After an unusually long rainy season, the skies are now blue in Japan and summer has arrived. Everyone is looking forward to several weeks of unbroken sunshine and hot temperatures but some people are already thinking about the autumn and the back-to-school season. Not the kids of course. I'm talking about the product planners at companies such as Sony and Canon, who are busy preparing to put new camcorders on sale in time for the end of the holidays.
Why not earlier when the kids are on holiday and people are taking their holidays? I learnt from Sony a couple of weeks ago that the big camcorder-selling period in Japan is in the approach to September and the school sports days that are held nationwide. Sales during this period are three to four times normal and way ahead of any other period in the year.
Television has already made the move to high-definition, and home movies are on the way there. Consumer electronics companies are now pushing parents to splash out for HD camcorders to capture little Taro or Megumi running as fast as their legs can carry them to victory on the track. At least that's the image we're likely to see on TV commercials that will soon be starting to push such sales.
In the next few months we're likely to see more and more HD camcorders, especially if Sony is to succeed in its goal: making half of all camcorder sales HD models by the end of this year. Two of the latest models are detailed below.
Canon HV10 Camcorder
What's not to like about Canon's new HV10 camcorder? As the world's smallest and lightest high-definition camcorder it has a lot going for it. It's based on the HDV tape format, so you can re-use your existing MiniDV cassettes, and its small size means it looks more like a traditional compact consumer camcorder than some HD models we've seen until now. Like other HD camcorders it can manage full 1,920 pixels by 1,080 pixels resolution. It has a 10x optical zoom lens and optical image stabilisation. Best of all, it's going to be launched worldwide by Canon from September so if you don't live in Japan you won't have to wait long. It will cost around ¥150,000 (about £685) in Japan and $1,299 in the US.
Sony AVCHD camcorders
The first two camcorders to support the AVCHD format are coming soon from Sony. The format was developed by Sony and competitor Matsushita (Panasonic) as a way of allowing high-definition video to be recorded onto conventional 8cm DVD discs and other media. The HDR-UX1 can squeeze between 15 minutes and 32 minutes of video on to a DVD-R disc (about double for a dual-layer DVD+RW) while the hard-disk drive-based HDR-SR1 can store up to four hours of video in its highest quality mode, and up to 11 hours in the lowest quality mode on its 30GB drive. The UX1 will go on sale 10 September in Japan and the SR1 will be available one month later. They will cost ¥170,000 (about £750) and ¥180,000 (about £820) respectively. In the US they will be available at about the same time for $1,400 and $1,500, respectively.
Samsung S-DMB mobile phone
Samsung has taken the wraps off a mobile phone that can receive radio and TV broadcasts direct from satellite. The SCH-B500 phone is the thinnest handset yet to support the service, which is called S-DMB (Satellite Digital Mobile Broadcasting) and is only available in South Korea. It's 13.5mm thick, which is about half the thickness of first-generation models that went on sale in early 2005. There's the usual camera, MP3 player, Bluetooth wireless interface, document viewer and TV output. There's an audio book feature that will read aloud three fairy tales in any of four languages: Korean, Chinese, Japanese and English. It will be available in South Korea only, just like the S-DMB service. No price was provided.
HTC Windows Mobile phone
Windows Mobile handsets might be old hat to people in north America, Europe or other Asian countries but in Japan they've been nonexistent until recently. One of the first is the HTC Z from Taiwan's High Tech Computer Corp. The device has a qwerty keyboard that slides out from underneath the display. It supports standard internet mail, can read Word and Excel files and is compatible with WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) and GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks. On the networking side there's Bluetooth and Wireless LAN possibly making it quite an attractive package for the business person who needs to be always in touch. It will be out in Japan in late July. The price has not yet been announced.
Panasonic Viera Link TVs
The remote control has made life easier for millions of people but things are getting more and more complicated with the sheer number of remote controls we now have to deal with in the average living room. One for the TV, one for the video recorder, one for the satellite tuner, one for the audio system ... you get the idea. Panasonic has developed Viera Link, a single remote control for all these devices that works as long as you're using HDMI (high definition multimedia interface) to connect your gadgets. It's on new Viera flat-panel TVs now: expect it to spread throughout the product range soon.