Entertainment makes up the largest sector of the consumer electronics market. Its broad array of products ranges from pocket-sized digital music players to 102-in. diagonal flat-panel displays for highdefinition TV. But in a year full of ingenious developments, three products really stood out: Apple Computer's iPod nano, Roku Labs' Radio Soundbridge, and Sharp's Aquos 65-in. LCD TV.
BIG MUSIC, LITTLE PACKAGE
The nano, Apple's third-generation iPod, leverages the company's attention to style and the latest in flash memory to eliminate the iPod mini's miniature hard-disk drives (Fig. 1). The sleek nano is the first portable player to pack up to 4 Gbytes of flash to hold music or photo files.
Eliminating the hard drive boosts reliability over the older iPods, because it has no moving parts. Endurance improves as well, simply because there's nothing to wear out. More improvements come from its dramatic weight and size reduction—1.5 oz and just slightly larger than a 0.25-in. high stack of business cards. On top of that, battery life can be extended to 14 hours. A 1.5-in. diagonal color LCD screen displays the tune data or pictures in a crisp, albeit small, format.
On a side note, the Video iPods are impressive, too. Released mere weeks after the nano, the Video iPods pack 30 or 60 Gbytes of storage and have a 2.5-in. LCD.
The Soundbridge Radio developed by Roku llc also offers music fans top-flight technology (Fig. 2). Powered by an Analog Devices DSP, its novel browser control creates a wireless LAN-based ( localarea network) radio that can access thousands of Internet-based radio stations. Moreover, it plays a variety of digital music files, including WMA, AAC, MP3, WAV, and AIFF, as well as podcasts.
Users can link their Soundbridge radios directly to iTunes, MusicMatch, Windows Media Connect, Windows Media Player 10, Windows Media DRM 10, and more. A card slot lets users plug in an SD or MMC card for offline playback of non-protected music files.
Thanks to a digital AM/FM radio tuner and full-function clock radio with multiple alarms, users can wake up to digital music, Internet radio, AM/FM radio, playlists, podcasts, or alarm tones. Linear magnetic drive speakers and a high-powered subwoofer deliver top-notch audio quality. A built-in atomic clock receiver provides precise time updates from the Naval Observatory, too.
The third highlighted product is one many couch potatoes would sell their soul to get. Earlier this year, Sharp Corp. introduced its Aquos 65-in. LCD television (Fig. 3). Also known as the LC-65D90U, it's the world's largest widescreen LCD TV using a single sheet of glass. It offers 1920-by 1080-pixel resolution and a 16:9 aspect ratio. Its 1080p (progressive scan) performance meets the needs of HDTV playback.
The Aquos' four-wavelength backlight produces deep crimson reds and reinforces overall color reproduction. Based on Sharp's Superview/Black thin-film transistor panels, the Aquos LCD technology offers a dynamic contrast ratio of 4000:1 to generate whiter whites and blacker blacks. Active contrast control and noise reduction technology enhance the viewing experience, delivering sharper images and preventing picture blurring.
Additionally, the company's interlacedto-progressive conversion technology turns horizontally slanted lines and edges into smoothly stretched lines. This ensures the HDTV images are rendered without any jagged edges.
The system is compatible with the new Digital Cable Ready specifications. Consumers, then, can simply insert a CableCARD from their cable-TV company and enjoy high-definition TV without the need for an outboard settop box.