlow 120Hz anti-blurring technology, include a built-in Ethernet port. When connected to a home network, you can access Bravia Internet Video content, such as Amazon Video on Demand and YouTube, directly from the TV.

Like other new Sony TVs we saw at CES, the new models include Bravia Internet Widgets, the company’s take on the Yahoo Widget Engine technology that’s also being used by manufacturers such as Samsung, LG, and Sharp. The widgets allow you to receive Internet content, such as news, financial info, and Flickr photos, at the same time you’re watching a TV show.

Sony BDP-S560 Blu-ray DVD player
A new 3.1-channel sound bar speaker system, the HT-CT500 is designed to match the cosmetics of the W5100 series models. It will be available in June for about $500.

Also due out in June is Sony’s first Wi-Fi Blu-ray player, the BDP-S560, which is priced at $350. (Click on image at right for a closer look.) The player’s built-in 802.11/n/g/b/a wireless technology can access a home wireless network for BD-Live capability, eliminating the need for a nearby wired connection. Sony also announced a lower-priced ($300) wired BD-Live model, the S360. Both models support 7.1-channel Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master lossless surround-sound decoding in the players and USB ports for adding more memory. The S560 also has a front USB port for viewing photos.

Sony also showed two new 5.1-channel Blu-ray home theater systems, the BDV-E300 ($600) and BDV-E500W ($800). Both are BD-Live models that support 7.1-channel Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding. The main difference is that the higher-priced model uses Sony’s S-AIR wireless technology to send signals to rear speakers or other S-AIR audio components around the home. An optional S-AIR technology module can be added to the E300 system if desired.

—James K. Willcox

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PMA09: Sony DSC-HX1 superzoom bursting with new features

Sony Cybershot HX1 camera
Although Sony has already announced most of its new 2009 point-and-shoot cameras, they saved the most unique model for the PMA09 show here in Vegas. Today, Sony unveils a 9-megapixel superzoom, Cyber-shot DSC-HX1, $500. (Click on the images for closer looks.)

This is the first in a new product line replacing Sony’s “H” series of superzooms. It features a CMOS sensor (most others are CCDs) and a 20x optical zoom, the longest for Sony thus far. It also includes wide-angle capability. However, the following features are what make this Cyber-shot stand out:

  • Speedy, flexible burst mode: Burst modes are nothing new on digital cameras, but higher burst rates are one of the camera industry’s newest trends. The GHX1 go most cameras one better by shooting either 5 or 10 frames per second (fps) for 10 shots, or 2 fps for up to 100 shots. Sony says that the burst mode uses a mechanical shutter, instead of an electronic one, to minimize distortion.

Close-up of the Sony Cybershot HX1 digital camera's lens

  • Flexible Panorama: Many digital cameras have in-camera panorama modes. Most take three shots and then use in-camera software to stitch the images together. The HX1 can fire off dozens of shots while you pan across either a wide ultra wide range, either left-to-right or right-to-left. You can also shoot vertical panoramas. As with most other cameras, the HX1 resizes panoramas to around 5 to 10 megapixels, so that they aren’t too large.
  • Counteracting noise and blur: Another HX1 feature counteracts visual noise or motion blur. Here’s how it works: The camera will fire off six shots in a burst. In one mode, the HX1 selects sections from each of the six shots and choose the ones with the least amount of noise. In the other, anti-motion blur, mode, it selects sections with the least amount of blur. Then, it composites the six images together, in-camera.
  • HD video quality: Although the HX1 is certainly not the first digital camera to claim HD quality video, Sony says the videos will be 1080p resolution at 30 frames per second. There’s also a built-in stereo microphone.

I’ll have more news from PMA09 in Vegas here on the Electronics Blog. For help in choosing the right camera for your needs, see Consumer Reports‘ free online Buying Guide for Digital Cameras.

—Terry Sullivan

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Amazon amends Kindle’s text-to-speech feature – and faces e-reader competition

It's been quite a week for e-readers, the portable devices that allow you to read books and other text on an electronic display. Just days after announcing a new version of its Kindle e-reader last week, and facing concern from authors that the Kindle 2's new text-to-speech feature might hurt sales of audiobooks, Amazon has announced it's amending the feature.

Rights-holders will now be able to "decide on a title-by-title basis whether they want text-to-speech enabled or disabled," the company announced in a news release. No timeframe for the change
was announced, but the company said it's already begun work "on the technical
changes required to give authors and publishers that choice."

Meantime, another report says the Hearst Corp. is planning its own e-reader device,
likely to debut this year, that seeks to provide a portable platform for the
corporation’s many newspapers and magazines, which include the Houston Chronicle, Good Housekeeping, and O, The Oprah Magazine. Said to have a bigger screen than that of the Kindle, and so closer to the typical size of a magazine page, the device is likely to debut this year, according to the report from Fortune magazine.

Though best known for its selection of books, the Kindle, too, offers periodicals, at
monthly prices of $1.25 and up for magazines, and $5.99 and up for newspapers.

There’s also a new model of the Sony Reader, another e-book reader introduced in 2006 and updated several times since then, including in 2007. There's now a higher-end Reader, the PRS-700BC, that adds some features the Kindle lacks, including touch-screen control and a built-in light. At $400, the device is pricier than both the Kindle, which costs $359, and the $299 Sony Reader PRS-505, which launched last year. I plan to review at least one of these newer Sony devices soon.

Paul Reynolds

[Photo: Sudarshan Vijayaraghavan]

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