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
South 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.
NEC Lui concept PC
Imagine most of the PC innovations you've seen in the last few years thrown together inside a single box and you start to get an idea of what the Lui from NEC is all about. The machine is a PC running Windows Vista that can also act as a home server.
It has two digital HDTV tuners, so you can watch one channel while you record another. It has DLNA connectivity so that programming - live or recorded - can be streamed to other DLNA devices over Ethernet, and it will come with a Blu-ray Disc writer so that TV shows can be copied to disc. Users outside the home can log into the server and access content in the same way Slingbox or Location Free TV works. The PC is due on the Japanese market in the first half of next year at a price yet to be announced. NEC is one of Japan's leading PC makers despite not being well known for PCs in all countries.
Panasonic camcorder DVD burner
With Panasonic's new VW-BN1 DVD burner you can burn high-definition video direct from a camcorder to a DVD disc without using a PC. The slim burner plugs straight into the USB port on Panasonic's HDC-SD5 and HDC-SD7 camcorders and will record AVCHD format high-def video to a conventional 12cm DVD-RAM/-RW/-R or -R DL disc at 6X speed. Playback of the discs is a little clunky as it requires you plug the drive back into the camcorder and then connect the camcorder to your TV. Perhaps future versions will have direct playback capability. The drive will be available in December in both Japan and the US for about $200 (£100).
LG LED Laptop
The P300 laptop from LG Electronics is a sight for sore eyes. The computer has an LED (light emitting diode) backlight behind the 13.3in LCD that should give an improved image with better colours. The machine is based on an 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and comes with a GeForce 8600M video card, 250GB Serial ATA hard-disk drive and 2GB of memory. It's thin too, at 21mm, and weighs about 1.6kg.
Sony HDV Camcorders
Sony is expanding its range of camcorders based on the HDV high-definition tape format. The format, which uses regular camcorder DV cassettes, is regarded as the best HD format on the consumer market. The new camcorders include a handheld and shoulder cam.
Both support 1/3-mount lenses and can record in HDV up to 1080i. The DVCAM and DV formats are also supported. Sony is also offering a digital video recording device that will remove the need to capture recorded footage. The device stores data on Compact Flash cards. An 8GB card can store 36 minutes of video. All will be available in February. The handheld HVR-Z7J will cost ¥735,000 (£3,350); the shoulder-type HVR-S270J will cost ¥1,155,000, and the HVR-M35J recorder will cost ¥609,000.
Casio hi-zoom digital camera
Casio has launched the second camera in its Exilim Hi-Zoom range. The EX-V8 has an 8-megapixel image sensor and includes Casio's YouTube movie capture mode, which shoots movies in MPEG4 that can be uploaded directly to YouTube without conversion. Packed inside the body is a 7x zoom lens that doesn't protrude from the camera when it's in use, an unusual feature for a compact camera. The camera has a 2.5in display and records to SD memory cards. It's available worldwide for around $320 (£160).
Sharp Color electronic dictionary
About a decade ago all electronic dictionaries were good for was looking up the meaning of words or translating between two languages. These days you find them loaded with multiple reference works and other features. Sharp's PW-TC930 comes with more than 40 reference works and includes audio samples of bird calls, animal sounds and classical music clips, which come up alongside relevant words in the dictionary. To help English learners there are also 50,000 audio pronunciation clips. It's currently available in Japan only and costs ¥53,000.