Thursday, January 31, 2008

Pre-bowl deals at Wal*Mart

Wal*Mart is chopping prices by as much as 30 percent on electronics and other products this week.

Deals include a Vizio 32-inch LCD TV for $597, RCA and Polaroid 32-inch LCD TV/DVD combos for $683, an RCA home-theater-in-a-box for $98.96, and laptops priced around $500.

Munchees are discounted, too. Save Money. Live Better. Get Fat.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Nikon D60 digital SLR beats the D40

In yesterday's discussion of the Nikon D80, I mentioned the new smaller D60, which was announced on Monday, and should replace the D40 in a few months. Here's the info:

The new D60 has the same size, weight and ergonomics as the D40 and features the same scene modes, image optimizer menu and battery life. It's rated at 10 megapixels (compared to 6.1 for the D40), offers a 3 fps burst mode to 100 JPEG images, a 2.5-inch LCD screen and will include a new AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR lens.

Improvements include additions to the camera’s retouch menu such as an RGB intensifier, the ability to adjust image contrast after capture, and in-camera RAW to JPEG conversion. Also new is the option of adding photos to the LCD display as wallpaper.

New to the D60 is a stop-motion movie mode, which allows users to sequence 100 images together in the camera which is then exported as an AVI movie file. Consumers choose the first and last image in the sequence and the camera automatically processes the remaining 98.

The D60 will also incorporate a new dust reduction system which uses a vibrating low pass filter to dislodge dust from the image sensor and a new venting system that removes dust from the camera’s mirror box. It will also offer an orientation sensor in the camera which properly orients the menu items on the LCD when the camera is held vertically or horizontally.

Like Nikon’s higher-level D300, the D60 features an active D-Lighting mode for improving exposures during capture. Pricing was not announced although a Nikon spokesman said it would be “in the range” of the D40, which was launched at $599. (info from TWICE)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Nikon D80 digital SLR beats my D70

I've been using Nikon cameras, most of them Single Lens Reflex cameras, where I compose the shots through the lens that takes the pictures, since 1970.

My first Nikon was the famous Photomic FTn. I don't use it any more. It spends most of its life on my camera collection shelf. I take it down a few times each year to fondle it and exercise its film advance and shutter. Although it hasn't had film in it in many years, I'm sure it still works fine. I'm reasonably sure it will still work fine a hundred years from now. If they still make film.

I still own a few dozen rolls of film, but the freshest rolls are years beyond their expiration date. Other than a single-use film camera that I found on my plate at a wedding, I've been pure-digital, and mostly Nikon digital, since 2001.

My first Nikon Digital was not a SLR. It was an excellent Coolpix 5000 rangefinder (where you don't compose through the shooting lens). It now sits in my office attached to a tripod and is used almost every day for product shots. It has never failed me.

My "everyday" travel-and-family camera is an SLR, the fine Nikon D70, purchased about five years ago for about $1300. It, too, has never failed me. It takes magnificent pictures and I've never felt the need to replace it. But it is bulky and heavy.

My third digital Nikon is a Coolpix S500 pocket-size job. It only cost me $200, and stays in the car for those unexpected photo opportunities when I want better photo quality then I can get with my cellphone.

With cameras, as in almost everything electronic, each new generation gets better, smaller, lighter and less expensive.

My superb D70 was followed by the improved D70S, and that was replaced by the even-better D80 in 2006, which you should be able to buy for about $800 (body only) or about $1050 with an excellent 18-135mm zoom lens.

Although there are many differences, here are some important numbers that highlight the progress: My D70 cost $250 more than the D80. Its lens zoomed only from 18 to 70mm, and the camera had 6.1 effective megapixels compared to 10.2 in the new D80. The new zoomier lens weighs a little bit less than mine.

With a new CCD image sensor and high-resolution color processing "engine" inherited from Nikon’s professional digital SLR cameras, the D80 can render images with incredible resolution, sharp detail and vibrant color. And it can shoot these images fast: at speeds of up to 3 frames per second, for up to 100 consecutive shots (in JPEG Normal mode).

The D80 is ready to shoot in just 0.18 seconds and has super-low shutter lag time of just 80 milliseconds. A new 11-area auto-focus system can track a moving subject across the frame, shifting focus instantly and automatically to any of the 11 auto-focus points that detect the subject.

The rechargeable battery can last up to 2700 shots on a single charge, while also providing a real-time “Fuel Gauge” of the percentage of charge remaining in the battery at all times.

The D80’s new Optimize image menu offers complete control over the look and feel of your pictures, allowing you to boost saturation and create pictures with vivid color, or shoot black-and-white pictures with a choice of four filtration effects, or even create your own custom look that expresses personal style and creativity. Other creative tools include an all-new image Retouch menu for in-camera image editing, built-in i-TTL flash control with the ability to control up to two remote groups of strobe lights, as well as over 32 custom settings to customize several attributes of the camera’s performance.

One of the key advances developed for the D80 is Nikon's own high-resolution image processing engine that inherits technologies from Nikon's latest professional digital SLR cameras, including color independent analog pre-conditioning and high-precision 12-bit digital image processing algorithms, which combine to produce natural-looking images that benefit from faithful color and tone reproduction. A new dedicated high-performance processing chip greatly accelerates performance on all levels, while also achieving lower power consumption, assuring more pictures per battery charge.

The D80 also benefits from Nikon's exclusive 3D Color Matrix Metering II, to ensure accurate exposures, even in the most challenging lighting conditions. Evaluating, rather than merely measuring or averaging the true content of each scene, input from the system's frame-wide 420-pixel sensor is automatically referenced against an onboard database of over 30,000 scenes from actual photography to calculate final exposure value. Variable Center-Weighted metering and Spot metering centered on the active focus area are also available, as are exposure compensation and auto exposure bracketing.

Photographers should enjoy the D80’s built-in Multiple Exposure mode for unique composite image effects, or the Optimize menu options that closely tailor results to the scene at hand or the intended use of an image or to a custom preference of the photographer. Optimization of sharpening, tone (contrast), color, saturation and hue is controlled by the user-selected choice of Normal, Softer, Vivid, More Vivid, Portrait, Custom and Black-and-White. The black-and-white mode can be customized using red, green, yellow and orange filter effects as well as image sharpening and tone compensation.

For anyone just beginning to enjoy the added performance and versatility of digital SLR photography, creative shooting is as simple as rotating the Digital Vari-Program mode dial on the camera. The D80 has seven preconfigured program modes to optimize the camera for specific shooting conditions and increase the chances of taking a great photograph.

In Portrait Mode, for example, the camera automatically optimizes the color, hue, and saturation levels to capture the most flattering skin tones, softens the focus of the background images to emphasize the face and applies a milder form of in-camera sharpening. Users can choose from Auto, Portrait, Landscape, Close-Up, Sports, Night Landscape or Night Portrait.

The D80 also offers creative ways to share pictures, with its built-in Pictmotion slideshow feature, which includes style selections that control transitions and background music. Shows can be enjoyed on the 2.5-inch LCD, or complete with audio on a television when connected via the supplied AV cable.

A 2.5-inch 230,000-dot high-resolution LCD provides an ultra-wide 170-degree viewing angle from all directions. Navigating the preview of your images is easy with a new dedicated Zoom button, magnifying images on screen up to 25 times their original size. A new RGB histogram display aids in evaluating exposures with greater precision. Other playback options include single frame, 4 or 9-image thumbnail display, an improved histogram display and highlight point display. A new menu interface featuring refinements to the carefully chosen color scheme and increased font size makes navigation easier on the eye, easier to understand and easier to use. Menus can be customized to display only selected items using the new "My Menu" set.

The D80 is slimmer and more compact than its predecessors, and is compatible with Nikon’s AF Nikkor lenses as well as new DX Nikkor lenses, which are designed exclusively for use with Nikon DX format digital SLR cameras. I'm very tempted to get a D80. But maybe I'll wait for the new, small D60.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Great phone for a fire chief, or a phone phreak

Back in the day, The Bell System telephone companies had Western Electric red phones, but only in blood-like dark red. ITT never made this model in any red. Stromberg-Carlson never made this model.

This fine phone would look great on the desk of a phone fan, a fire chief, or as a replacement for that dull beige phone that David Letterman uses.

It's designed to work with "1A2" phone sysems, but if you don't have a 1A2 system, it could be easily modified to connect directly to a phone line, or an analog extension port on a modern phone system. CLICK for

Friday, January 25, 2008

Tiny inexpensive memory card reader from GE

If you're reading this you probably have one or more digital cameras. If you have a recent desktop PC, it probably has slots for loading the common types of digital memory cards ("electronic film") that these cameras use. These slots are less common on laptops, so it's necessary to use an adapter ("card reader") that plugs into a USB port.

The adapters are not very big, but most of them are designed to sit on a desk, and are not really right for stashing in a laptop case. GE has one that's versatile, works well, is small enough to fit in a big mouth, and is so inexpensive, it's almost free.

You might expect to see the GE name on light bulbs, nuclear reactors and diesel engines, but not PC accessories. GE doesn't actually make or distribute the card reader. It comes from accessory maker Jasco, who pays GE to use its brand name. That's common in the consumer electronics industries. Sometimes new companies even resurrect the names of dead companies.

Anyway, the GE/Jasco 97942 can read or write to FIFTY-FIVE KINDS OF CARDS. Data transfer speed is said to be 40 times faster than standard USB. It comes with a six-foot USB 2.0 Mini cable and has an LED in-use indicator.

I've seen it selling for $29.95 plus $9.59 shipping on eBay, but I got one for just TEN BUCKS at BJ's Club.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Emergency device sends messages via satellite

At the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month, SPOT Inc., showed their SPOT™ Satellite Messenger.

It's designed to improve personal safety for people who spend time outdoors for recreation or work. With the push of a button, SPOT can transmit a user’s GPS location and message to a 9-1-1 emergency center, or to friends, family or co-workers to request help, track a location, or just keep in touch.

Because SPOT sends a user’s GPS location over a commercial satellite network, SPOT works regardless of cellular coverage. Viewing messages and locations is easy using the SPOT web service with included Google Maps™ technology.

SPOT features four key functions that enable users to send messages to friends, family or emergency responders, based upon varying levels of need:

Alert 9-1-1 – Dispatch emergency responders to your exact location . SPOT sends one message every 5 minutes until power is depleted or 911 is cancelled.

Ask for Help – Request help from friends and family in your exact location. SPOT sends one message every 5 minutes for one hour or until Help is cancelled

Check In – Let contacts know where you are and that you’re okay. SPOT sends three identical messages to the SPOT service for redundancy. The first of those three messages is delivered.

Track Progress – Send and save your location and allow contacts to track your progress using Google Maps™. SPOT sends one message every 10 minutes for 24 hours or until SPOT is powered off.

Size: 4.38 X 2.75 X 1.5” Approximate Weight: 7.4 ounces. Price is $169.99. Annual service costs $99.99, and there are optional service upgrades. It floats in water and is waterproof to 1 meter for up to 30 minutes. Battery life is about one year with power on, but not transmitting, or up to 14 days in tracking mode. CLICK for info or to order.
This is a preview, not a review.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Now you can replace your own iPod battery

For years, iPod owners have been screaming about the cost, delay and inconvenience of having to send their beloved media players back to Apple to get a battery replaced. Now there's an easy do-it-yourself alternative.

iPod accessory supplier Blue Raven has replacement batteries for many iPod models starting at just $19.95 (compared to $65.95) from Apple) and the Blue Raven batteries have more play time.

Batteries come with detailed instructions and all tools necessary to perform the battery replacement yourself. CLICK for more info and online ordering. Blue Raven also sells an iPhone Cracked Screen Service & Repair Kit, and repairs iPods, laptops and other electronic products.
This is a preview, not a review.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tired of being a couch potato?
Get a free massage chair when you buy a TV from BestBuy

For a limited time, you can get a fake leather massaging recliner chair with ottoman for free when you buy a select TV selling for $999 or more at (NOT in the stores). The chair and ottoman have a retail value of $400, according to BestBuy. Shipping is not free. CLICK for more info and ordering.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The best thing about January is February candy

January is named for Janus, the Roman god of doors. I'm not sure why the Romans needed a door god; but they had loads of gods, so they could certainly spare one to watch the door. Maybe Janus was the first bouncer.

Anyway, January is the door to the year, and I like January a lot. Each day we get a few more minutes of daylight. Five PM now comes during the day, not at night. The earth is warming. Spring is coming. Crocuses will be popping soon. In about 80 days, the cover comes off the pool.

But the best thing about January can be found in chain drugstores like CVS. That's where you can get JuJu Hearts, the magical chewy-gooey red cherry candies I've been addicted to since babyhood. If I close my eyes when I open the package, the sweet aroma transports me to Cherry Blossom Time in Washington DC, or at least to my grandmother's apartment in the Bronx.

When I was a kid, my Grandma Del would buy pounds and pounds from Krum's -- the pre-eminent candy store in the Bronx, or maybe in the world. Some years she even arranged to buy the huge pile of hearts on display in the window, at a special price after Valentine's Day. We grandchildren would get a few pounds in February, and Grandma would stash the rest in her freezer, to be gradually defrosted and doled out throughout the year. (In later years, when Grandma Del moved to Florida, I provided JuJu Hearts for her.)

Krum's was famous for its candies and ice cream sodas, and used to be on the Grand Concourse between 188th Street and Fordham Road. In the front of the store was a huge display case of chocolates and other candies, and farther back you could sit and slurp. The landmark Lowe's Paradise Theater was across the street, and before McDonalds and Taco Bell came to town, teenagers went to Krum's for a post-picture snack.

The Lowe's Paradise has been reincarnated as a mostly-Latino concert venue, Grandma Del and Krum's are long gone, but JuJu Hearts are as good as ever. The price has gone from 15 cents a pound to 99 cents for a 9 ounce bag. Last year, the same 99 cents paid for 12 ounces, but addicts don't care about the cost of their fix. (If you're willing to spend $32.70, you can get JuJu Hearts for as little as $1.09 per pound from Metro Candy & Nut. I haven't tried them.)

JuJu Hearts' taste and texture are unique: sweeter and softer than red hot dollars, but not as sweet or slimy as Gummi bears or worms. Strangely, the JuJu Heart formula doesn't seem to be used for anything else, at any other time of year -- not even for JuJubes or Jujyfruits. But that's OK. JuJu Heart season is only a little longer than the bloom of the Cherry Blossom. The rarity makes them more special, and less destructive to teeth and glucose levels... and freezers make it possible to prolong the pleasure.

JuJu history
  • The JuJu name apparently comes from the jujube, a red fruit first cultivated in China over 4,000 years ago, that can be used for tea, wine, and throat medication, or eaten as a snack.
  • A jujube tree in Israel is estimated to be over 300 years old.
  • The jujube's sweet smell is said to make teenagers fall in love, and in the Himalaya mountains, young men put jujube flowers on their hats to attract hot Sherpa babes.
  • In West Africa, a Juju refers to the supernatural power ascribed to objects or fetishes. Juju can be synonymous with witchcraft, and may be the origin of the American voodoo.
Some of the first JuJu Hearts were made by the Henry Heide Candy Company, founded in 1869 by Henry Heide, who immigrated to New York from Germany. Heide Candy became known for Jujubes, Jujyfruits, jelly beans, Red Hot Dollars, Gummi Bears and Mexican Hats, which have been perennial favorites in movie theaters and five-and-dime stores.
The business stayed in the Heide family through four generations, and was sold to Hershey Foods in 1995. In 2002, Farley's & Sathers Candy Co. acquired the Heide brand products from Hershey.
While Farley's & Sathers makes lots of candy, they apparently do not make JuJu Hearts. The hearts come from Canada and are distributed by Mayfair Candy, in Buffalo, NY. Beware of imitators. Over the years, I've encountered some really crappy copies. Mayfair has the real thing. My dog loves them, too -- and he's very picky. UPDATE: strangely, there are two (maybe more) kinds of JuJu Hearts distributed by Mayfair. The "original" version is sold by Rite-Aid (and possibly others). I discovered another inferior version for the first time in 2007, at CVS. The individual candy pieces are smaller than the originals, and they have a second heart shape molded onto the front of each piece. They don't taste nearly as good as the originals: they're too sweet and not as chewy. Strangely, the same packaging, with same ingredients and same stock number, is used for both. In 2008, CVS has the "good" JuJu Hearts.

Special thanks to Philip Heide,
and Roger McEldowney of Mayfair.

Friday, January 18, 2008

At least one more big flick coming on HD DVD

Despite the apparent impending death of the HD DVD format, following a shot in the head by Warner Bros., Universal Studios said it will release its critically acclaimed film American Gangster in the HD DVD/DVD Combo Disc format on Feb. 19.

Special features include real-time interactivity, picture-in-picture commentaries, scene sharing and Web-enabled bonus content.

Universal said, “American Gangster kicks off the year in a big way as we release one of the most high-profile and celebrated titles of 2007 on HD DVD. Making it available on HD DVD combo disc is a win-win proposition for those consumers passionate about watching their content in high-def while also affording them the ultimate convenience of being able to watch the same movie on every home or portable DVD player they own.”

Interactive bonus features, based on Microsoft’s HDi technology include:

U-Control picture-in-picture commentaries: Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, director Ridley Scott, producer Brian Grazer and key cast and crew members reveal behind-the-scenes details.

My Scenes: This feature lets users create personal collections of favorite American Gangster scenes. By book-marking segments of the film, users will see a visual timeline of the movie. HD DVD players will store scenes until physically deleted by the user. Favorite scenes can also be shared with friends through the player’s Web connection.

Other direct-connection features include movie trailers, interactive polls and exclusive content, including the deleted scene, “Frank and Eva's Wedding.” (info from TWICE)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Movie rentals coming from iTunes

Apple on Tuesday announced iTunes Movie Rentals, a new feature of the online iTunes Store that enables users to download movies and watch them for a short time rather than having to buy them. Movie rentals will be priced at $3.99 for new releases and $2.99 for older films. Hi-Def movies will cost a buck more.

The new feature uses iTunes 7.6, a new release of Apple's software that's available for download from Apple's Website. It also requires an update to QuickTime version 7.4.

Apple got support from all the major movie studios, including Fox, WB, Disney, Paramount, Universal and Sony, along with Touchstone, Miramax, MGM, New Line and Lions Gate. Apple CEO Steve Jobs said that the new service will launch shortly, and by the end of February will contain over 1,000 movies. Movies will become available for rental on iTunes 30 days after they are released on DVD.

iTunes Movie Rentals are tied to the Digital Rights Management technology used by Apple for other content purchased from the iTunes store. You can download movies and watch them from a Mac, PC or Apple TV. Movies downloaded on a Mac or PC can be transferred to an iPod, iPhone, or Apple TV. Jobs indicated that you can transfer movies downloaded on Macs or PCs to other devices while you're in the middle of watching it, letting you pick up where you left off.

Movies downloaded directly via Apple TV, in contrast, will only be playable on Apple TV. Apple VP Greg Joswiak described standard-definition Apple TV movie rentals as "DVD quality," while non-Apple TV rentals are downloaded in a "near-DVD quality" format compatible with Macs, PCs, iPods, and iPhones. High-definition rentals are full 720p films with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. This is not as good as Blu-ray 1080p.

After downloading a movie, you have up to 30 days to start watching it. Once you begin watching, you have 24 hours to watch it as many times as you want. Jobs said that users with modern Internet connections will be able to begin watching rentals within 30 seconds of initiating the download. (info from

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Apple has world's thinnest laptop,
but you can't slide in a movie
or change the battery

The latest stunning design from Apple is the super-sleek $1799 MacBook Air, shown Tuesday at Macworld.

The thinness of MacBook Air is almost disturbing -- you can slide it into a manila envelope. It's a full-functioning laptop encased in 0.16 to 0.76 inch of sleek, sturdy anodized aluminum, weighing just 3 pounds.

The glossy 13.3-inch, widescreen LED backlit display has the same viewable size as the screen on the heavier, now-old-fashioned MacBook. According to Apple, "the 1280-by-800 resolution gives you vibrant images and rich colors at full brightness the moment you open MacBook Air." The mercury- and arsenic-free display is also more power efficient, which translates to longer battery life.

The keyboard is full-size with crisp keys just like the ones on MacBook. But MacBook Air goes further by adding backlit key illumination, making it easy to work in low-light settings such as airplanes, conference halls, and motel rooms while others are sleeping. A built-in ambient light sensor automatically adjusts keyboard and display brightness for optimal visibility.

MacBook Air includes an oversize trackpad with multi-touch technology. You can pinch, swipe, or rotate to zoom in on text, advance through a photo album, or adjust an image. This gesture-based input so successful on iPhone and iPod touch now comes to MacBook.

A now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t port hatch flips down to reveal (and closes to hide) all the ports you really need: a USB 2.0 port, a headphone jack, and a micro-DVI port that supports DVI, VGA, composite, and S-video output. Even the power connection has been slimmed to fit MacBook Air.

MacBook Air comes with 2GB of RAM built in. The 80GB hard drive provides plenty of storage space, and you have the option to upgrade to a 64GB solid-state drive, which has no moving parts for enhanced durability.

MacBook Air includes a built-in iSight camera, and iChat software make video chatting easy anywhere there’s a wireless network.

The MacBook Air battery is Apple's thinnest ever, and Apple says it will allow you to access the web wirelessly for five hours.

If it doesn't, you better have an AC outlet nearby, because you can't swap a freshy-charged battery pack for a dead one. You also can't slide in a disc to watch a movie or load software. For that, you'll need an optional $99 USB drive, or do a wireless transfer from another computer.
This is a preview, not a review.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Hummer you can feel less guilty about

General Motors introduced an ethanol-adapted "green" version of its huge, heavy, gas-guzzling Hummer, at the Detroit auto show.

The unveiling, coupled with an announcement of a partnership in a bio-fuel company Monday, is part of GM's efforts to improve its image as a company trying to reduce carbon emissions blamed for global warming.

The Hummer HX has a flex-fuel V6 power train that will run on biofuel and is somewhat smaller than its bigger brothers. Yet it is still packed with "all the legendary capability" of the iconic vehicle, according to GM. Doors, roof and bumper panels are removable to save a few pounds, and maybe improve MPG.

The HX interior was inspired by the functional and lightweight elements found in an aircraft. The seats are constructed on a lightweight framework with minimal components. The instrument panel uses an exposed, extruded aluminum cross-vehicle beam as its foundation, on which instruments and controls are mounted. (info from and
This is a preview, not a review.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Now you can get your Taser in leopard spots,
or red or pink, or with music

Here at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Taser showed new protective shockers designed to appeal to female customers, as well as a combination MP3 player and Taser holster.

"These new product are a result of listening to our customers. Personal protection can be both fashionable and functionable," said Rick Smith, CEO and founder of Taser International. "The Taser C2 leopard print design provides a personal protection option for women who want fashion with a bite." In addition to the leopard print, other new Taser C2 colors include red-hot red and fashion pink. CLICK for more info.
This is a preview, not a review.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Finally, a cooler you can drive

Shown here at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Cruzin Cooler combines two basic necessities of life: convenient cold beer and a method to get somewhere without walking.

Cruzin Cooler comes in various sizes and colors and is available in gas and electric models, with a 10 mile range on electric models and 30 miles on the gas models.

The cooler is light enough to be driven to a location and then picked up and carried. It can be used for hunting, sporting events, races, camping, boating, golf or even a trip to the grocery store to keep your food cold all the way home.

There are virtually hundreds of uses for the new coolers, and don't be surprised to see them at the Indianapolis 500 -- if not on the track, certainly in the parking lot. Prices start at $399. CLICK for more info, or to order.
This is a preview, not a review.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Where's the nearest Marriott?
Now you can ask your GPS

Here at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, GPS maker Garmin debuted its new nüvi 880. It's a premium portable navigation device with speech recognition, MSN Direct content, and a zillion other convenience and safety features.

According to the company, the unit "uses speech recognition to make navigation safer and easier than ever. Now it’s possible to keep both hands on the wheel, tell nüvi what to do and where to go, and you’re on your way to stress-free travel. And with enhanced MSN Direct services, the nüvi 880 provides cutting-edge content like traffic, fuel prices, news and business headlines, and a wireless send-to-GPS capability.”

Users mount a push-to-talk wireless remote to their steering wheel, which is used to activate voice commands – no additional setup or “training” is required. Once activated, the user can effortlessly manipulate controls by speaking the words that correspond to buttons that are on the touchscreen display, so that almost any common task can be performed without ever touching the unit.

Garmin has also streamlined the way users can perform complex points of interest searches. Driving in an unfamiliar area and hungry for some spaghetti? Simply say, “find nearest Italian restaurant,” and you’re offered a menu of nearby pasta purveyors. Use a voice command to select the establishment of your choice, and the nuvi 800 series gives you turn-by-turn directions to dinner. The nuvi 880 also knows the names of many large business brands, so a user need only say, “find place,” then "Starbucks" for a quick caffeine fix.

For the ultimate in safety, a driver at any time speak the phrase, “where am I?” and their device will display its exact latitude and longitude coordinates, the nearest address and intersection, and the closest hospitals, police stations and gas stations. Speech recognition can also be used to search for addresses as well – all hands-free, from start to finish. Speech recognition is available for American English, British English, European French, European Spanish, German, Italian, and Netherlands Dutch languages.

The nüvi 880 also boasts next-generation dynamic content from the MSN Direct network that helps users efficiently navigate their day, including:

  • Traffic conditions: receive up-to-date traffic incident and flow information for most metropolitan areas across North America, and let nüvi select a route that avoids traffic accidents, road closures, and construction.
  • Fuel prices: receive gas price data from over 100,000 gas stations across the nation. Drivers will always know where to get the best prices – and save time and fuel by using their unit to navigate directly to the station of their choice.
  • Weather reports: features current weather conditions (including high/low/current temperatures, chances of precipitation, humidity, pressure, wind, and weather alerts) as well as three day weather forecasts.
  • Enhanced movie listings: search for movies by title or by theater and receive show times, ‘star’ ratings, genre, actors, and more – and get driving directions to the theater.
  • Local events: receive special notices on festivals, concerts, and sporting events in your area, and navigate to them.
  • News and stocks: the latest news headlines and financial market updates are always at your fingertips.
  • Send to GPS capability: plan trips and look up destinations from the convenience of your computer, via Windows Live Local, and then wirelessly send locations to your nüvi 880.

    Three months of free MSN Direct service is included with the purchase of the nüvi 880. Owners can re-subscribe for $49.95 a year, or a one-time charge of $129.95.

    The nüvi 880 has Bluetooth wireless technology for hands-free calling when paired with compatible phones. Using the unit’s speech recognition capabilities, users can find and dial phone numbers (specifically supported phones can even access their history log of received, missed and dialed calls) or nüvi’s points of interest database (hotels, restaurants, stores and more). The device also has a built-in FM transmitter, allowing users to wirelessly transmit turn-by-turn directions and street names, MP3s and audio books through their vehicle’s sound system. The nüvi 880 also has front-firing stereo speakers and a removable lithium-ion battery.

    Boasting a bright, sunlight-readable 4.3-inch color touchscreen display (480x272 pixels), the nüvi 880 is loaded with maps of the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico. The unit incorporates a high-sensitivity internal GPS antenna that makes it thinner and easier to mount in a car. At startup (Garmin’s new “instant on” feature makes the unit quicker to use), Garmin’s intuitive “Where To?” and “View Map” welcome screen appears, allowing for quick searches of addresses or over six million points of interest like restaurants, hotels, attractions, gas stations, and more. Turn-by-turn, voice-prompted directions guide drivers to their destination, announcing streets by name along the way. If they miss a turn, the nüvi automatically recalculates a route and gets them back on track.

    To help drivers find their car in an unfamiliar spot or crowded parking lot, the unit automatically marks where it was last removed from the windshield mount. Users can save 10 routes, specify via points and preview simulated turns, and the unit automatically sorts multiple destinations to provide an efficient route for errands, deliveries or sales calls. It also displays speed limits for highways and interstates, and a trip log provides an electronic bread crumb trail of up to 10,000 points.

    The nüvi 880 also includes many entertainment and travel tools including a music player (MP3, Ogg, and Flac formats supported), audio book player (subscription to required), alarm clock, picture viewer, currency converters and more. The nüvi 880 even has games pre-loaded to pass the time while waiting in airports and long lines. The unit also comes with Garmin Lock™, a theft prevention system that disables the unit from performing any functions until the user types in a specific 4-digit PIN or takes the unit to a predetermined secure location.

    Garmin also offers the nüvi 850, which offers speech recognition capabilities but without MSN Direct services or Bluetooth wireless technology. All other features are comparable to the nüvi 880.

    The nüvi 800 series will be available in the second quarter of 2008. Visit for more information and pricing.
    This is a preview, not a review.
  • Wednesday, January 9, 2008

    Sony Rolly robotic dancing music player

    Here at the International Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas, Sony showed its Rolly™ entertainment player, a palm-sized, egg-shaped device that provides music, motion and fun. The Rolly is already being sold in Japan, and is due in the US in the Spring.

    Despite its small size and light weight, Rolly produces surprisingly clear sound, according to Sony. With 180-degree horizontally opposed stereo speakers with neodymium magnets, you can listeners from nearly anywhere. Sound reverberates from the surface the device is placed on: table, desk or floor.

    With built-in robotics technologies, Rolly is designed to move its small arms, shoulders and wheels to the beat of the music. Lighting adds to the impact, with about 700 colors including pink, blue, white and orange.

    Rolly is ready to use right out of the box, but you can choreograph an original routine, too. It comes with software for customizing the music and motions using a USB connection to a PC. You can share dance routine programs with others by uploading and downloading motions online.

    The Rolly device’s simple, clean, cable-less design lets it move freely on smooth surfaces. It’s easy to change songs or control the volume by turning the wheels while the unit is on a surface or holding it in your hand. Shaking the device switches to shuffle mode. The player also contains Bluetooth® technology for wirelessly streaming music from a compatible PC or mobile phone.

    With 2GB flash memory, the player can store up to 520 songs with an average of four minutes in length at 128kbps in the MP3 format. The battery life allows up to five hours of music playback and up to four hours of music and motion together. The player supports non-secure AAC and MP3. CLICK to see commercial on Youtube.
    This is a preview, not a review.

    Tuesday, January 8, 2008

    Too tired to drive?
    GM wants to sell you a car that drives itself

    Here at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, we expect to see car electronics, but probably not electronic cars.

    On Monday, GM boss Rick Wagoner unveiled a prototype of a self-driving Chevrolet Tahoe SUV developed with the help of Carnegie Mellon University. The vehicle is capable of handling itself in a controlled setting like the parking lot at the Las Vegas Convention Center, but not on a regular street with pedestrians.

    Within a decade, General Motors thinks it will have the ultimate solution to the growing problem of distracted and sleepy drivers: a car that can do the driving itself.

    The automaker expects driverless vehicle technology to be ready for testing by 2015 and in vehicles that it sells by 2018. G.M. hopes that the prospect of a driverless car will make the company, which has struggled to shed its image as a lumbering industrial-age behemoth, appear more up to date.

    The vehicle that G.M. is showing this week won a contest sponsored by the Defense Department that required vehicles to drive themselves for 60 miles in a mock urban setting. The government believes this type of technology can dramatically reduce traffic deaths, most of which occur as a result of human error.

    Automobile companies and universities have worked on several driverless car projects over the last 30 years, some of them developed in government-sponsored competitions. (info from The New York Times)

    Monday, January 7, 2008

    11-foot-wide TV from Panasonic,
    3-mm-thick TV from Sony,
    and more from CES

    Along with about 140,000 others, I'm at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where the makers of big boys' toys show off their latest salivation stimulators. The show doesn't open for about 11 more hours, but a few rumors and reports have leaked out, and it's my duty to pass them on.

    If you thought you could out-geek your neighbors by ordering a 103-inch plasma, or 108-inch LCD -- try to get your deposit back. Panasonic will be revealing a monstrous 150-inch plasma HDTV later today that stands six feet high and stretches 11 feet wide. It reportedly weighs more than 500 lbs and is expected to sell for about $100,000.

    MONDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: According to Panasonic, "the 150-inch plasma delivers dynamic, overwhelming image quality with an 8.84 million pixel resolution (2,160 x 4,096) ―- more than four times the 1080p HD specification (1,080 x 1,920). The prototype has a screen size equivalent to nine 50-inch TVss with an effective viewing area of 11 ft (W) x 6 1/4 ft (H). With the enhanced plasma display technologies Panasonic accumulated in the development of its 103-inch set, the 150-inch model provides stable and uniform images across the vast expanse of the screen and the same brightness as the 103-inch. Featuring true-to-life color reproduction capability and quick response to moving images, the ultra-large PDP renders clear, crisp, spectacular images unrivaled by any other."

    In other CES news:

    Panasonic's traditional rival Sony is touting Organic Light Emitting Diode ("OLED") TVs at CES (second photo). They could eventually replace LCD and plasma TVs, with brighter screens, 1,000,000-to-one contrast ratio, lower power consumption and much thinner bodies. Sony said it would immediately start selling an 11-inch diagonal, 3-millimeter thick OLED TV for about $2,000. Three millimeters is about the same thickness as three credit cards! Samsung also has OLED TVs at CES with 14-inch and 31-inch screens, and Sony is showing a 27-inch OLED prototype, but these three sets are not ready to be marketed. The color, contrast, and sharpness of these TVs are absolutely breathtaking!!! If plasma was as good as a Kodachrome slide, OLED is as good as a very clean window. OLED technology goes back about 30 years, and is now used in some cellphone displays. If/when prices come down for bigger sizes, it's goodbye to LCD and plasma -- at least until something else comes around.

    Despite Warner Brothers' recently announced backing of Blu-ray hi-def discs, Toshiba insists their HD HVD format isn't dead (at least not yet), but a press conference scheduled by the HD DVD promotional group was canceled.

    Microsoft will distribute movies from MGM, and TV shows from ABC and Disney Channel, through MSN and Xbox 360.

    Belkin's mini Podcast Studio converts your iPod into a portable recording studio, for less than a hundred bucks. The device cradles a fifth-generation, Classic, or third-gen Nano and runs on two AAA batteries. It has a speaker and microphone, PLUS dual 3.5mm jacks and a pro-style XLR port for connecting external mics.

    Bill Gates made his last keynote address before riding off into the sunset, to concentrate on giving his money away.

    General Motors is demo-ing a driver-less car. No word yet on who gets the speeding tickets.

    The eMotion Digital Photo Watch can toggle between digital display of date, time or photos in slide show or single image mode on its 1.5" LCD screen. Internal memory holds about 75 pictures. $29.99.

    Video goggles from Vuzix let you watch movies and other video images from your iPod, with an apparent wide-screen size of 62 inches. $349.

    General CES theme is GREEN, with lots of companies promoting energy efficiency and recycling.

    Another big theme is wireless connectivity. Panasonic has equipment to send hi-def video, plus audio, to your TV, without wires. Your HDTV will still need a power cord, however.

    I'll have more info from CES in the coming weeks.

    (photos from Reuters & USA Today)

    Saturday, January 5, 2008

    Warner backs Blu-ray,
    probably killing HD DVD

    Hollywood’s fight over which high-definition technology will replace standard DVDs seemed to be nearly over on Friday, with Warner Brothers siding with Sony-backed Blu-ray over Toshiba's HD DVD.

    Back in December of 2006 (CLICK), your humble editor voted with his credit card, paying about $1K for a Panasonic Blu-ray player. I figured the format had a good chance of winning because it was supported by both Sony and Panasonic, who had been on opposite sides in the Betamax vs. VHS war.

    In some ways, the hi-def disc fight is a replay of the VHS versus Betamax battle of the 1980s. This time, however, the Sony product appears to have prevailed.

    Behind the Warner decision are fears about the sagging movie industry, as piracy, competition from video games and the Internet, and soaring costs have cut into profitability. Analysts predict that domestic DVD sales fell by nearly 3 percent in 2007, partly because of confusion in the marketplace over the various formats.

    HD DVD is not dead yet. Paramount and Universal continue releasing their movies exclusively on HD DVD, as does DreamWorks Animation. Warner Brothers will continue to release titles on both formats until the end of May.

    But by supporting Blu-ray, Warner Brothers, the largest player in the $42 billion global home entertainment market, makes it next to impossible for HD DVD to recover.

    Consumers have been largely sitting on the sidelines, waiting to buy high-definition players until they see which will have the most titles available. Retailers have complained about having to devote space to three kinds of DVDs. The movie business has delayed tapping a lucrative new market worth billions. High-definition discs sell for a 25 percent premium.

    “Consolidating into one format is something that we felt was necessary for the health of the industry,” said Barry M. Meyer, chief executive of Warner Brothers. “The window of opportunity for high-definition DVD could be missed if format confusion continues to linger.”

    In addition to Sony, a consortium of other electronics makers back Blu-ray. For Sony, Warner’s decision is a chance to rewrite history: the company faltered in its introduction of Betamax in the consumer market in the 1980s. Many analysts say the HD DVD players now risk becoming the equivalent of Betamax machines, which died out in large part because it became harder for consumers to find Betamax movies as studios shifted allegiance to VHS.

    With Warner on board, Blu-ray now has about 70 percent of the market. Walt Disney, 20th Century Fox, MGM, Lionsgate and, of course, Sony are all on Blu-ray. Warner Brothers has some of the bigger releases set for 2008, including “Speed Racer,” the Batman sequel “The Dark Knight” and the sixth Harry Potter installment.

    “This doesn’t necessarily kill the HD DVD format, but it definitely deals it a severe blow,” said Paul Erickson, an analyst at the NPD Group’s DisplaySearch. “When a consumer asks a store clerk which format to buy, that clerk is now going to have a hard time arguing for HD DVD.”

    Warner Brothers has been courted for months by both sides. Toshiba dispatched Yoshihide Fujii, the executive in charge of its HD DVD business, to the studio three times in recent months. Sony has aimed even higher: Howard Stringer, the conglomerate’s chief executive, has leaned on Jeffrey Bewkes, the new chief executive of Time Warner.

    Money was an issue. Toshiba offered to pay Warner substantial incentives to come down on its side — just as it gave Paramount and DreamWorks Animation a combined $150 million in financial incentives for their business. Kevin Tsujihara, president of the Warner Brothers Home Entertainment Group, declined to comment on whether any payments were offered for support of Blu-ray.

    Which high-definition technology is better has been the subject of intense debate in Hollywood and electronics circles for years. HD DVD players have been less expensive than Blu-ray players, but Blu-ray discs have more storage space and more advanced protections against piracy. Both versions deliver sharp resolution.

    Consumers were inundated with marketing from both sides during the recent holiday season. Wal-Mart, as part of a temporary promotion, offered Toshiba players for under $100. Sony and its retailing partners, including Best Buy, responded by dropping prices on Blu-ray players, although not to the same level. Blu-ray players can now be purchased for under $300.

    Still, Blu-ray was emerging as a front-runner as early as August. Blu-ray titles have sharply outsold HD DVD offerings, and some retailers started stocking only Blu-ray players. Blockbuster said last summer that it would carry Blu-ray exclusively. (info from The New York Times)

    Friday, January 4, 2008

    Is that a terabyte in your lap,
    or are you just happy to see me?

    It was just last year when desktop PCs and external storage devices first offered 1 terabyte (1,000 gigabyte) drives.

    Soon laptops will take a giant leap forward when Asus releases the world's first laptops with 1 terabyte capacity, using two new 500-gigabyte (half terabyte) drives from Hitachi.

    The 500 GB drive is the biggest one yet for laptops -- big enough to hold up to 500 hours of digital video, 178 standard-def movies, 250 games or 125,000 four-minute songs.

    The 500 GB drive should be available to computer manufacturers in February. Currently, the largest laptop drive on the market is a 320 GB model from Western Digital. (info from The Associated Press)

    Notes from your Old Fart Editor:

  • It was not all that long ago, when the "standard corporate PC" used an 80-megabyte hard drive.
  • I can remember the earth-shattering news when 1-gigabyte drives first dropped below $1,000. Now you can get FIVE HUNDRED GIGS for well under $200!
  • I can remember debating whether to spend an extra $200 to get a 40-meg hard drive instead of a 20-meg, and the RatShack salesman told me, "If you get the 40-meg, it will last you the rest of your life, because you'll never fill it up."
  • I can remember being laughed at when someone asked me how big a hard drive to get and I said, "think gigs, not megs."
  • Oh, well -- at least I still can remember.

  • Thursday, January 3, 2008

    Netflix to offer movie downloads to TVs

    In the latest push to bring online video to the living room, DVD-rental service Netflix and LG Electronics plan to market an LG-branded device that will allow movies delivered over the Internet by Netflix to be viewed on TV screens.

    The partnership between Netflix and LG represents another gamble by technology companies that video from the Internet, which is commonly downloaded to computers, will go mainstream when users can easily access it from TVs. So far, Internet TV products such as Apple TV have largely been unsuccessful, stymied by a poor selection of videos, complexity, and other shortcomings.

    Netflix and LG provided few details about the product, which is due out in the second half of the year. People familiar with the matter say it's likely to also play Blu-ray and HD DVD discs, two rival formats for showing high-def movies. LG already offers a $799 player that handles both formats.

    Early last year, Netflix began allowing its rental subscribers the option of accessing movies and television shows over the Internet on PCs. The service, which "streams" DVD-quality videos over the Internet, leaving no permanent copy, is available at no additional cost above Netflix's standard subscription fee.

    Netflix has about 6,000 movies and television shows available for streaming over the Internet, a small fraction of the more than 90,000 DVDs in its library. The figure is about double the number of titles it offered when its Internet service went live a year ago and several times that of most video-on-demand services available through cable companies. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

    Wednesday, January 2, 2008

    Still watching free TV with an old TV?
    Get a coupon for a digital converter.

    At midnight on February 17, 2009, all full-power television stations in the US will stop broadcasting in analog and switch to digital, which should provide a clearer picture and more programming options, and will free up capacity for use by emergency responders.

    If you use "rabbit ears" or a rooftop antenna with your analog television, you must take action to continue receiving television broadcasts.

    Congress created the TV Converter Box Coupon Program for households wishing to keep using their analog TV sets after February 17, 2009. The program allows households to obtain up to two coupons, each worth $40, that can be applied to the cost of eligible converter boxes. Converters will sell for about $60 - $80 at electronic products dealers.

    A TV connected to cable, satellite or other pay TV service does not require a TV converter box from this program.

    You have a variety of options, including:
  • Keep your existing analog TV and purchase a TV converter box, or
  • Connect to cable, satellite or other pay service, or
  • Purchase a television with a digital tuner. As of March 1, 2007, all television receivers shipped in interstate commerce or imported into the United States must contain a digital tuner.

  • As for how to determine whether your television equipment purchased prior to May 25, 2007 is a DTV, many DTVs and digital television equipment will have labels or markings on them, or statements in the informational materials that came with them, to indicate that they contain digital tuners.

    These labels or markings may contain the words “Integrated Digital Tuner” or “Digital Tuner Built-In.” “Receiver” may be substituted for “Tuner,” and “DTV,” “ATSC,” or “HDTV” (high definition television) may be substituted for “Digital.”

    If your television equipment contains any of these labels or markings, you should be able to view digital over-the-air programming without the need for a digital-to-analog converter box. (Remember, you do not need an HDTV to view free over-the-air digital programming. As long as your television equipment contains a digital tuner, you can view over-the-air digital. An HDTV is only necessary if you want to view digital programming in “high definition.”)

    You should also check the manual or any other materials that came with your television equipment in order to determine whether it contains a digital tuner.

    If your television set is labeled as a “Digital Monitor” or “HDTV Monitor,” or as “Digital Ready” or “HDTV Ready,” this does not mean it actually contains a digital tuner. You will still likely need a separate set-top box which contains a tuner in order to view programs in the new digital TV transmission standard (which includes HDTV formats) on such a set.

    A special antenna generally is not needed to receive digital signals. You may have antenna issues, however, if your current antenna does not receive UHF signals (channels 14 and above), because most DTV stations are on UHF channels. In such a case, you may need a new antenna or to add a UHF section to your existing antenna system.

    VCRs, DVD players, camcorders and video games will continue to work, even if they are only analog-capable. Such equipment, however, may not provide digital-quality picture and sound. Manufacturers are producing a number of different connectors to hook equipment together and improve picture and sound quality. Check with your equipment retailer to determine the types of connectors that will work with your equipment.

    CLICK for coupons.

    Tuesday, January 1, 2008

    Happy New Year

    No blogging today. Have a great oh-eight.