Technology News

Brings you recent Technology news from digital life;Internet, Gadgets, Blogs, Electronics and more...

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Skype Surpasses 100 Million Users

Skype said Friday that it had hit 100 million registered users worldwide in its first two and a half years, which it claims is the fastest growth of any Internet program ever. According to the company, the 100 millionth name came at 1:12PM GMT Thursday. This compares with some 54 million in September 2005, when Skype was acquired by auction site eBay for $2.6 billion.

With 100 million users, Skype said a phonebook containing all the names would be some 57,000 pages long. However, the number of people using Skype on a regular basis may be far less than that 100 million number. A check by BetaNews Friday afternoon indicated 5.5 million individuals were logged into the Skype network.


Google SketchUp Beta

Google SketchUp Beta, the brand new, free 3D drawing tool isn't an obvious fit for the Google desktop application canon. However, this blend of vector-based 3D drawing and CAD-like control lets you rapidly build 3D models that can be exported to numerous bitmap and compressed file formats and, more importantly, geo-coded and shared on the company's Google Earth satellite imagery program, which is also free. So, it's a undeniably cool, oddball app that has the potential to turn one of Google's most popular services, Google Earth, into an even more powerful and personal tool.

If you've ever used a 3D or CAD application, SketchUp is remarkably easy to pick up. There are familiar-looking draw and extrude tools—though, as with virtually all the tools in this app, they have simpler names. Extrude, for example, which gives volume to otherwise flat 2D objects is called "Push/Pull." As in simple CAD tools, there's guidance as you draw lines, arcs, rectangles and circles. Guidance is key here since all your work is all done on a 3D plane, with three-point perspective. In practice, this means that as you draw, SketchUp helps you find the end and middle points of lines and squares—and end the spaces over these lines and squares—and tells you if the square you just drew is really a square. Virtually any plane you draw, on any surface, can be extruded. If you're designing a house, for example, you might push in windows, pull out overhanging roofs or run staircases up, down or around your structure.

The tutorials guide you through the creation of a simply house. SketchUp isn't for freehand drawing. No funny faces or splashes of painterly colors. Yes, you can draw simple figures and pour colors onto surfaces, but this is primarily a tool for making buildings and even neighborhoods that can live on Google Earth. In fact, Google Earth is your only export option if you want anything other than 2D bitmaps. —Continue Reading


If you already have Google Earth installed, you can download pre-made models directly into SketchUp. This is an early beta, so while there were some professionally built models from of the Rose Bowl Stadium and the White House, I found only a handful of user-generated models. To find more models, you'll need to install 3D Warehouse. This companion product (also from Google) lets you find other people's buildings, download them, and use them to start your own models. It's also the only way you can geo-code your own drawing and share it with the Google Earth Community. Other Google Earth users who download 3D Warehouse will be able to see the home-made structures on Google Earth. Google's goal is to build a 3D Google Earth with the help of end-users.

Learning Google SketchUp via the included tutorial is easy, but without that guidance most users may be a little lost. The opening screen shows a man standing at the intersection the X, Y and Z axis. This is to give newbies a sense of the 3D perspective they'll be using to draw. If you start with the rectangle and move it near the vertex (the x, y, z intersection) , an "origin" guidance point lights up and a dotted line guides you to the "Golden Section." This is SketchUp inferring where it thinks you want to end up. There's even a tape measure to help you create buildings, windows and doors that aren't too large or small and to build good-looking, realistic structures.

To draw a wall on your base, simply start at one point, drag the cursor to the adjacent corner and then drag "up." This creates a vertical wall. Again, for those unfamiliar with 3D or CAD drawing this will seem odd, but if you do it often enough, you'll get the hand of it. As you draw various walls, you may find yourself squeezed too close to the 3D object. Fortunately, you need only use the scroll wheel to zoom in and out on the drawing.

I don't think it could be easier to create, say, a window on your 3D house. I simply created a rectangle on one vertical wall, switched to the "Push/Pull" tool and pushed the window in. SketchUp automatically adjusts to the surface you're drawing so you don't have to figure out how to push a window into the 3D distance.

Not everything is a breeze, though. I stumbled when trying to create a chimney on my house. I added a rectangle to my roof and tried to "push/pull" it up, but the angel of the chimney ended up following the pitch of the roof. I figured it out eventually, but I could imagine users getting stuck here. Similarly, if you want to edit one side of a box, you need to select it first and then select, say, the move tool. You can right click after you select a wall, but move is still not one of your options.


Friday, April 28, 2006

Internet calling firm Skype offers ringtones by renowned artists

The internet calling firm Skype announced a broad set of agreements with recording firms and began offering ringtones of Madonna Wednesday.

The licensing deals are with Warner/Chappell Music, EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music, and the MCPS-PRS Alliance, which oversees song licensing and distribution of royalties in the U.K.

Skype, which was purchased by eBay last October will have more artists slated to follow Madonna.

Under the deal, users of Skype's popular VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) application can buy a greater selection of ringtones.

World-renowned recording artists from Warner Music Group can now be downloaded as ringtones to Skype users in the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, France, The Netherlands, Belgium, and Poland and within weeks to the rest of Skype's more than 94.6 million registered users worldwide.

Skype is offering several Madonna songs, ranging from one of her first singles, 1983's "Lucky Star," to her newest, "Sorry," for 1.86 dollars, at

Eventually, the ringtone selection will broaden to include artists such as Green Day, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and more from the publishers' catalogs, Skype said. Enditem


Nintendo names new video game console "Wii"

Nintendo Co. Ltd on Thursday said it has named its new video game console "Wii, which it said is pronounced "we" to emphasise that the console is for everyone.

The console up until now has been known by its code-name "Revolution."

"While the code-name Revolution expressed our direction, Wii represents the answer," spokeswoman Perrin Kaplan told Reuters.

Nintendo, best known for its Game Boy portable video players, aims to gain share in the $25 billion (18.9 billion pounds) global video game market now dominated by Sony Corp.

Microsoft Corp. launched its next-generation Xbox 360 console late last year and Sony's new PlayStation 3 is due in November. Wii also is expected to hit store shelves later this year.

While the new consoles from Microsoft and Sony boast more power and high-definition graphics, Nintendo's goal is to roll out a machine that appeals to a broader audience than the young males who make up the traditional console gaming market.

A key feature of the Wii is its one-handed controller that looks like a television remote control and uses motion-detection sensors that allow players to control the game by wielding it like a sword, waving it like a conductor's baton, or swinging it like a baseball bat.


Thursday, April 27, 2006

60mph green machine may be the answer to city traffic jams

This three-wheeled vehicle, part-motorbike and part-car, is being hailed as the future of city driving. Called the Clever, it is half the width of a conventional car, can carry a passenger and, as it runs on gas, would be exempt from the congestion charge in London.

It does more than 100 miles (160km) per gallon, three times that of most cars, and emits a third less carbon dioxide. The EU-funded project involved a team from the University of Bath, where it was showcased yesterday. The Clever has a top speed of 60mph and will cost from £5,000 to £10,000 if it makes it into production.

Geraint Owen, a mechanical engineer from Bath university, said that the Clever had been successfully crash-tested. He added: “The next step is to get EU funding to create a batch of 100 of the vehicles for trial in European cities.” Jos Darling, a team member, said smaller vehicles were a solution to the “relentless increase in traffic”.


Kodak Introduces New EASYSHARE V603 Digital Camera

Building upon the tremendous success of its award-winning line of KODAK EASYSHARE V-series digital cameras, Kodak debuts the V603, a compact camera that is the perfect mixture of style, performance and simplicity that can slide into almost any pocket.

The KODAK EASYSHARE V603 Zoom Digital Camera is designed for people who want a small, stylish camera packed with innovative features to enhance the photography experience. It is the latest in the V-series line of cameras which features exciting digital advancements wrapped in sleek camera bodies while remaining true to Kodak’s signature ease-of-use.
The tiny, 6.1-megapixel V603 features a SCHNEIDER-KREUZNACH C-VARIOGON 3X optical zoom lens, a 2.5” high-resolution display, in-camera picture enhancing features such as KODAK PERFECT TOUCH technology and multiple color and scene modes including panorama stitch.

“Kodak continues to merge innovation with style in its V-series line of digital cameras,” said Francois Monnet, Regional Business General Manager of Kodak’s Digital & Film Imaging Systems Division, South Asia Region. “The combination of high tech, high style and high performance at an affordable price is something that people have come to expect from Kodak and the V603 delivers.”

The KODAK EASYSHARE V603 zoom digital camera records TV-quality video, up to 30 frames per second (fps) using advanced MPEG-4 compression with the ability to split video with a simple on-camera editing feature. Built-in image stabilization technology during video reduces on-screen shaking from unintentional hand and camera movement. The camera also offers zoom during video including auto focus with its professional-caliber 3X SCHNEIDER-KREUZNACH C-VARIOGON optical zoom lens. And it is simple to select any frame in a video, then save and print from video in just seconds. Then watch the videos on the camera’s big, bright 2.5-inch LCD screen.
The KODAK EASYSHARE V603 Zoom Digital Camera, which comes in black, is immediately available in April 2006 and retails for (S$549 RRP).


Seagate Ships 750-GB Drives; Externals Due Next Week

Seagate Technology officially brought its perpendicular-recording technology into the desktop drive market, announcing shipments of its first 750-Gbyte Barracuda internal drive Wednesday. A complementary external 750-Gbyte drive will be released this coming Monday.

According to Seagate spokesman Michael Hall, the suggested retail price of the 750-Gbyte Barracuda 7200.10 drive will be $590, while the 200-Gbyte model will sell for about $104. The drives began shipping last week to distributors, Hall said.

Somewhat surprisingly, the external 750-Gbyte Seagate External Hard Drive drive due next Monday will be priced at about $559; external drives are generally priced somewhat higher than their internal counterparts.

While it's relatively easy to add additional disk platters to a drive to increase its capacity, the new Barracuda 7200.10 drive contains four platters and eight heads, the same number of disks and heads used to design the prior-generation Barracuda, which used longitudinal-recording methods, Hall said.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Can email ID beat the spammers?

The promise of email authentication is too good to ignore but if it is implemented incorrectly it will break a company's mail system instead of fixing it, experts have cautioned.

Erik Johnson, a secure messaging executive at Bank of America, said in a presentation at the Authentication Summit in Chicago on Wednesday: "Deploy smart. Don't just do it. If you just do it, you may just break it."

For the past two years, the technology industry has been advocating the use of systems to guarantee the identity of email senders. It sees such authentication as key to the fight against spam and phishing, as it should help improve mail filters and make it harder for senders to forge their addresses. The industry also likes to advertise that these systems have practically no cost.

Organisations have been buying into the promise of restoring trust in email. The number of Fortune 500 companies that sent authenticated mail has increased, from seven per cent in July last year to 20 per cent at the end of March 2006, according to Microsoft. The software giant is the main backer of a caller ID-like system for email called Sender ID.

Johnson said: "Setting aside rewriting SMTP, email authentication is the best thing we have today," referring to the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, the basic technology behind email. Yet adopting sender authentication and managing it is not simple, he said. It took Bank of America six months to deploy the technology.

He said: "It really is not easy to deploy sender authentication right. If you are in a large organisation, you really can't just push the easy button. This requires pretty much constant attention and activity... or else it will break and it will hurt you."

There are two main ways of authenticating email: Sender ID and DomainKeys Identified Mail, or DKIM. Backed by Cisco Systems and Yahoo!, DKIM relies on public key cryptography. It attaches a digital signature to outgoing email, so recipients can verify the message comes from its claimed source.

Sender ID is further along in adoption than DKIM. It requires ISPs, companies and other internet domain holders to publish SPF (Sender Policy Framework) records to identify their mail servers. This usually does not require new hardware or software; the most arduous part is doing an inventory of mail servers and the subsequent maintenance of that record.

David Crocker, the principal at Brandenburg InternetWorking and author of one of the early email standards, said: "The story is that [this type of sender authentication] is cheap to do. That is not true. The ongoing IT cost is huge."

The key problem for large companies is figuring out all the systems that send email on their behalf, said Paul Judge, chief technology officer at email security company CipherTrust. "If you are a large multinational organisation, you may have email gateways in 10 countries, you may have marketing companies that send email on your behalf," he said.

This was a challenge at Bank of America. Johnson said: "You need to really have a comprehensive, holistic look at your entire organisation and know exactly who is sending mail.

"As you move along with implementing authentication... you are going to find that things will break - if some business unit goes ahead and sets up some host to send email and they don't register the hosts with SPF records." The problem is especially acute if email service providers delete all the email that fails an authentication check, he said.

But not all adopters of email authentication face these problems. Dell, for example, did not see a major challenge. Erich Stokes, a systems engineer, said: "There was some housekeeping that needed to be done. Email and SMTP was this great open standard, we just have to be a bit more responsible now."

The challenge of making an inventory of email servers is apparent in the way SPF records are published. More than half of the companies that use SPF fail to tell recipients their list of servers is complete - that is, that there should be no mail coming from other servers, according to CipherTrust. This leaves open a door for spoofers, as email sent from an unidentified server can't just be deleted by filters.

Dean Drako, the CEO of Barracuda Networks, a maker of antispam appliances, said: "We're big proponents of SPF, and all our boxes support it. But we have to recommend to our customers that they do not do any filtering on it, because there are too many false positives." False positives are messages wrongly identified as spam.

The ultimate benefits really are in the future applications of email authentication, attendees at the authentication event agreed. Email security companies are working on accreditation and reputation services for email. These systems look at the email sending habits of a particular domain and include that in the decision as to whether messages should be junked.


Samsung Shows 2GB Phone Memory Card

Samsung Electronics said on Wednesday it has developed a tiny, 2GB memory card for use in mobile phones, just three months after it announced a card with half of that capacity.

The 2GB MMCmicro card is about the size and shape of one key on a standard computer keyboard and just .04 inches thick. It can store as much as 12 hours of "mobile video," Samsung said, without specifying a format.

It can also transmit data quickly. A user can download three hours of mobile video, for example, in less than two minutes, according to Samsung. The cards can read data at 10 megabits per second and write at 7 mbps, the Seoul-based company said.

Both the 2GB and 1GB cards are expected to become available later this year, Samsung said. There was no word yet on pricing.

Multimedia Format

The cards are based on MMCmicro, a format designed by Samsung that's based on the MMC (Multimedia Card) standard.

The MMC standard competes with SD (Secure Digital) cards. Many handset makers, including Samsung, make phones compatible with both card types.

Earlier this year, SanDisk announced a 1GB card based on its smallest memory card format, MicroSD.

Memory card developers are reducing the size of the cards and boosting their memory capabilities to accommodate for small cell phones and for the additional data services that cellular operators are offering.


The Future Is Here...It's About Time

Score the first round for HD DVD.
After months of jockeying between two rival camps to roll out high-definition DVDs, a handful of discs from Warner and Universal in the HD DVD format hit stores Tuesday.

Rival Blu-ray discs aren't expected on shelves for another month.

But even if it was HD DVD's day in the sun, there were still some first-day clouds.

While randomly visited stores in the L.A. area were carrying four or five copies each of the three movies that debuted--Warner Bros.' The Last Samurai and The Phantom of the Opera and Universal's lone entry Serenity--Warners' Million Dollar Baby has been delayed a few days, and Serenity was nowhere to be found at some L.A. Best Buy and Circuit City stores. Other retailers contacted by sister publication Video Business hadn't received their copies of Serenity Tuesday either.

Warner said problems with the Million Dollar Baby HD DVD master held back the title's shipment to retail. The studio is on track to send out discs Thursday and Friday.

The studio pushed back its original HD DVD launch from March 28 due to production issues. Universal had no explanation for the missing Serenity shipments, but such delays were not uncommon during the early days of standard DVD.

The first Toshiba HD DVD players went on sale Monday, with an estimated 10,000-15,000 units shipped. Warner and Universal are shipping about 10,000 copies of each of their initial releases. Users must have an HD TV and an HD DVD player to watch HD DVD movies. HD DVD players will also play standard DVDs, but standard DVD players won't play HD DVDs.


Thursday, April 06, 2006

Nokia launches four handsets for N.America

The world's largest handset maker Nokia (NOK1V.HE: Quote, Profile, Research) unveiled four new phones aimed at the North American market on Wednesday, including three new CDMA models and a slim GSM/EDGE phone with a camera and music player.

The Finnish company, which sells one in three of all mobile phones around the world, has been trying to boost sales in the region, where it lags behind rival Motorola (MOT.N: Quote, Profile, Research) and the U.S.-based firm's iconic ultra-thin RAZR phone.

Nokia announced a slim, folding GSM/EDGE handset, the 6126, with a 1.3 megapixel camera and a digital music player. It can hold up to 1,000 songs on a memory card, the company said in a statement.

The phone will start shipping in the North American market in the second quarter.

It also announced three phones using CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access), the second most common mobile technology behind GSM, and which is popular in North America and parts of Asia.

The phones include the 2365i folding handset, to be priced at the lower end of the market, the 2865i monoblock phone with an FM radio, and the 6175i, a mid-price folding phone with a 1.3 megapixel camera and GPS receiver.

It said each of the new handsets includes Bluetooth short- range wireless technology, and they will start shipping during the second half of the year.

It did not give detailed pricing information.


Sony rolls out new flash-based Walkmans in Europe

Sony is announcing its new Flash memory-based Walkman for the European market, in the company's latest effort to re-energize the once venerable Walkman brand. Its new models, in any of six colors, come in 512 MB, 1 GB, and 2 GB capacities, and feature an optional FM tuner for the 512 MB and 1 GB versions.

One feature that may quickly differentiate the new Walkman from other MP3 players isn't so much size - though it weighs only 25 grams - but its reported three-minute quick charge, which yields three hours of playing time, or up to 28 hours on a regular charge. If its form factor resembles a USB keychain drive, that's not a coincidence: To transfer music, you simply pop off the cap and plug it into your computer's USB port - no cables needed. Customers may also appreciate the fact that there's no room left in one of these for much DRM: MP3, ATRAC, and unsecured WMA music files can be played back. A single-line OLED display shows player status and track details.

Expect availability throughout Europe at the end of April, though there is no word yet as to whether Sony will bring this particular player to the United States, where Sony Ericsson is recharging the brand through musical cell phones. Last September, Sony announced its revamping of the Walkman line in the US, in the form of the very original - though perhaps not particularly classy - Walkman Bean.


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Mac fans sign up for Boot Camp

That could explain the Macintosh community's surprisingly upbeat reaction to Apple Computer's announcement of software enabling the running of Windows on Macs.

Normally, of course, Mac addicts are as likely to sneer at anything having to do with Microsoft's operating system as they are to breathe.

But when Apple announced Boot Camp on Wednesday--software currently in beta that will make it possible to run Windows XP on Intel-based Macs and that will be incorporated in the next major upgrade to Mac OS X--the Mac community went against type, filling Mac forums with optimistic praise for the new software.

"As a Macintosh user for more than two decades, the announcement about Boot Camp is reassuring," Ishan Bhattacharya, a doctor in Timonium, Md., told CNET "I do not like the Windows (graphical user interface), but there are applications available on that platform I would like to use at home without (having) to buy a dull beige box. Now I can do that, and so (I) have ordered an (Intel-based) iMac."

Others who already have Intel Macs want to wait no longer, particularly because they think that by bringing Windows video drivers to their Macs, they will be able to run graphics-intensive, Windows-only games on them.

"I love the way (Boot Camp) is so simple to use," Jamie Harris of London said. "I also like the idea of proper video drivers--as this opens up a whole catalog of games."

To Colin Cornaby, a Seattle student who develops OS X software, Boot Camp provides a bridge for people who have been scared to migrate to Macs after years of using Windows.

"Apple hasn't really provided much of a migration path to get from Mac OS X to Windows," Cornaby said. "Now they have provided a way to run existing software and work in a familiar environment while they get to know OS X."

Of course, not all Mac fans are so sure that Apple's move is smart. Some worry that Boot Camp might discourage makers of software like Adobe Systems' Photoshop from developing Mac-only software.


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Sony's New Flash-Based Music/Photo Player

Sony Electronics of China announced today a new line of MP3/WMA/Photo players which use flash memory instead of hard drives or Hi-MD media. The new devices boast compatibility with MP3 and WMA audio formats, as well as BMP and JPEG viewing capabilities.

Sony has also been implementing recording features into their personal audio players recently and the CE-P line has not been left out in the cold. The CE-P line features an FM tuner which can be recorded from along with a mic for voice recording. A rough translation of some Chinese websites also hint at a calendar function which may bring some type of organizer functionality to it.

Visually, the CE-P series features a 1.5-inch 260,000 color OLED display with a resolution of 128x128 pixels. The player will also feature two languages, simplified Chinese and English which may hint at a greater target market. The CE-P has a USB 2.0 interface to connect to PCs for transferring media although there is no word of PlayForSure compatibility. The CE-P lines is only about 1.8-inches wide and about 3-inches tall which makes this one of Sony's smallest portable audio devices yet.

Because of the Chinese-only announcement, it may be a while before we see the CE-P line in the States or we may not see the devices at all as it so often happens. The CE-P line comes in 3 different flash memory capacities: the CE-P13 with 256MB at about $100, the CE-P15 with 512MB at about $125, and the CE-P17 with 1GB of flash memory at around $150.

Sony recently announced a new Hi-MD player which featured OLED and MP3 support, but many were skeptical that these updates would change the outlook for the MiniDisc format. Is Sony looking to drop the MiniDisc format or just offering a wider range of options?


Saturday, April 01, 2006

Apple sets new volume controls for iPods

In a world where hearing problems are real, concerns are mounting and lawyers are looking to make gadget providers liable, Apple Computer Inc. -- the maker of the predominant iPod music player -- has created new volume controls.

Apple issued a software update Wednesday for its recent iPod models -- the Nano and the video-capable iPod -- allowing users to set how loud their digital music players can go.

Parents also can use the feature to impose a maximum volume on their child's iPod and lock it with a code.

Sandy Liao, a Fremont mother of two, welcomed the development, although she wants to see Apple eventually add the feature to the models she has, the Shuffle.

She had specifically avoided buying her children any kind of portable music or CD player out of concern they would damage their ears, but a friend gave a Shuffle to each of her children, ages 9 and 10, as gifts last year.

"It would be great if I could get the volume controls for them, too," she said.

Apple representatives said little about why they made the change, issuing only a statement.

"As the leading provider of digital music players, Apple continuously brings iPod customers innovative and easy-to-use solutions," said Greg Joswiak, Apple's vice president for iPod marketing. "With the increased attention in this area, we want to offer customers an easy-to-use option to set their own personal volume limit."

Whether or not Apple is responding to legal challenges or specific consumer requests, tech industry analyst Michael Gartenberg of JupiterResearch said the issue clearly is a concern, and "Apple is acting in a responsible way to address it."

Earlier this year, a Louisiana man filed a lawsuit against Apple, claiming that the iPod can cause hearing loss in people who use it.

The devices can produce sounds of more than 115 decibels, a volume that can damage the hearing of a person exposed to the sound for more than 28 seconds per day, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif.

Although the iPod is more popular than other types of portable music players, its ability to cause hearing loss isn't any higher, experts said.

More than 25 million Americans, or about 10 percent of the U.S. population, suffers from hearing loss that adversely affects their lives, said Jennifer Weber, an audiology professor at the University of Northern Colorado.

"Any excessive sound level has the potential of causing hearing damage, whether it's an iPod or a Walkman, or a loud hairdryer," Weber said.

Apple ships a warning with each iPod that cautions "permanent hearing loss may occur if earphones or headphones are used at high volume."

The Cupertino-based company also has posted online a brief analysis about sound, advising users of iPods, computers and other devices to adopt common sense and "listen responsibly" when using headphones or earbuds.

The company isn't alone when it comes to such warnings.

Some cell phones, for instance, force users to acknowledge a warning of possible hearing damage each time they use the speakerphone.

"These product warnings are definitely on the increase," said James Dorr, a product liability defense attorney with Wildman Harrold LLP in Chicago. "Because of the litigious nature of today's marketplace, manufacturers are much more aware of liability issues and the need to protect themselves."

To avoid litigation costs, Dorr said companies are issuing warnings even though they're not mandated to do so for so-called open and obvious dangers.

And in France, regulators passed a law in 1996 -- five years before the iPod debuted -- imposing on devices a noise cap of 100 decibels. Apple said it was complying with that French law with a software update for iPod owners there, limiting the iPod sound to 100 decibels.

Apple has sold more than 42 million iPods since the original model debuted in October 2001. More than 30 million of those sales were posted last year after Apple introduced the iPod Shuffle and replaced its hot-selling iPod mini with the iPod Nano.


World's First HD DVD Player Released

Toshiba has initiated the Japanese rollout of the first commercially available HD DVD player, a next-generation device that promises to take home entertainment to a higher level with superior digital picture quality and sound. The device's launch ups the ante in the competition with the rival Blu-Ray high-definition DVD format backed by Sony.

The HD-XA1 player can play prerecorded HD DVD movies and other content, with support for next-generation surround-sound formats. In addition to being able to play new high-def movies, the drive can play standard DVDs with resolution scaled to HD TV displays.

The player's pop-up menu not only can display movie chapters with thumbnails while movies play, but also lets users navigate menus without having to pause playback.

In addition, the drive features a Picture in Picture (PIP) function that offers the ability to play supplementary video over the main program, allowing viewers to watch commentary about the making of a movie while it plays.

Video Product Portfolio

Toshiba reported that global sales of DVD players and recorders reached some 370 million units by the end of 2005. In Japan, the penetration ratio of DVD players and recorders reached 49 percent of households by the end of March.

In bringing the first HD DVD player to market, Toshiba is hoping to spur adoption of the next-generation DVD format and to stimulate the sale of content-creation software for developing movies based on the HD DVD specification.

The Japanese electronics giant also is poised to deliver notebook PCs with HD DVD players and recorders.

Last week, Toshiba announced that it has pushed back the launch date of HD DVD players in the U.S. until April, a month later than planned, in an effort to have the debut coincide with new movie releases from film studios.

New Format Delays

Both Sony and Toshiba have delayed the introduction of their high-definition DVD formats because of problems ironing out the final specs for their built-in digital-rights management technologies. The delay forced Sony to announce that it is postponing the launch of its Blu-Ray-enabled PlayStation 3 console.

Earlier this week, Matsushita Electric announced it will start selling its first Panasonic-branded Blu-Ray players in North America in September.

Sony Electronics already has introduced an array of Blu-Ray Disc (BD) products, taking the wraps off of a high-definition DVD player, a BD-enabled desktop computer, and an internal BD drive.

Sony's BDP-S1 disc player, priced at $1,000, will ship in July with an output feature that will let those who have first-generation HD TV sets play Blu-Ray video content.


Japan Launches Digital TV for Cell Phones

Digital TV broadcasts for mobile phones equipped with special receivers began in Japan's major urban areas Saturday, following several months of test broadcasts.

But finding new phones in stores proved hard as eager consumers have already snapped up the limited number of handsets on the market. Japan's major mobile carriers say sales are good, but have not disclosed numbers.

Japan's mobile TV service is not the world's first —
South Korea, Britain and several other nations offer a similar service, although with different technologies. Mobile users in some parts of the United States can also tap into digital broadcasts.

But the new service in Japan, which is free, will potentially reach the broadest market yet through the country's terrestrial digital broadcast system, which relays images through the air via TV towers, not satellites.

It also uses broadcasting air waves, rather than an Internet connection, to relay streaming video.

Japan's 90 million mobile phone users already play video games, download music files, exchange e-mail, read news, trade stocks, store digital photos and surf the Web — all on tiny handset screens half the size of a business card.


World marvels at total eclipse

The total eclipse of the Sun finished its journey across the globe at 1148 GMT (1248 BST), in sunset along Mongolia's northern border.

Skywatchers around the world marvelled as they caught a glimpse of the "ultimate astronomical show".

As the spectacle passed overhead, witnesses prayed, cheered and clapped.

The eclipse took just over three hours to sweep a narrow corridor across the Atlantic, through Africa, Turkey and Central Asia.

'Amazing sight'

The Moon's umbral shadow first touched down on Earth at 0836 GMT (0936 BST), at sunrise on the east coast of Brazil.

It then raced across the Atlantic Ocean before making African landfall in Ghana at 0908 GMT (1008 BST), where residents of the capital Accra filled the streets to view the event.

As the temperature dropped and the sky darkened, the crowd looked skywards and shouted and clapped as the eclipse swept above.

An eclipse watcher in the capital said it was "the most amazing sight" and "a must-see experience".

At 1011 GMT (1211 BST), the eclipse reached the desert of southern Libya where professional and amateur astronomers had gathered to witness the point of greatest eclipse; a sight which lasted a total of four minutes and seven seconds.

The Libyan government prepared for the tourist rush by erecting desert tent villages, with a total capacity for 7,000 people.

Continuing on a northeast course, the eclipse then crossed the southern Mediterranean coast at 1040 GMT (1140 BST).

British and US astronomers joined thousands of skywatchers to view the phenomenon from a Roman amphitheatre in Turkey.

"It's one of those experiences that makes you feel like you're part of the larger universe," said Nasa scientist Janet Luhman.

Other scientists viewed the eclipse from Kastellorizo Island in Greece.

"It was more fabulous even than we expected," said Jay Pasachoff, professor of astronomy at Williams College, Massachusetts, after he had observed his 42nd solar eclipse.

"All the technical equipment worked perfectly, the corona shone brightly, and sunspots on the eastern edge of the Sun provided an even more dramatic show than predicted."

The eclipse then moved across Russia through to Central Asia, where its journey finally ended at 1148 GMT (1248 BST) - sunset in the northern borders of Mongolia.