December's coolest gadgets

Nothing's worse than delays when you're waiting for a hot new gadget. Just ask the tens of thousands of people who queued up all night for the PlayStation 3 when it made its global debut here in Japan Nov. 11. The console had originally been due out in the early part of the year but was held up by several problems. Judging by the lack of stock in stores, it's still difficult for people who want one to do so before the end of the year holidays.

So it's nice to see Panasonic living up to the promise it made at this year's Ceatec show with the HDC-SD1 camcorder. This small-size high-definition video camera records straight to an SD card. If you hate dealing with tapes but want home movies in high-def glory this might be just the thing .... if you can afford it. By comparison, you could pick up three PlayStation 3 consoles for the price of this camcorder, assuming you can get your hands on them!

Panasonic HD Camcorder

The HDC-SD1 from Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. (Panasonic) records AVCHD-format video directly to a SD (Secure Digital) memory card. A 4GB memory card, which costs around $200, can accommodate about 90 minutes of video when recorded at 6Mbps. The video is 1080i (1,080 horizontal lines, interlaced scanning), which is just below the 1080p (progressive scanning) system judged to be the highest of several video quality levels that fall within the high-definition bracket. It also has a 3CCD (charge coupled device) sensor behind the lens. It goes on sale in Japan in December for ¥180,000 ($1,527) with a bundled 4GB card. Overseas launch plans have not been announced.

Kenwood Media Keg

Kenwood Corp.'s Media Keg provides yet more evidence that music players will get smaller and smaller until we can't see them anymore. The device, which has the snappy HD10GB7 model name, contains a 10GB hard-disk drive, measures just 44mm by 62mm by 17mm, and weighs 78 grams. It has a 1.5-inch OLED (organic light emitting diode) display on its front with a small keypad positioned directly under the display. You can play MP3, WAV and Windows Media audio files including those with Windows Media DRM10 digital rights management. It will go on sale in Japan in early December for around ¥40,000 ($344) and while no international launch plans have been announced, the on-screen menu supports Japanese, English, French, Italian, German, Dutch, and Spanish.

TurboLinux Wizpy

TurboLinux, perhaps best known for its Linux operating system, has a new MP3 player that is sure to interest geeks everywhere. The Wizpy does all the kinds of things you'd expect from a music player these days -- MP3, AAC, Ogg, JPEG images, and Divx videos -- and has a surprise: A partition with an install of the TurboLinux Fuji operating system. This means you can hook this up to a PC's USB port and boot into Linux and access installed applications. TurboLinux advertises it as your own OS in the palm of your hand and it certainly looks that way. The Wizpy will be out in Japan in February with no word yet on availability in other markets. There's no word yet on price. It weighs just 60 grams, which makes it lighter than most cell phones.

Toshiba 8GB SD Card

Hot on the heels of Panasonic's SD Card camcorder (see above) comes word from Toshiba that it will soon begin selling an 8GB high-speed SD (Secure Digital) memory card. The card will be available in January and supports the "class 4" high-speed data writing specification. Toshiba's new card should be able to hold about three hours of high-definition video from the Panasonic camcorder. The card will cost about ¥40,000 ($340) in Japan. It will go on sale in Japan, North America, and Europe in early January.

NEC Tough Laptop

Drop it, freeze it, drench it -- do whatever you want to this new laptop from NEC. Well, almost anything. The "Shield Pro" FC-N21S laptop can withstand dust, extreme temperatures (between -20 and 50 degrees Celsius), water and drops of up to 90 centimeters -- just make sure that the machine is switched off and the lid is closed. The convertible-type PC has a 12.1-inch touch panel LED-backlit screen and runs on an Intel Core Solo processor at 1.2GHz. It will be available in January for between ¥250,000 and ¥300,000 ($2,165 and $2,600). A model with an 8GB solid state disk made up of flash memory chips will also be available.

IOData Bath-proof HDD

So, you're in the tub and have an urgent need to back-up data? Not to worry, IOData Device Inc.'s latest hard-disk drive is just the thing. There's a 1-inch hard-disk drive inside the case, which is waterproof and shockproof to one meter. Connection is via USB 2.0. There are two versions, one with 8GB of capacity and one with 12GB, and both will be available in Japan in mid-December for ¥15,700 and ¥21,000 respectively. IOData didn't announce international launch plans.

R&D Corner: Samsung develops thinnest LCD

Holding out the promise of even thinner cell phones, Samsung Electronics said it has developed a liquid crystal display (LCD) screen that is no thicker than a credit card. The panel is 0.82mm thick and means, according to the company, that manufacturers will be able to trim up to 2.4mm from the thickness of a cell phone. That's good news for consumers looking for slimmer and sleeker handsets. The LCD panel should be in production in the second half of 2007 so will likely turn-up in cell phones late next year or in 2008.