Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Panasonic jazzes up Lumix camera line

It isn't often that technology converges with high heels and leotards, but such was the case last week at a New York press conference as Panasonic gave the media an early peek at three new digital cameras that are being announced to the public today.

The new 8.1-megapixel Lumix models include two slim units, the DMC-FX55 (suggested price $349.95) and DMC-FX33 ($299.95, at right); and the larger, prosumer-grade DMC-FZ18 ($399.95, below right).

The key difference between the DMC-FX55 and the DMC-FX33, which share the same external dimensions, is the rear LCD panel. The former comes with a 3-inch LCD while the latter's screen size is 2.5 inches. Both come with a Leica 28mm wide-angle lens with 3.6X optical zoom and both offer 4X digital zoom, 27 megabytes of internal memory and a slot for Secure Digital (SD) or Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) removable memory cards. The units are available in a variety of colors.

The SLR-size Lumix DMC-FZ18 comes with an impressive 18X optical zoom, a 28mm wide-angle Leica lens and 4X of digital zoom. An "extra optical zoom" feature extends the zoom to up to 28.7X at the 3-megapixel setting, thus increasing the camera's maximum combined zoom to almost 115X. The unit is available in black (DMC-FZ18K) and silver (DMC-FZ18S). Despite its size, it has relatively little heft at just over three quarters of a pound. It includes a 2.5-inch rear LCD display as well as a 0.44-inch viewfinder display.

All of the new cameras feature face-recognition technology that can pick out as many as 15 faces in a scene. Once identified, the cameras adjust exposure so that the faces aren't washed out or too dark.

Also included in all three is an intelligent scene selection feature which adjusts the camera's mode setting automatically based on what it detects. For example, if a subject is close by, the camera can automatically switch to macro mode.

During the press event, held at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York's Time Warner building, members of the press were allowed to give the new cameras a spin as a steady stream of jazz performers sang and danced across the large stage.

During my few minutes with a Lumix DMC-FZ18 and a DMC-FX55, the image stabilization circuitry in the cameras seemed to work well. With the DMC-FZ18, I was able to take fairly sharp snaps of the performances, even at maximum optical zoom, from a few levels above the stage (see above). Even from afar, the face-recognition technology was able to select and follow the faces of the performers as they moved.

The LCD display on the diminutive DMC-FX55 was bright and responsive but it was hard to be satisfied with the ample 3.6X optical zoom after playing with the 18X zoom on the DMC-Z18. As with the larger camera, the image-stabilization technology did seem to help keep the long-distance shots sharp (see below).

All of the new Lumix cameras will reach stores in September.

© Text and Photos Copyright 2007 Stadium Circle Features

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Keeping It Simple: Tivoli Audio's NetWorks Internet Radios

Tom DeVesto clearly enjoys his time at the drawing board. Just look over Tivoli Audio LLC's lineup of table and portable radios and you'll understand just how much the company's founder and CEO enjoys fiddling with the designs of his radios' knobs, cases, dials and displays. When it comes to fashion and technology trends, DeVesto doesn't like to be left behind.

His latest target is Internet radio. Sure, you can listen to an Internet radio station by using your PC and a Web browser, but wouldn't it be nice if you could listen to it by using something that actually looks and works like a radio? That's the impetus behind Tivoli Audio's new NetWorks and NetWorksGo Internet radios, both introduced at a June 22 press event at New York's Helmsley Palace Hotel.

The hard part was making it easy," said DeVesto as he showed off the radios to a crowded press conference. "And I think we've come up with it."

Rather than a computer-like design, the NetWorks radios, available this fall, don't look that much different from Tivoli's existing Model Satellite and SongBook products.

You tune in Internet radio stations by selecting them by call letter or by location from the hundreds of stations preloaded into the radio's memory. The list is updated regularly by Tivoli while you're online. If your favorite station isn't listed, simply write to Tivoli and it will be added, said DeVesto. You can store your favorite stations as presets. During the press conference DeVesto was able to look up and tune in a number of overseas Internet radio stations.

The NetWorks radios can connect to the Web wirelessly via a Wi-Fi connection or you can plug them into to a broadband connection with Ethernet cable. The NetWorksGo portable comes with an AC power adapter or can run on six C-cell batteries. Built in is a battery charger, thus allowing you to recharge nickel hydride (NiMH) and nickel cadmium (NiCad) batteries while the AC adapter is plugged in. The NetWorks table radio will come in a number of finishes.

Both units include conventional FM radio tuners and dual alarm clocks and can also decode MP3, Real Audio and WMA digital music. Lacking, however, is support for HD Radio. Why? DeVesto said that while radio stations benefit greatly from HD Radio technology since it allows them to broadcast more content over the same radio spectrum, the benefits to listeners aren't as clear.

"It's because I still have had a hard time finding what's in it for the customer," said DeVesto.

DeVesto said that pricing on the NetWorks units has not been announced, "...but it's not going to be the cheapest thing on the market."

At a reception before the press conference I asked DeVesto if he enjoyed his role as CEO and chief design tweaker. The answer was a quick "Yes."

"I can do what I want," he said with a wide grin.