The race is on. Every device from the digital camera to the DVR to the HDTV is vying for the position of becoming a digital hub for all your home multimedia. And it’s not just about photos and music anymore: The push for true video-on-demand (VOD)—and high-def video at that—even has home theater manufacturers including Internet connections on their wares out of the box. (See: Countless custom networked Blu-ray players and television sets.) Here’s the scoop on ten of the most promising connected devices tantalizingly beckoning to the broadband-ready household:
10. Philips Streamium NP2900, $329
Sonos isn’t the only game in town when it comes to networked audio. Philips’ new Streamium model also beams audio files from connected PCs or from your Rhapsody music service. It can additionally access thousands of Internet radio stations, so your music choices are virtually endless. Unlike the previous NP1100, this device has a color screen and stereo speakers to boot, making it a rockin’ selection any time you’re in the mood to party.
Philips Streamium NP2900
9. Gracenote CarStars, Price TBD
Connectivity isn’t limited to the digital living room. Picture Gracenote’s CarStars dashboard media system as iTunes for your car, only on steroids. It lets you access all your favorite artists, recommends new music and even provides location-specific tunes thanks to GPS. It also lets you share song recommendations with buddies. And if you are a diehard fan of say, Beyonce, her voice will come on and make music suggestions as well! Mind you, the technology won’t trickle into cars until 2011, but it’s worth looking forward to.
8. TwonkyMedia Manager, $40
Dealing with your digital media can be a royal pain. If you’re like us, your files are scattered about on various computers and devices. The TwonkyMedia manager is a simple software application that you can install on three PCs in your home. Once setup, it will show icons for all the connected devices that can play media—like your new networked TV, digital picture frame, smartphone, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, etc. You can then drag whatever media you want to whatever device you want to play it on—making all your media available on all your devices.
7. Parrot Specchio Digital Photo Frame, $500
The digital photo frame category is exploding, and many manufacturers are connecting their products wirelessly for easy photo sharing. Parrot has some of the most beautiful frames on the market, and their Specchio model is no exception. This unit, designed by contemporary French minimalist artist Martin Szekely, is WiFi-enabled so that it can receive and display pics from friends and family or those posted to online photo-sharing sites. It can store up to 1500 images, and when it’s not in use, it looks like a mirror – not too shabby.
6. LG Broadband HDTVs, Price TBD
Why shouldn’t your HDTV be the quarterback of the living room for all your multimedia needs? After all, it is the centerpiece of most dens these days. LG agrees with this philosophy and has therefore dubbed some of its new TVs “Broadband HDTVs.” This means that the sets include the company’s new NetCast Entertainment Access service, which lets users grab content from Yahoo!, Netflix and YouTube via an Ethernet connection. The feature will be available on LG’s 42- and 47-inch LH50 LCDs, and 50- and 60-inch PS80 plasma displays.
5. EchoStar SlingLoaded 922 HD DVR, Price TBD
If you can’t live without your HDTV programs when you are away from home, then EchoStar’s SlingLoaded 922 HD DVR is just the device for you. It uses Sling Media’s “placeshifting” technology. All you need is a broadband media connection—whether you are at your in-laws or on vacation surfing from a hotel room in Belize—to access content stored on the gadget. Happily, the box sports a 1TB hard drive, which will archive up to 1000 hours of recorded broadcast programming (you can connect an external hard drive if you need more room). Praise also has to be given for the gizmo’s touchpad remote and a user interface that employs graphics instead of simple text to make navigation easier and more fun. The menu even displays RSS feeds so that you can access news, sports and stocks. Of course, you can also get VOD over the Internet. The future looks bright for the 922, as well, with EchoStar suggesting upgrades that will include photo-sharing, the ability to buy movie tickets, instant messaging, streaming audio and more.
4. Samsung HT-BD7200 Home Theater System, Price TBD
With Internet connectivity and the ability to download content to the latest TVs and DVRs all the rage, it’s no big surprise that the latest Blu-ray players have the capability to sync up with a home network as well. In fact, Samsung’s HT-BD7200 home theater system—including a Blu-ray player, subwoofer, and two speakers—supports streaming Netflix online video and the Pandora music service. It’s also WiFi ready, so you don’t need to call up your Internet provider and demand they run wire through the walls to the back of your home theater. The HT-BD7200 decodes all the latest surround sound formats, such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, and includes an iPod dock as well. Adding to its suite of connected options, the unit can also stream audio from A2DP-compatible Bluetooth audio devices, like your music phone. And if you are one of the many consumers concerned about the environment, the speakers use an eco-friendly kelp- (as in seaweed) based driver.
3. TomTom GO 740 Live GPS, $500
The TomTom Go 740, which is slated to premiere in the US this year, is quickly becoming one of the most anticipated GPS devices of all time, in no small part thanks to its connectivity options and unparalleled feature set. It’s an excellent choice for commuters, because it gives you up-to-the-minute traffic information, the smartest route to your destination, and the lowest fuel prices in the area. This means less time in your car and less money spent on fuel. You can also connect to Google and search local listings, then get directions to your desired location. If you find a map to be incorrect, you can even change the map on the 740’s touchpanel, and your update will be shared with other users. It’s social networking, GPS style. All this can be done without taking your eyes off the road too. Simply speak your command, such as “navigate home” and the 740 will respond.
2. Panasonic G10 Plasma HDTV, Price TBD
All Panasonic’s VIERA TVs include the company’s VIERA CAST feature, which lets users access the Internet and sites like YouTube, Picasa Web Album and Bloomberg. This year, the company has added Amazon’s streaming VOD service to the list of content users can access through the feature, meaning you can download high-def movies directly to your TV set. Panasonic has given VIERA CAST a tune-p as well, including a quick keyword input to help retrieve content faster. Even better, the company is including VIERA CAST in more of its product lines, including the THX-certified G10 series. The TVs also sport a VIERA Image Viewer so you can play back your digital images and AVCHD videos from SD Memory Cards. The G10 line will be available in May in sizes ranging from 42 to 54 inches.
1. Sony MHS-PM1 Webbie HD Camera & Sony Cybershot G3 – $170 and $500, respectively
Here’s a dynamic duo of cameras from Sony that are all about connectivity.
The Webbie’s name says it all. It’s targeted to the younger set—those who want to take high-def video (1440×1080 resolution) or capture 5 megapixel still images and instantly upload them to the Internet. You can take photos on-the-fly, as the unit is totally portable, weighing in at an anorexic 4 ounces. A rotating swivel lens further makes it easy to snap videos or pictures of yourself for a blog or Facebook page. And getting your photos/video online is a piece of cake as well thanks to the MHS-PM1’s embedded software, which lets you upload to Shutterfly, Picassa, YouTube, Dailymotion, and Photobucket simply by connecting your camera to your PC via a USB cable—no need for additional software. The Webbie comes in eggplant, orange, and silver to suit your fancy. Look for it in April.
Taking the convergence of the Internet and cameras a step further, Sony has included a built-in Web browser on its new Cybershot G3 (available now), making it the world’s first sharpshooter to sport such features. Snap a bunch of pictures and quickly dump them on your favorite photo-sharing site without the need for camera as middleman. Your snapshots will look great to boot, as the camera captures 10 megapixel images.
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