March 28, 2007

Panasonic’s New Camcorders

The rapid growth in flat panel TV sales (both Plasma and LCD) is the driving force behind next generation high definition AV technology like Blue-Ray, HD-DVD and Digital TV. The next line of consumer electronics to receive the HD treatment is the humble camcorder. With the release of the Panasonic HDC-DX1 and HDC-SD1 high definition video recording has just landed in Australia.

The HDC-SD1 ($2419) is the first and smallest HD camcorder on the market to take advantage of SD card technology instead of tape or hard drive. You can record up to 90 minutes of high definition footage on a standard 4Gb card (included). Panasonic expect SD cards to reach capacities of up to 32Gb within 2 years. That means potential recording times of up to 12 hours on card. The HDC-SD1 also has a 1.7 second quick start mode so you won’t miss action.

The DX1 ($2199) is the SD1’s bigger brother that records on to mini-DVD discs. DVD camcorders are super-popular with consumers, mainly because the content can be easily viewed on a regular DVD player. The catch with the DX1 however is that footage is recorded in HD so you’ll need to upgrade to a new Blue-Ray DVD player before you can watch any of your recordings. Try putting a mini-HD DVD into your regular player and you’ll be disappointed.

Both new HD cameras use the new AVCHD format (a format jointly developed by Panasonic and Sony). AVCHD uses an MPEG-4 codec for video compression and a Dolby Digital for sound and enables high picture and sound quality in compact sizes units.

While not the first to market with a consumer line of HD camcorders (Sony has had models available for over 12 months now) Panasonic is leading the way by integrating it’s award winning technologies like Optical Image Stabiliser (OIS), 3CCD and Dolby 5.1 Channel surround sound to both new HD camcorders.

When shooting in HD a small .3mm hand shake can result in up to 50mm shake when viewed on a 50” flat panel screen. That’s why OIS is critical. OIS minimises the hand-shake effect and is extremely effective in situations where slight movements are notable, especially in zoom conditions. The OIS system is optical, so you won’t lose picture quality when it’s turned on.

Like professional quality cameras Panasonic have adopted the 3CCD system in the DX1 and SD1. 3 CCD technology excels at processing light information and according to Panasonic results in better picture quality. It works by breaking light up into its component parts (red green and blue). Both new cameras also come standard with Leica lens that helps reproduce HD images in accurate colour.

Along with the HD models Panasonic has also refreshed its camcorder line up by adding the SDR-H250 ($1319) and SDR-H20 ($989). Both models have internal 30GB hard drives that will give you up to 27 hours of recording in LP mode. Like the HD models OIS image stabilisation and Leica lens are standard.

The quality of the picture on both new HD cameras is simply superb. Colour reproduction is accurate and sound equally good. Both cameras come standard with HDMI (High Definition Media Interface) which means one cable transmits both the audio and video signal to your flat screen TV. They also come with a USB connector to allow downloading the movie on to your computer.

SD technology is the future. With fewer moving parts and smaller cameras on the horizon Panasonic have taken a brave step into the future. While the SD1 is a revolutionary new camera it will take more time for SD card pricing to become as cheap and ubiquitous as DV tapes. In the meantime you’ll be able to enjoy near perfect picture quality on your flat screen TV today.

March 7, 2007

Property.com.au

If you've ever had to search for a property online you will have noticed how difficult most websites are to use. I've just gone through the process of buying a house and found the process of searching online time consuming and difficult. The most popular websites such as www.realestate.com.au and www.realestateview.com.au have all the right information but getting to it can be tedious.

Now www.realestate.com.au have just launched their next generation website at www.property.com.au and taken online property searching to a new level. The best thing about the new website is that it only takes one click to get to actual listing information. Simply start entering the name of the suburb you are interested and a dialogue automatically completes it for you.

Once the suburb is entered you only need to click on the 'buy' or 'rent' buttons. You'll be presented with a map that highlights all the available properties. Now you'll have the opportunity to customize your results by using the sliders on the right hand side toolbar. If you need a house with 3 bedrooms simply slide the 'bedrooms' slider to the right. If land size is important choose that slider. Property.com.au is based on Web 2.0 technology that means the page is updated without needing to refresh.

When you have your requirements sorted you'll notice the listings of the actual properties on the left side of the map. From here you can click on the property listing for a closer look. To view additional photos simply slide your mouse over the first image and you'll be presented with additional images of the property. In this detailed view you also have the option of emailing the agent for more information.

Property.com.au is a great innovative new approach to online property searching. It's only in 'beta' at the moment so you may come across bugs or problems but in my testing it worked flawlessly.

The State of 3G in Australia

Australians are well known for their appetite for new technology. Yet four years ago when 3G (third-generation) finally arrived here we sat on the sidelines and scratched our heads. We already had phones that were really useful for making voice calls and sending SMS messages. Now, here were the phone companies trying to tell us that we should also use our handsets to watch TV, download music and take the Internet with us wherever we went.

Four years later the 'killer application' is still voice and SMS but with pricing of data services finally becoming competitive, and with the advent of 'call caps' (where you pay a set monthly fee and receive a generous allowance of call credits) 3G is here to stay. Some data is still too expensive (like $4.95 music downloads over Next G) but slowly the carriers are reducing the prices of data on their networks as they see usage increase.

The Telstra 'Next G' network is the biggest 3G network in Australia and covers 98.8% of the population with it's latest technology based on the HSPDA standard (High Speed Packet Data Access). Next G offers true broadband speeds (up to 14.4Mbps) to mobile devices including phones and laptops. Other providers like Vodafone, Optus and 3 have also recently launched their own HSDPA products. HSDPA's primary benefit is broadband speed but it also offers other advantages like better long distance coverage and building penetration. That means less call drop-outs in elevators.

The 'killer application' for mobile phones is still voice - it's still what most people use their phones for most often. But over the last four years, since 3 switched on its network consumers have been steadily increasing their appetite for mobile content. For example, over 70% of 3's customers have accessed some form of content on Planet 3 (3's mobile Internet) while their 24/7 cricket channel recently passed the million view mark.

All of 3's customers (one million) are on the 3G network already but for Vodafone, Telstra and Optus 3G adoption has been slower. Vodafone and Optus recently passed the 250,000 customer mark while Telstra has signed up over 400,000 customers to Next G since its October 2006 launch. The driving force behind 3G adoption is handset upgrades (these occur every 2-3 years) rather than customer demand for new data services. However with recent changes to data pricing uptake for 3G services is increasing.

Content is king on 3G phones with all the telcos looking to squeeze more money out of you by offering additional data services. When choosing a 3G provider it's important to pay attention to pricing and content availability. For example, if you are in to the cricket 3's network will be most attractive to you with their 24/7 cricket station. If you like music you should consider Vodafone Live with the largest range of tracks to choose from (over half a million). If Mobile TV is your thing you can't go past Telstra's Foxtel offering where you can access 12 stations for $12/month.

If you are looking for mobile broadband (to use on your computer) the choices are equally confusing. All providers offer 'data' bundles and access to high speed networks. If you are confined to inner city check out 3's and Vodafone's new range of data cards. Both offer access to HSDPA at a reasonable monthly fee. If you live outside the city choose Telstra's Next G network as it offers the largest coverage in Australia.

You'll also need to invest in a new handset to take advantage of 3G features. The Motorola Motorazr V6 maxx ($729) is a great looking phone that works superbly on the Next G network. It is easy to use, sits well in the hand and eats multimedia for breakfast. Streaming Foxtel is truly watchable and it's camera works well. If you are into music choose the newly released Sony Ericsson W880i - the latest line of 'Walkman' branded phones. It's 3G enabled and comes with 1GB memory card that means you'll be able to store hundreds of songs in your pocket. Best of all it's super thin and weighs only 71 grams.

The carriers are quickly realising that data is becoming an important part of their business. For true take-up of 3G data services need to be cheaper. Consumers shouldn't have to worry about the cost to access 3G content. Alongside this change manufacturers like Sony Ericsson and Nokia need to keep producing phones that are easier to use while adding additional functionality. When both these changes occur 3G services will move from 'nice to have' to 'can't live without' and will become a reason to upgrade, not just an extra perk.