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December's coolest gadgets revealed

View from Tokyo: December's coolest gadgets

As one year ends and another begins it's a natural time to reflect on things. In the consumer electronics market that reflection often centres on the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that takes place in Las Vegas each January.

The biggest news of last year - the battle between HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc - has hardly moved on at all, with consumers wisely staying away from both formats until the battle is settled, or at least until players become cheap enough that it's not a huge problem if your chosen format fails.

This particular battle highlights the disadvantage consumers find themselves at when companies don't remember that 'the customer is king'. Looking at the hottest gadgets of December reveals a similar example. In the first few days of the month NEC showed a concept PC that offers a lot of interesting features - but suffers at the hands of rules and regulations.

The Lui PC, which is described on the next page, can act as a home media server that lets you connect the device to another PC or a TV across a home network to watch stored programmes - but you can only do so on DLNA (digital living network alliance) compatible devices. That's because Japan's strict digital TV copy restrictions require HDTV content to be sent over protected networks so that it can't be copied. No matter what your views are on unauthorised copying, the restriction effectively means that only consumers with very new PCs or TVs - i.e. those most likely to support DLNA - will be able to use the network streaming function.

A second problem exists with logging into the server from outside the home. Here, the licensing terms of Microsoft's Windows Vista come into play, which restrict access to Vista PCs to one user at a time. That means someone at home can't use the PC function on the Lui if a user is logged in from outside, although DLNA devices can still stream programming from the Lui's tuners and hard-disk drive.

In the last year we've seen movement towards giving consumers more reasonable rights with the content they have acquired legally. Apple has begun offering DRM-free music through its iTunes Music Store, and in Japan the industry is moving towards allowing limited copying of digital TV shows after complaints from consumers. Let's hope for more of the same in 2008.

LG Hybrid Blu-ray Disc/HD DVD drive

LGSouth Korea's LG has upgraded its dual-format blue-laser optical disc drive so that data can be written to discs faster. The drive, which can read HD DVD discs, and both read and write to Blu-ray Disc, now supports 6X Blu-ray Disc writing. That's half as fast again as the 4X write speed of the previous model. The price has also been cut, to 490,000 won (£270), so it's good news all round. It's now available in South Korea and should reach other markets soon.

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