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Viera TVs with built-in Blu-ray and integrated HDDs

Panasonic has unveiled some new HDTVs in Japan that include models with integrated Blu-ray players and versions that sport integrated HDDs as will. The Blu-ray sets are the most interesting and included the 37-inch TH-L37R2B and the 32-inch TH-L32R2B. The 37-inch version will sell for about 240,000 yen.

Both sport full 1080p resolution and have integrated HDDs that can record programs. The Japanese translation leaves a lot to be desired, but it appears the sets can write recorded programs to optical media. Panasonic also pulled the wraps off new LCD and plasma sets with screens of 42-inches, 46-inches, and 50-inches in the plasma line and 37-inches, 32-inches, and 19-inches in the LCD line.

The sets have 1080p resolution except for the 32-inch and 19-inch LCD sets, which only have 720p resolution. The line has internal storage of 500GB with the exception of the 19-inch set with a 250GB HDD. Pricing runs from 100,000 to 390,000 yen in Japan. For best results use Cablesson HDMI cables

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Toshiba integrates HDD or USB storage on REGZA HDtvs range

Toshiba Japan have updated their REGZA HDTV range, with select models supporting USB hard-drives or coming with 500GB of storage built-in.  The Toshiba REGZA R1 series – made up of 32-, 37- and 42-inch sets – and REGZA H1 series – made up of 32- and 37-inch sets – each have a USB port and Full HD resolution (bar on the 32-inch models, which get 720p support).  Meanwhile there’s also the entry level Toshiba REGZA A1 series, with 19-, 22- and 26-inch models all offering 720p HD resolution.

The REGZA R1 HDTVs use IPS panels complete with a special enhanced gaming mode for smoother play.  There’s also DLNA streaming support, four HDMI ports, various PC and analog inputs, plus two 10W speakers.  The REGZA 32R1 is due on April 30th, while the REGZA 42R1 and 37R1 will arrive in early June.

As for the REGZA H1, they have 500GB HDDs built-in, with IPS displays, DLNA streaming support and the same sort of connectivity as the R1 series.  The REGZA 37H1 and 32H1 will arrive in early June.  Finally, the REGZA A1 series get two HDMI ports, TN panels and no USB recording support; they’ll drop in early August.

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Google TV and Intel CPU snub

If Google thought it would be easy to get home entertainment companies to sign up to their Google TV project then they should probably think again.  Panasonic has become the latest company to turn their nose up at the idea of Android and Intel nesting in their HDTVs, claiming that the open-source OS’ processing demands would require too expensive a CPU to keep prices sufficiently low.

The move follows Samsung’s lead, the company having announced last month that it would be continuing with its own internet and widget platform rather than adopting one of Google’s design.  Panasonic will continue to use its own proprietary system, which allows for Netflix and YouTube access, together with basic internet-sourced information widgets, but which falls short of the full browser functionality that Google TV promises.

Still, Google may also have plans to bypass HDTV manufacturers altogether and push a set-top box that would daisy-chain in-between existing cable or satellite boxes and televisions.  However, they’re also rumored to be looking to work with media providers so as to reduce the cost of such a STB for end-users.

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Samsung’s 3D Blu-ray player

Having been spotted up for sale once before, before being unceremoniously yanked from the virtual shelves a few hours later, Samsung’s 3D-capable Blu ray player, the BD-C6900, is now finally shipping.  Announced back in January at CES 2010, the BD-C6900 obviously supports Full HD 1080p content but also includes both wired and WiFi connectivity for streaming media and internet-connected widgets.

There’s also DVD upscaling to 1080p, BD-Live support and 1GB of onboard storage, together with a skinny 39mm-thick design.  DLNA support means the BD-C6900 can be used as a media-stream receiver, and there’s support for Dolby Digital TruHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.

Of course, many people will be looking at the deck for its 3D capabilities, and it’s compatible both with Samsung’s own 3D HDTVs and the general Blu ray 3D standard.

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3D specification finalized

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The Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) today announced the finalization and release of the “Blu-ray 3DTM” specification. The specification, which represents the work of the leading Hollywood studios and consumer electronic and computer manufacturers, will enable the home entertainment industry to bring the 3D experience into consumers’ living rooms on Blu-ray Disc, the most capable high definition home entertainment platform.

“Throughout this year, movie goers have shown an overwhelming preference for 3D when presented with the option to see a theatrical release in either 3D or 2D,” said Victor Matsuda, chairman, BDA Global Promotions Committee. “We believe this demand for 3D content will carry over into the home now that we have, in Blu-ray Disc, a medium that can deliver a quality Full HD 3D experience to the living room.”

The “Blu-ray 3D” specification fully leverages the technical advantages of the Blu-ray Disc format to deliver unmatched picture quality as well as uniformity and compatibility across the full range of Blu-ray 3D products, both hardware and software. Notably, the specification allows every Blu-ray 3D player and movie to deliver Full HD 1080p resolution to each eye, thereby maintaining the industry leading image quality to which Blu-ray Disc viewers are accustomed. Moreover, the specification is display agnostic, meaning that Blu-ray 3D products will deliver the 3D image to any compatible 3D display, regardless of whether that display uses LCD, Plasma or other technology and regardless of what 3D technology the display uses to deliver the image to the viewer’s eyes.

“From a technological perspective, it is simply the best available platform for bringing 3D into the home,” said Benn Carr, chairman, BDA 3D Task Force. “The disc capacity and bit rates Blu-ray Disc provides enable us to deliver 3D in Full HD 1080p high definition resolution.”

The Blu-ray 3D specification is also designed to allow PS3 game consoles to play back Blu-ray 3D content in 3D. Additionally, the specification supports playback of 2D discs in forthcoming 3D players and can enable 2D playback of Blu-ray 3D discs on the large installed base of Blu-ray Disc players currently in homes around the world.

“In 2009 we saw Blu-ray firmly establish itself as the most rapidly adopted packaged media format ever introduced,” said Matsuda. “We think the broad and rapid acceptance Blu-ray Disc already enjoys with consumers will be a factor in accelerating the uptake of 3D in the home. In the meantime, existing players and libraries can continue to be fully enjoyed as consumers consider extending into 3D home entertainment.”

The Blu-ray 3D specification calls for encoding 3D video using the Multiview Video Coding (MVC) codec, an extension to the ITU-T H.264 Advanced Video Coding (AVC) codec currently supported by all Blu-ray Disc players. MPEG4-MVC compresses both left and right eye views with a typical 50% overhead compared to equivalent 2D content, and can provide full 1080p resolution backward compatibility with current 2D Blu-ray Disc players. The specification also incorporates enhanced graphic features for 3D. These features provide a new experience for users, enabling navigation using 3D graphic menus and displaying 3D subtitles positioned in 3D video.

The completed specification will be available shortly and provides individual manufacturers and content providers with the technical information and guidelines necessary to develop, announce and bring products to market pursuant to their own internal planning cycles and timetables.

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Tiny CiragoTV Media Player with HDMI

Media Players that can connect to your TV or PC via HDMI are usually not exactly what most would consider tiny. If you are looking for a media player that is tiny Cirago has launched a new device called the CiragoTV Mini that claims to be the smallest media player to come with both HDMI and HD video capability.

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The little device measures 3″ x 3″ x .7″ can connect to your TV with either HDMI or via a standard AAV outlet. The device supports 720p and 1080i resolutions. A built-in card reader allows any USB, SD, MMC, or Memory Stick to plug directly into the device.

Supported video formats include MPEG-1, MPEG-2, and MPEG-4 (including DivX). The media player also supports MP3 and WMA audio formats along with JPEG images. The CiragoTV mini ships with the required power adapter and a remote control. The little gadget is widely available for under $70.

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Yamaha YSP-5100 Digital Sound Project

Yamaha have been quietly plugging away at their soundbar technology for a while now, and their latest model looks to be the most alluring yet.  As ever, the concept is straightforward: why have a room stuffed full of speakers when a single row of them – together with some clever digital processing – can reproduce the same effect.  Targeted at TVs up to 50-inches (as well as projector setups), the Yamaha YSP-5100 packs 120W and five HDMI ports.

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There’s no shortage of sound format support, either, with the YSP-5100 content with dts-HD, dts ES and Dolby TruHD/Digital Plus/Digital/ Digital EX/Pro Logic and Pro LogicⅡ/x.  You’ll get pseudo-7.1 surround sound and there are apparently a total of 42 individual speakers hiding behind that grill (forty 2W speakers and two 20W speakers) plus a separate subwoofer output.

The YSP-5100 will also play nicely with your iPod, and if you have the Yamaha YIT-W10 wireless transmitter you can stream audio directly from the Apple PMP to the speakerbar.  It’s expected to land in Japan by the end of 2009, priced at the equivalent of $2,280.

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Boxee to debut on December7th

Boxee has long been the darling of the homebrew DVR crowd, turning the Apple TV into a far more capable – and less iTunes-centric – media system and brightening DIY HTPCs no end.  Now the company has announced its plans for an off-the-shelf Boxee Box, which will deliver the same sort of experience but without the need to build it youself.

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Boxee won’t yet reveal their hardware partner, but they do expect the upcoming set-top box to be merely the first of “several living room devices” to debut with the platform in 2010.  Hardware specifications and some device mock-ups won’t be unveiled until December 7th, but we’re guessing it’ll be based around some sort of SoC with HD video playback, streaming support and both wired and wireless connectivity.

The possibility of a standalone Boxee device came up back in January, when the company asked for suggestions and feedback on what sort of hardware support users would want to see.  At the time they seemed to suggest that roughly $199 would get full Boxee support, while $299 would add in extra hardware for things like Blu ray playback.  However as yet pricing for the upcoming device is yet to be confirmed.

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Apple TV 3.0 released

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Apple Introduces Apple TV 3.0 Software With Redesigned User Interface

Enjoy iTunes Extras, iTunes LP & Genius Mixes on Your HD TV

CUPERTINO, Calif., Oct. 29 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — Apple® today introduced new Apple TV® 3.0 software featuring a redesigned main menu that makes navigating your favorite content simpler and faster, and makes enjoying the largest selection of on-demand HD movie rentals and purchases, HD TV shows, music and podcasts from the iTunes® Store even better on your TV. You can now enjoy iTunes Extras and iTunes LP in stunning fullscreen with your Apple TV, as well as listen to Genius Mixes and Internet radio through your home theater system. The new Apple TV software is available immediately free of charge to existing Apple TV owners, and Apple TV with 160GB capacity is available for just $229.

“The new software for Apple TV features a simpler and faster interface that gives you instant access to your favorite content,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s vice president of Internet Services. “HD movies and HD TV shows from iTunes have been a huge hit with Apple TV customers, and with Apple TV 3.0 they get great new features including iTunes Extras, Genius Mixes and Internet radio.”

The redesigned main menu on Apple TV gives you instant access to your favorite content. Recently rented or purchased movies, as well as other content including TV shows, music, podcasts, photos and YouTube, are accessible directly from the new main menu. The new software also allows Apple TV users to enjoy stunning fullscreen iTunes Extras and iTunes LP, including great new movie titles such as “Star Trek” or classics like “The Wizard of Oz” and albums such as Taylor Swift’s “Fearless (Platinum Edition)” and Jack Johnson’s “En Concert.” iTunes Extras gives movie fans great additional content such as deleted scenes, interviews and interactive galleries. iTunes LP is the next evolution of the music album, delivering a rich, immersive experience for select albums on the iTunes Store by combining beautiful design with expanded visual features like live performance videos, lyrics, artwork, liner notes, interviews, photos, album credits and more.

Now Apple TV users can enjoy Genius Mixes through their home theater system and listen to up to 12 endless mixes of songs that go great together, automatically generated from their iTunes library. Customers can also enjoy Internet radio, allowing them to browse and listen to thousands of Internet radio stations, as well as tag favorite stations to listen to later. Apple TV’s support of HD photos is enhanced with iPhoto Events, which simplifies finding your favorite photos on Apple TV, as well as iPhoto® Faces, which gives access to photos organized by people identified in iPhoto.

Apple TV users have direct access to a catalog of over 8,000 Hollywood films on iTunes including over 2,000 in stunning HD video available for rent or purchase. Users can also choose from a selection of 11 million songs, 10,000 music videos and over 50,000 TV episodes to purchase directly from their Apple TV or browse and enjoy the iTunes Store podcast directory of over 175,000 free video and audio podcasts. Purchases downloaded to Apple TV are automatically synced back to iTunes on the user’s computer for enjoyment on their Mac® or PC or all current generation iPods or iPhones.* iPod touch® or iPhone® users can download the free Remote app from the App Store to control their Apple TV with a simple tap or flick of the finger.

Pricing & Availability

The new Apple TV software is available as a free automatic download to all Apple TV customers. The 160GB Apple TV is available from the Apple Store® (www.apple.com), Apple’s retail stores and Apple Authorized Resellers for a suggested retail price of $229 (US). Apple TV requires an 802.11b/g/n wireless network or 10/100 Base-T Ethernet networking, a broadband Internet connection and a high definition widescreen TV. Video availability varies by country.

Apple TV easily connects to a broad range of widescreen TVs and home theater systems and comes standard with HDMI, component video, analog and optical audio ports. Using high-speed Wi-Fi, Apple TV automatically plays your iTunes content without setup or management.

*Movie rentals work on iPod classic®, iPod nano® with video, iPod touch, iPhone, iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS.

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Roku HD-XR – join Netflix-streaming lineup

Roku have outed a pair of new Netflix media streamers that go on sale alongside their existing Roku HD.  The Roku HD-XR keeps the same 720p HD playback, optical audio output and HDMI connection as the original model, but upgrades the WiFi to b/g/n.  Meanwhile there’s a new entry-level, standard definition model, the Roku SD, which offers basic WiFi and analog connectivity.

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The Roku HD-XR does just the same as the original set-top box, but now offers faster WiFi (the HD only has WiFi b/g support).  The company have also added a USB 2.0 port to the back, but right now there’s no use for it; Roku are saving it for some unknown future purpose.

Meanwhile the Roku SD promises only DVD quality video, with integrated WiFi b/g and composite audio/video connections (and wired ethernet) rather than HDMI and optical audio.  All three models are pretty much identical aside from the rear panels, and come with the same basic remote control; the Roku SD comes in at $79.99, the Roku HD remains at $99.99, and the Roku HD-XR is $129.99.  You’ll obviously need a monthly Netflix subscription as well.

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