For years now, electronics makers have been chasing the chimera of a storage device that can easily — the operative word here — retrieve music, videos and photos from a hard drive and send them to a television as well as a PC.

Seagate, the hard drive maker, thinks it has found a way to make it work with its FreeAgent Theater HD media player. The device taps into a portable hard drive — one of the most popular PC peripherals these days — to put video, photos, music and more on a television set.

With the Seagate system, an external drive is slipped into the Theater HD dock, much as an iPod is plugged into a speaker dock. It can be upgraded to larger drives as an entertainment collection grows.

Connected to a television with component cables, the device will display video at 1080i — not at the full high-definition display of 1080p — and supports lots of audio formats.

The $130 FreeAgent Theater comes as a stand-alone unit with a remote control or bundled with one of the company’s Go external drives.

— STEPHEN WILLIAMS

 

SONY INTRODUCES A PREMIUM-PRICED NETBOOK

The netbook PC category has not been around that long, but already Sony is slipping a new model between the traditional laptop computers and the trimmer netbooks.

The new Sony Vaio P series Lifestyle PC is lighter than most laptops at 1.4 pounds and is MacBook Air-thin at less than an inch. It is not quite 10 inches wide with a bright eight-inch LCD screen. Like a laptop, the P uses a 1.3-HHz Intel processor.

The extra inches give it a more comfortable keyboard than the typical paperback-size netbook. Sony says it will go four hours on a battery charge. It can be configured with either a hard drive or solid-state storage. With 3G mobile broadband, like a smartphone, and Wi-Fi, like a PC, it begins to blur the distinctions between devices.

But Sony also creates another kind of category with this device: the premium-priced netbook. Like other Sony Vaios, the design is sleek and it comes in many colors.

Sony is asking $900 for the most basic model, twice the price tag of many other netbooks. It goes on sale later this month.

— STEPHEN WILLIAMS

 

SAMSUNG USING SOLID-STATE DRIVES IN CAMCORDERS

Samsung is releasing a posse of high-definition camcorders that store video on internal solid-state drives. The flagship of Samsung’s line, the HMX-H106, is the first camcorder to come stocked with a 64-gigabyte SSD.

Until now, camcorder makers have employed a variety of storage media, including tape, DVDs, flash memory and small hard drives. Just as in high-end laptops that use SSDs rather than conventional hard drives, SSD storage is likely to yield a significant improvement in performance for camcorders.

Samsung has also announced two other SSD models, the HMX-H105 (with a 32-gigabyte SSD) and HMX-H104 (with a 16-gigabyte SSD). The camcorders enable users to expand memory capacity by adding an SD/SDHC memory card.

The new camcorders employ H.264 compression technology, and Samsung says the HMX-H106 can store up to 12 hours of HD video in fine mode.

The H105 and H104 will be available in March, and the H106 in April. Samsung did not provide prices for the camcorders.

— RIK FAIRLIE

 

WITH OLYMPUS SP-590UZ, WHO NEEDS A DSLR?

Olympus’ new SP-590 Ultra Zoom has some impressive technology. But as its name suggests, this camera is all about the lens, a 26X optical zoom, equivalent to a telescopic zoom ranging from 26mm to 676mm. That makes it the most versatile lens you can get on a point-and-shoot camera today.

This $450 camera, available in March, provides a good argument against upgrading to a digital single-lens reflex. The 12-megapixel SP-590UZ delivers many of the same features in a smaller, lighter and less expensive package.

Like DSLRs, the SP-590UZ offers full manual control, as well as manual focus, and support for external wireless flash units. It includes a high-speed sequential shooting mode that starts capturing images as soon as the focus is locked, ensuring that you’ll get the image you want even if you fully depress the shutter too late.

The SP-590UZ also offers dual-image stabilization to eliminate camera shake, and face-detection technology. The camera can also operate in fully automatic mode, for those who prefer to simply point and shoot.

— RIK FAIRLIE