News Archive for 06/09/15

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LEGO opens Mindstorms NXT to third-party hardware

09/15, 4:55pm

LEGO Opens Mindstorms NXT

Previously thought of only as a maker of children's toys, LEGO earned a considerable amount of respect from serious hobbyists when it developed the Mindstorms line of robot construction kits: creative designers could not only build whatever machines the parts allowed, but program them to perform actions LEGO itself never intended through an open software kit. The Danish company today invited yet more openness by announcing that it would license third-party hardware for the Mindstorms NXT robot system, which gives builders even more options for robot designs. The first device under the new licensing scheme comes from HiTechnic, whose NXT Compass Sensor adds the option for hobbyists to guide their robots based on magnetic North. HiTechnic expects the compass to ship in October. An RGB sensor that responds to colors of nearby objects will follow by the end of 2006.

Microsoft announces LifeCam NX-6000

09/15, 4:15pm

Microsoft LifeCam NX-6000

The highest-quality webcams available today typically operate at a 1.3-megapixel resolution, which is enough for windowed video chats but falls short for full-screen chat and still images. Microsoft hopes to remedy this problem with the LifeCam NX-6000, a laptop equivalent of its earlier VX-6000 model. The sensor inside the NX-6000 can record 2-megapixel video at a 1600x1190 resolution that is almost a perfect match to the full size of many laptop and 20-inch desktop displays. Hardware in the camera can also interpolate still images to an even sharper 3200x2380 (7.6-megapixel) picture. Microsoft has logically made integration with Windows Live Messenger an important feature and has a call button to start video chats quickly. For portability, the lens can slide into the camera body. NX-6000 cameras begin shipping in November for $100.

Will Zune support Windows Media stores?

09/15, 3:15pm

Zune WM Store Support

As the owner of the Windows Media format, Microsoft has a vested interest in promoting online music and video stores that rely upon the company's standard. Its PlaysForSure program was designed to encourage a single standard for protected music across all Windows Media stores. New revelations, however, indicate that Microsoft may be opting out of protected Windows Media for its just announced Zune player. Microsoft's press release for the new music player only indicates that the device can import unprotected Windows Media and Video, observes a Harvard University blog by Derek Slater. The Zune Insider Blog, run by Microsoft marketer Cesar Menendez, similarly describes the Zune's Windows Media support only in terms of unprotected content. If true, the lack of support for stores such as Napster and URGE may signal either a closer adoption of an Apple-like proprietary ecosystem with the Zune player and Marketplace or a preference for protection-free stores such as eMusic. Microsoft has not formally announced the format it will use for its online store.

Plastic batteries may revolutionize handheld devices

09/15, 2:35pm

Plastic Batteries

There are many devices inherently limited by the need to use alkaline batteries: cameras rarely last longer than a few weeks of steady photography, and few portable speakers have enough continuous power to challenge home speakers. A new research breakthrough at Brown University may encourage us to rethink the possibilities of portable electronics, according to ZDNet. Experiments conducted by scientists using a polymer-tipped plastic film have resulted in a hybrid battery that can both recharge and supply power over a long time. The design was 100 times more powerful than an alkaline battery in testing, opening the possibility of electronics that last far longer on a single charge or can draw more power at once. Equally impressive is the thickness, which is no greater than an overhead projector sheet; researchers speculate that devices could have batteries as part of the shell rather than carving out valuable space inside. "You could wrap cell phones in it," says Dr. Tayhas Palmore. The technology could be refined and ready to use in a few years' time.

Samsung releases Bluetooth-equipped iPod nano rival

09/15, 1:55pm

Samsung YP-T9B Player

Instead of targeting the whole spectrum of digital audio players, as Creative has done with its lineup, Samsung has held to the larger sphere of flash-based players. The company is one of the iPod nano's primary competitors, especially in southeast Asia where the Korean players enjoy much more success. That region is understandably the first to see Samsung's latest response to the nano, known as the YP-T9B. Released first to China, the new player is a variant on an earlier 4GB flash player that adds Bluetooth support. Users can connect to any Bluetooth headphones or speakers that fit the A2DP wireless audio profile; the YP-T9B can also use the wireless link to sync with a computer. Samsung also bests Apple through conventional means: the T9B can play video on a 1.8-inch screen and has OGG audio support to complement the common MP3 and WMA formats. Battery life also lasts for a long 30 hours of audio and 6 hours of video. North American launch details have not yet been announced. A full photo of the player is available after the jump.

More Zune: features, phone strategy, demo video

09/15, 12:35pm

Zune Features and More

Yesterday's announcement of the Zune media player was high profile, but left many details unknown, including the company's longer-term strategy for the Zune name. Many of these are now being addressed. The new device will support the unprotected formats of the iPod, says Microsoft's Cesar Menendez. H.264 and MPEG-4 video as well as AAC audio will be playable on the Zune alongside the expected MP3 and Windows Media formats. Despite the wide-aspect screen, however, video will still be limited to the same 320x240 resolution as Apple's iPod. Microsoft has also said that its current strategy is relatively limited, according to Reuters. Videos will not yet be available to buy at the Zune Marketplace and the initial Zune player resembles more conventional media players. Nevertheless, the software giant has openly stated its intent to produce a Zune-branded music phone - positioning its future handset in direct competition with the Apple music phone expected next year. Click through for more information about the Zune through official video demonstrations.

Delphi SkyFi3 portable XM radio player surfaces

09/15, 11:30am

Delphi SkyFi3 XM Radio

XM Satellite Radio subscribers who want portability have largely had their choice of player limited to the Pioneer Inno or Samsung Helix. A third device should soon be available, according to Orbitcast. Online retailer JJI Electronics posted but subsequently removed a pre-order page for the upcoming SkyFi3 from Delphi. The new handheld would mark the first handheld satellite radio in the company's SkyFi line, which has only had dedicated car and home radios so far. Though not a live radio when away from the included external receiver, the SkyFi 3's features will be relativly advanced compared to rivals from both Sirius and XM. A large 2.8-inch screen will give enough room to tune live content and see relevant track information; 10 hours of recording is also possible with built-in memory. There is also a unique microSD slot that can store up to 500 of the user's own songs on a 2GB card. Songs heard on the radio can be tagged for purchase later on Napster. According to JJI, the SkyFi3 should see an add-on kit for live portable radio and will ship in late October for $200.

TrackStick GPS maps progress for computers

09/15, 10:50am

TrackStick GPS

GPS mapping is not always about real-time locations. In many cases, users only need to plot an earlier path for security or even simply personal curiosity. The TrackStick GPS drive is designed precisely for these people who have no need for the expense that comes with a real-tme receiver. Although it has only 1MB of onboard storage, the TrackStick can mark its GPS position at regular intervals for several months before it fills up - making it possible to track a long vacation or product shipment through its entire route. An owner can then plug the drive into a USB port to export the results to formats such as Google Earth maps, web pages, or raw comma-separated values. In more advanced formats, the drive's updates can be converted to a visual route instead of simple data points. The manufacturer Telespial Systems asks users to e-mail them for retail information but says the TrackStick is available now.

Seagate: 275GB music player hard drives by 2009

09/15, 10:15am

Seagate 2009 Hard Drives

The introduction of perpendicular bit storage removed a previously insurmountable limit to the maximum capacity of hard drives, as evidenced by Hitachi's near-doubling of last year's ceiling through a 1TB desktop hard drive expected late this year. As part of a keynote presentation celebrating the 50th anniversary of the hard drive, Seagate today outlined a future for its hard drives that would see storage blossom dramatically by 2009. 1.8-inch hard drives - such as those found in the iPod and similar players - should reach 275GB of storage that year simply by scaling existing techniques, said presenter Dr. Mark Kryder. Additionally, 2.5-inch laptop hard drives should triple in capacity to 500GB and desktop-sized drives should reach 2.5TB. The rapid advancement of storage is crucial as games, music, and HD video consume ever larger amounts of data.

XFX GeForce 7950 GT Extreme

09/15, 9:40am

XFX 7950 GT Extreme

Announced previously, video cards based on the GeForce 7950 GT are now reaching the market in force. Many are identical to NVIDIA's reference design; a particularly notable model, however, is the XFX GeForce 7950 GT Extreme. It ships at a factory-default 570MHz core clock speed and 1.5GHz for memory, offering that extra amount of performance for gaming. XFX has also opted to cool the entire design through the passive cooling of a heatpipe, effectively silencing the video card altogether. The new GeForce card is also comparatively future-proof with two dual-link DVI ports each capable of driving a 30-inch Cinema Display as well as HDCP decryption support for playing back copy-protected HD video. Regular pricing for the Extreme card reflects its extra features at $330. XFX is shipping the new model today.

IDea Wireless Home Dock streams iPod and PSP audio

09/15, 9:10am

IDea Wireless Home Dock

Wireless streaming audio is typically very dependent upon a computer to function. Those who would rather stream content directly from an audio player can now choose the iDea Wireless Home Dock announced recently by FriendTech. The base station has an iPod-specific dock as well as a more generalized cradle for the PSP, music phones, or other digital audio players. Either device can send high-quality audio through an RF-based transmitter to compatible receivers such as the company's own HD-Audio adapter. Connected directly, the docking station can also broadcast 5.1 surround sound from supporting devices or iPod photos and videos through the built-in RCA and S-video outputs. The company is currently shipping the Home Dock with a remote for $150; individual receivers are also available for $50.

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