For most of my columns,
I try to look at tech products from the ground-view level, really zeroing in on a handful of products or a single issue. But I figured now that we've officially reached the halfway point of the year, I'd come up a few thousand feet and survey the tech landscape more superficially, pointing out the products that I thought really stood out in the first half of the year and the ones I look forward to checking out in the second half. First-half MVPs:
Cheap dual-layer DVD burners
They say DVDs are part of the reason that the summer movie season so far has been lackluster--ticket sales are down 11 percent from last year. But if you're a movie studio exec, you might also be watching the plummeting price tags on dual-layer PC DVD burners and DL media--some disc prices will reach just $2 each by year's end. That's going to potentially have an impact on DVD sales. No, you're not allowed to copy Blockbuster rentals, even if a Blockbuster employee cavalierly tells you that it's easy to do, as one did recently when I was in a store.
Logitech Harmony 880
Harmony universal remotes, now made by Logitech, have been among our favorites for a while. So we were glad when Logitech made the move from a monochrome screen to a color one. The 880 lacks RF support, and it's not quite as cool as a high-end touch-screen Philips Pronto
, but it's a heck of lot easier to program and much cheaper, too.
Shure's new E4c headphones are our current fave earbud-style headphones. A small design change from their predecessor, the E3c
earbuds, gives the updated models better bass response, trumping even Etymotic's ER-4P
in overall sound quality. Yes, at $300 list they cost as much as an iPod, but they're pure audio nirvana.
Sling Media Slingbox
The age of placeshifting has finally arrived. The Slingbox allows you to watch programming from your home cable, satellite box, or other video source on your laptop or desktop anywhere you can get a decent broadband connection. Other placeshifting options are available, but the Slingbox is the first affordable one ($250) that doesn't require a host PC to be running things from your home. Later this year, Sling Media says the Slingbox will be able to stream to Macs and Windows Mobile (Pocket PC) PDAs; viewing clients for smart phones and Palm OS devices are also on the drawing board. The company is also hard at work on viewing software for the Sony PSP
, which would be awfully sweet.
Sonos Digital Music System
Sonos made a digital-audio distribution system for the home that is as elegant looking and easy to use as the Apple iPod. And it costs much less on a per-room basis than the high-end systems that pricey home integrators typically install. That said, with companies such as Roku
putting out strong streaming products, we'd like to see Sonos come out with cheaper satellite receivers that don't integrate an amplifier.
Sony Cyber Shot DSC-M1
Hybrid digital cameras that shoot both stills and video well are few and far between, especially ones that come in a slick, compact chassis. With its across-the-board image prowess, you'd expect Sony to be the one to get the whole hybrid thing right, and it certainly seems to be on the right track with the DSC-M1. Now if it just cost $300...
Honorable mention: Sony PSP
What are your favorites products from the first half of 2005 and which ones are you looking forward to?
We gave it an Editors' Choice as the best portable gaming device, but it still has room for improvement
. But with PSP versions of games such as Madden 2006, SOCOM, and Grand Theft Auto on the way--as well as some rumored feature additions (a Web browser?)--we expect the PSP to begin to fulfill its true potential during the holiday season. Second-half contenders:
I've been waiting for this one for a while: A keyboard-equipped, Treo/BlackBerry-style smart phone (powered by the Windows Mobile OS in this case) that also features built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and support for next-generation, high-speed EV-DO networks. It's just starting to ship now for Verizon customers, and it isn't cheap.
Polk Audio I-Sonic
The tabletop radio market is certainly heating up, and in the early fall, Polk will up the ante with a $600 model that not only features music playback, but also adds a built-in DVD player for watching movies, HD Radio support, and XM satellite radio compatibility. We call it home theater in a shoebox.
OK, so Motorola's new Blackberry-killer, first seen on gadget-blog Engadget
, isn't really called the RazrBerry, but that's what cell-phone aficionados are calling the device. Allegedly code-named Franklin, it's a Windows Mobile-based smart phone with a built-in keyboard and camera that's got the same slick and slim factor going for it that the Razr does. Rumors have it being released in the fall and supporting GPRS/EDGE networks, but that's far from certain. I'm salivating--are you?
Mitsubishi Pocket LED DLP Projector
I mentioned this one in an earlier column
: the Mitsubishi Pocket Projector, which weighs in at just less than a pound and has a native SVGA (800x600) resolution. As you might it expect it won't be terribly bright (250 lux), but it does project an image anywhere from 40 to 50 inches. Mitsubishi initially told us it would ship in July; now it's been pushed back to September. Cost: around $800.
With the impending arrivals of the Xbox 360
--you knew I'd work it into this section somehow, right?--and the PS3
and the hype surrounding their HD support (the PS3 will support 1080p output), we're getting a lot of e-mails about HDTV resolution and which sets are best for gaming. New 1080p sets, which offer the highest resolution currently available, are just starting to trickle onto the market. You'll have to pay approximately a 25 percent premium for that extra resolution, and it's probably not worth it for "smaller" sets (those with screen sizes of less than 50 inches). But step up to the big boys and you'll see the difference, so long as you have pristine source material. Expect a lot of chatter about 1080p as we hit the holiday HDTV-buying season.