Sony unveils potpourri of consumer gadgets

Sony Corp. unleashed a blizzard of consumer PC peripherals at Comdex here this week, featuring new digital music players, an ultra-sleek Clie handheld, and a wireless Bluetooth camcorder. These moves from the consumer electronics giant fit into a trend at Comdex, where PC makers are stressing peripherals over new systems.

Sony's exhibits soar as high as US$8000 42-inch KZ-32TS1U plasma displays and range to more earthly offerings such as a new line of blank DVD-RW discs that will cost about $16 apiece.

Also, Sony President Kunitake Ando announced Monday that Sony, AOL Time Warner Inc., and Nokia Corp. will work together on a home networking initiative. However, network devices--especially ones that would reflect Ando's vision of a "ubiquitous value network" that links both PC and non-PC consumer electronics devices on a robust home network--are in short supply at the Sony booth.

Sony updates Walkman

Sony is revving its MiniDisc Net MD Walkman Recorder line of portable audio players with three pocket-sized models that start with the $200 MZ-N505 and go up to the $350 MZ-N1. Sony touts these players and recorders as extremely fast when storing data to the minidiscs. The company says you can transfer 80 minutes of music from your PC to minidisc player in three minutes using a standard USB (Universal Serial Bus) connection.

Minidiscs, like those used by the $250 MZ-N707 model on display here, can play back about five hours of compressed music files, and the player itself has battery life of 110 hours, Sony says.

Minidiscs, which cost about $2, have a distinct advantage over digital audio players that use far costlier flash memory for storing music data. Sony also says its latest Walkman models are rugged and won't skip under normal jogging conditions.

Shrinking gadgets

Sony downsized its Palm OS-powered Clie for Comdex with the sleek T415 model that is a mere 0.4 inches thick. The monochrome handheld costs $299 and comes with software that lets you use the Clie as a remote control for your TV, VCR, and DVD player within a range of 15 feet.

Sony also has improved this line's resolution, nearly doubling it to 320 by 320 dots per inch. A predecessor, the PEG S320, supports 160 by 160 dpi. Sony has also shrunk a photo-quality printer down to a size you could probably cram in a coat pocket. This little printer, the DPP-MP1 Pocket Photo Printer, is less than 4.5 inches high, 1.5 inches wide, and 2.4 inches deep. Don't expect to print anything bigger than a business card, though--this $280 printer is limited to 2-by-3 1/4-inch paper. It uses dye sublimation and can support resolutions of 60 dpi.

Bluetooth juices camcorders

If you never thought of a camcorder as a way to send e-mail--think again. Sony has introduced a MiniDV Network Handycam camcorder, the DCR-PC120BT, with Bluetooth connectivity. As you would expect, this $2000 camcorder can record Junior at play. But with a Bluetooth modem network adapter, which ships free with the model, you can browse the Web, e-mail images to friends, or post images (but not video) to Sony's picture-sharing Web portal ImageStation.

The Bluetooth network adapter works independently of a PC. You navigate a user interface using the camcorder's LCD (liquid crystal display). On the downside, the Bluetooth module only supports speeds of 56 kbps and only connects to analog phone lines.

Also on display here is the latest in robotic canines that are part of Sony's line of Aibo dogs.

Sony also is showing two recently announced computer systems. One is the C1MV PictureBook, a ultra-thin $1900 notebook that is powered by a Transmeta microprocessor. The other is a pricey PC and entertainment system in the Vaio MX line. The PCV-MXS10 costs $2800.

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Tom Spring

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