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Blu-ray disc sales on the increase

The Blu-ray Disc, the high-definition successor to the DVD, was one of the few products that did well in the just-ended holiday season, with sales tripling from the previous year. The figures were released this week at the Consumer Electronics Show, which last year was the scene of what proved to be a decisive victory for Blu-ray over a rival format, HD-DVD. Just before the 2008 CES opened, Warner Bros. withdrew its support for HD-DVD, giving Blu-ray a strong majority of support among Hollywood studios. A few months later, Toshiba, the creator of the HD-DVD, said it would stop making players for the discs. That left Blu-ray as the lone high-definition disc. U.S. consumers bought 28.6 million of them in the fourth quarter of 2008, according to The Digital Entertainment Group, a consortium of movie studios and electronics manufacturers. That’s up from 9.5 million in the previous year.

The biggest seller was “The Dark Knight,” which was also the first Blu-ray disc to sell more than 1 million copies, said Andy Parsons, president of the Blu-ray Disc Association, which promotes the format in the U.S. By Parsons’ count, Blu-ray is showing a faster adoption rate than the DVD, the CD, high-definition TV sets and several other common household technologies. At the end of last year, 2½ years after they first became available, there were 10.7 million Blu-ray-capable players in United States, according to research firm DisplaySearch. Three years after the DVD launched in the 90s, there were 5.4 million DVD players.But the 10.7 million Blu-ray players includes more than 6 million Sony PlayStation 3 game consoles, bought mainly for gaming. With those taken out of the comparison, sales of standalone Blu-ray players are similar to those of DVD players at the same point.

Source: Mercury News

US safety group: ban cellphones in cars

The National Safety Council, which campaigned to get U.S. states to enforce seatbelt laws, is taking on cellphones, saying on Sunday it was starting a campaign to ban all use of mobile phones while driving. Even so-called hands-free devices should be banned, because studies show they do not make it any safer to talk on the telephone while driving, the group said. “It’s time to take the cellphone away,” said Janet Froetscher, president and chief executive officer of the non-profit group. “Studies show that driving while talking on a cellphone is extremely dangerous and puts drivers at a four times greater risk of a crash,” Froetscher said in a telephone interview.

Many states and Washington, D.C. have laws requiring the use of a hands-free device while driving and using a cellphone. But several recent studies have shown drivers are far more distracted when speaking on a mobile phone, even with a speaker or headset, than talking to a live passenger. Last month Dave Strayer of the University of Utah and colleagues demonstrated that drivers using a hands-free device drifted out of their lanes and missed exits more frequently than drivers talking to a passenger. Strayer’s team has also shown that drivers using mobile telephones are as impaired as drivers who are legally drunk. A study from the Harvard Center of Risk Analysis estimates that cellphone use while driving contributes to 6 percent of crashes. Froetscher’s group says that translates to 636,000 crashes, 330,000 injuries and 2,600 deaths in the United States each year.

Source: Reuters

Skype Lite for Java and Android phones

Android phones will now have at least one edge over Apple’s iPhone: They’ll be able to make Skype calls. Announced today by Skype COO Scott Durchslag at the Consumer Electronics Show, the new Lite version of Skype will offer voice calling to other mobile or desktop versions of Skype, but doesn’t yet offer video calling. The Lite version of the popular VOIP (voice over IP) software also works on more than 100 Java-enabled phones from five handset manufacturers—LG, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung and Sony Ericsson. “Making the Skype experience available for download to Android-powered devices, as well as hundreds of other mobile phones from the world’s leading handset manufacturers is a major step forward for Skype,” said Scott Durchslag, COO of Skype.

“Nearly half the world’s population are mobile phone users today and we know that many people who already use Skype want the option to use Skype on their mobile phones. We are committed to working towards our goal of getting Skype into the pockets of the mobile masses.” Also today at CES, the eBay-owned company announced that the next version of its extremely popular Windows version, Skype 4.0 would launch in early February. The update to this software, which is used by over 370 million people worldwide, has been in beta since last spring. A third announcement made today at CES was the availability of Skype 1.0 Beta for Intel-based Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs). The company worked with Intel to develop a new mobile version of Skype for MIDs based on the Intel Atom processor and Moblin-based Linux OS.

Source: PC Magazine

CES: Adamo, luxury notebook from Dell

Dell got things rolling this morning with an announcement on the software distribution side. Where Dell.com recently began offering music and movies, there will now be downloadable software as well. Next up was a subsidized netbook partnership with AT&T similar to the one the company announced with Vodafone in September. The next announcement was where things began to pick up steam. Adding to Dell’s Mini line of netbooks, the company unveiled the Atom Z530-powered Inspiron Mini 10 this morning. Their “perfect 10″ netbook offers a 16:9 720p HD display, a full edge-to-edge keyboard, a built-in TV tuner, built-in mobile broadband connectivity, GPS, 802.11n, a multi-touch and gesture touchpad, and design studio customizability.

Aesthetics was an important theme in today’s Dell gathering, with the hallways lined by artists’ design studio laptop shell creations, and Kidrobot artist Tristan Eaton putting his trademark designs on Dell products in the background. Dell is drawing a sharp line between performance and design in its product line, the company’s peak performers fall under the Alienware line, and the peak examples of design will come under the new Adamo line. The product which had various accessory leaks happen several months ago has caused a great deal of speculation among fans of the company. Today, a production model of Adamo was shown off, ever so briefly, ever so distantly, and with no information regarding specs. We do know that there is both a black model and a white model.

Source: Betanews, AP

CES: 1-inch thick wireless plasma from Panasonic

The epic battle between plasma and LCD manifests itself in numerous ways–Hz oneupsmanship, contrast ratio and viewing angle specs, lifespan claims–but until now, panel depth was a frontier comfortably dominated by LCD, with ultrathin models like the Hitachi UT37X902. Now Samsung and Panasonic aim to claim that frontier themselves, the latter with the new inch-thick Z1. Panasonic’s press material uses the term “Z1 series,” which indicates to us that the company is planning other screen sizes with inch-deep panels. But for now the only size the company sees fit to announce is the 54-inch TC-P54Z1, due in summer for an undisclosed, but surely sizable, chunk of change.

Thin panels pose a number of design quandaries, such as where to connect the cables. Panasonic solves the problem by supplying a separate AV box, with a tuner and connections like HDMI and component-video, which streams audio, video, and control signals to the panel wirelessly. The company uses a 60GHz millimeter wave radio system that sounds similar to the one employed by LG for its wireless displays, and like LG claims the ability to transmit full, uncompressed 1080p video. Aside from Digital Cinema Color, the Z1 incorporates all of the features of the thicker V10 models, including improved 24p compatibility, VieraCast; the power-saving, high-contrast, NEO PDP panel; “infinite black;” and a 600Hz sub-field drive.

Source: Cnet

CES: Palm unveils Pre, new smartphone

Handheld computing veteran Palm has unveiled its Pre smartphone at CES. The touchscreen handset runs a web-centric operating system that aims to help people organise and manage their many online contacts and identities. The device is widely seen as a competitor to rival smartphones such as the iPhone, BlackBerry, N97 and G1. The gadget will be available on the Sprint network in the US before June 2009. Palm has not said when it will debut in other nations. Palm showed off the Pre at a lavish news conference at the Venetian hotel and casino in Las Vegas. Introducing the Pre, Jon Rubinstein, executive chairman of Palm, said the rise of the smartphone signalled a significant “transition” in what people expected from their handset.

Rather than just take and make calls, he said, people wanted their phones to act as a co-ordinating centre for their online lives. As well as a touchscreen that lets owners scroll through lists, zoom in on pictures or control media with a finger touch, the Pre also has a “gesture area” below the screen on the lower part of the phone. Performing gestures, such as a thumb swipe, on this area owners perform other tasks, such as bringing up a main menu, without having to obscure what is on screen. The device also has a slide out Qwerty keyboard, removable battery, three megapixel camera and 8GB of memory on board. The Pre also comes with a “touchstone” so it can be recharged wirelessly. Palm CEO Ed Colligan scoffs at critics who think the Pre arrives too late to compete against BlackBerry, iPhone and other competitors. “I don’t even remotely feel like it’s too little too late. It’s a big, big space.”

Source: USA Today, BBC

Microsoft officially released Windows 7 beta

The first public trial, or beta, version of Windows 7 has been released. Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer used his keynote speech at CES to announce that software developers would get at the trial version on 7 January. On 9 January members of the public will get the chance to download the successor to Windows for themselves. Mr Ballmer said Windows 7 would be the pivot of a broader Microsoft push to improve the way its separate software and service families work together. In delivering the opening keynote, Mr Ballmer has taken over from Bill Gates – who in 2008 bowed out of day-to-day involvement with the company he founded. In a nod to the chilly economic climate, Mr Ballmer said: “We face some really big challenges. We are all feeling it and its impact will likely be with us for some time.”

But, he said, the global economic slowdown would not hobble the pace of technological change. “I believe our digital lives will only continue to get richer,” said Mr Ballmer. “There’s no turning back from the connected world.” The newest version of the Windows operating system would, he said, be the “linchpin” of an effort to make it easier for customers to do more with the different Microsoft gadgets and services they use. Microsoft is expected to cap the number of copies of the beta version of Windows 7 available to the public. The minimum requirements for running Windows 7 are a PC with a 1 Ghz processor, 1GB of RAM, 16 GB of disk space, 128MB of video memory and support for DX9 graphics. Some of the Windows 7′s features help it work with other devices. A “home group” system makes it straightforward to enrol PCs, Xbox consoles, media servers and other gadgets into a local network that can share media and content.

Source: BBC

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