Best Cameras of 2005: Our Round Up

Best Cameras of 2005: our round upBest compact:

Fujifilm F10

You’d be hard pressed to describe this box-like beast as a looker, but it consistently impressed us with its speed of operation, pin-sharp pictures and awesome low light performance.

Featuring a class-leading sensor, the Fuji can keep on delivering usable images right up to 1600 ISO – perfect for candid/low light photography.

Look out for the F11 which adds aperture and shutter priority to the feature set.

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Best Cameras of 2005: our round upBest dSLR

Nikon D50

A tough call this one with so many notable new cameras entering the increasingly competitive consumer end of the digital SLR market, but the Nikon D50 just pipped the Canon EOS 350D on account of its excellent image quality, low noise, excellent handing and, of course, incredible value for money.

This is a perfect first-time camera for amateur photographers keen to move up to a SLR system, and with hundreds of Nikon-fit lenses available, the D50 can handle just about every task you can throw at it.

Nikon D50

Best prosumer camera

Best Cameras of 2005: our round upSony Cyber-shot DSC-R1

Just nudging ahead of the Fujifilm FinePix S9500, the Sony DSC-R1 impressed us with its innovation, build quality and fabulous images.

Dominated by a 24-120mm lens of truly outstanding quality, the DSC-R1 offers a unique viewfinder which can flip and twist through 270 degrees and offer medium format ‘waist level’ shooting.

Although it’s priced hard against more flexible dSLRS, you won’t find a more capable, all in one package than the Sony DSC-R1.

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Biggest disappointment:

Best Cameras of 2005: Our Round UpThe Panasonic Lumix LX1

It promised so much, looked fantastic, entranced us with its advanced feature set, high end manual controls, widescreen aspect ratio, image stabilisation, razor sharp Leica lens and fantastic, crystal clear daytime images, but as soon as the sun went down and the ISO ratings went up – disaster!

A horrendously noisy sensor meant that noise crept in to even low ISO images, with pictures at 400 ISO bordering on unusable – not what you expect for £450.

Bring on the LX2 and Panasonic will have a killer camera on their hands!

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eBay Scraps Live Pet Sales Online

EBay Scraps Live Pet Sales OnlineInternet auctioneer eBay have cancelled their plans to allow live pets to be sold on its Web site after receiving a barrage of complaints from users.

Thousands of irate emails headed eBay’s way after word got out that they were considering lifting their ban on trading live animals.

This would have been a turnaround from their long held policy of banning the sale of live animals (except fish and snails).

Over the weekend, an eBay manager posting on an online message board announced that eBay were planning on creating a separate classifieds category, which would feature free ads from animal shelters and paid ads from breeders.

This prompted a torrent of over 2,000 emails, most of which were deeply unchuffed with the proposal, insisting that the ban should remain in place

EBay Scraps Live Pet Sales OnlineAs company spokesman Hani Durzy explained, users were concerned that the listings would encourage unsanitary ‘puppy mills’, where animals are sometimes bred in less-than ideal conditions, and that it might prove difficult working out legitimate animal shelters and the get-rich-quick scamsters.

There was also concern that people might start to breeding dogs to sell for fighting.

“The feedback was pretty overwhelming,” Durzy admitted, adding, “Farms and for-profit commercial breeders wasn’t something that they wanted to see.”


Google Buys 5% Stake in AOL

Google Buys 5% Stake in AOLAfter a flurry of rumours and speculation, AOL and Google have announced that they have sealed the deal on an extended partnership deal, which sees Google shelling out $1bn for a 5% stake in AOL.

Google were already providing the Web search technology to AOL, and their contract, which was due to expire in 2006, will now be extended by five years.

Previously, AOL had only earned a share of Google’s advertising revenues through Google’s AdSense program, but under the new deal AOL will now be free to flog both display and keyword-based advertising.

In a flurry of mutual back-scratching, Google have agreed to offer their technical know-how to ensure AOL sites soar up the search results rankings, with the company ensuring cynical punters that this will only happen through “fair and legitimate means.”

Google have also lobbed an estimated $300m worth of Google advertising credits into AOL’s overflowing pot.

Google Buys 5% Stake in AOLNaturally, the synergistic shufflings don’t stop there, with plans being unveiled to make the two companies’ instant messaging tools work with each other and for Google to include AOL video in its video search database.

The deal seems to be a win-win for both companies.

Ad-based revenues and traffic from AOL accounted for a massive 10% of Google’s revenues (approx $422m) during the first nine months of 2005, and with the contract due to run out, Google were at risk of losing a major source of income.

Moreover, the deal sees Google becoming the only other shareholder in AOL along with Time Warner.

For AOL – who have seen subscribers dropping like flies as broadband grows in popularity – the deal gives them the opportunity to grab a slice of a booming market by acquiring the rights to sell its own online advertising.

Google Buys 5% Stake in AOLSitting red faced in the corner and looking like a chump through all of this is Microsoft.

As the new boys on the block in the Web search market, Bill Gates’ boys were mustard keen to find a way to take on Google and Yahoo, and a deal with AOL would have given the company a substantial leg-up in the market.

Microsoft were reported to have originally approached AOL, waving a fat wad of investment cash and a new search technology contract, but their failure to secure the deal now leaves the company miles behind the big boys.


BBC iMP Trial Extended – Trialist React

BBC iMP trial ExtendedThe BBC has decided to extend the trial for the iMP Player until 28th February 2006, telling trialists that the extra time will enable it to “understand what you want from the service and how you are using it”. A new upgrade of the software is due to be rolled out to the participating trialists in January.

Once this is over, the data from the trial will be processed to form a ‘Public Value Test’. That will then be put to the BBC Governors, who will use this to make a decision on the viability of launching a service.

We’ve had mixed report from iMP trialists, which we found surprising – we thought everyone would be totally wowed by it, watching it 24 hours a day.

The not-watching-24-hours-a-day could be explained by the frustration felt by a lot of trialist – that the content available is somewhat limited choice, and the content’s seven day expiry time.

Content-wonks, like us and we suspect you, are aware that these limitations are a result of the need to negotiate and pay for the rights to distribute Radio & TV content via the Internet. Members of the public, who have other lives to lead, are naturally less aware of the reasons for the restrictions.

Frankly it is easier (and cheaper) to obtain the relevant permissions for BBC content, than independently produced content and brought in content, such as films.

BBC iMP trial ExtendedThe BBC’s reaction to such sniping is consistent, if not a little bland

  • This is a research trial
  • Their main focus is to assess the impact that iMP has on viewing habits
  • They want to understand if there’s possible appetite for such a service

We think that providing a good range of high-quality content is a key to encourage users to try out the iMP and importantly, keep them using the application during the trial. Otherwise interest will fade – which is the experience we’ve heard from many trialists.

Questions have been also raised on the iMP users forum about the integrity of the Microsoft DRM software, designed to limit the use and copying of the downloaded programmes. Strong security will be key, if the service is to be widened to include non-BBC content.

It will be interesting to see if the service survives, and how the BBC’s own commercial trading unit “BBC Worldwide” reacts, having signed a content deal with BT whose own service is due to launch in 2006.


MSP-M/MAP-M: World’s First Dolby Virtual Speaker For TVs

World's First Dolby Virtual Speaker For TVsWe like “world firsts” so when integrated-circuit providers Micronas announced that they were the planet’s first company to incorporate a Dolby Virtual Speaker into a chipset designed specifically for televisions, we simply had to tell you all about it.

Unfortunately, their announcement was such a dull, techie-tastic affair, our enthusiasm waned somewhat, but after wading through pages of “solutions” and acronyms, we can tell you that they’ve invented a new chip which adds surround sound capability to televisions with only two speakers.

Designed for mid-range to high-end televisions, the chips can be slapped into flat-panel, projection or traditional CRT TVs and are capable of outputting surround sound from any audio source (including stereo and 5.1 channels).

World's First Dolby Virtual Speaker For TVsDolby Virtual Speaker creates the illusion of five speakers by using room modelling techniques. This, apparently, sets it apart from other virtualizers.

“This is the world’s first TV-specific audio solution to feature Dolby Virtual Speaker, which we believe allows the television to perform at a level of real home-cinema quality,” enthused Stefan Hepp, director marketing consumer audio, Micronas.

“This technology offers consumers the illusion of a five speaker surround sound system from just two speakers. However, up until now it has only been available in selected PC software and some A/V and home theater systems,” enthused Tony Spath, vice president, international marketing, Dolby Laboratories.

“Bringing Dolby Virtual Speaker direct to televisions will allow many more consumers to experience the excitement of surround sound, regardless of the source of the content,” he added.

Micronas expects to see their snappily-named MSP-M/MAP-M sound processors being fitted into TVs around the second quarter of 2006.


Mobile Malware Set To Triple in 2006

Mobile Malware Set To Triple in 2006Anti-virus software vendors McAfee Avert Labs have released a dire warning about impending doom for smartphone users, claiming that mobile security threats are expected to triple next year.

The company say that the number of malicious software programs targeting mobile devices is expected to soar to 726 by the end of 2006, up from an estimated 226 at the end of 2005.

And it’s not just malware that’s going to be putting our phones under siege, with targeted phishing attacks and potentially unwanted programs (PUPs) – like adware and spyware – also anticipated to increase

Craig Schmugar, virus research manager for McAfee Avert Labs predicts that mobile malware is going to be the biggest headache for the year ahead, “They’re gaining increased interest from the virus (writing) community,” Schmugar said.

“And as these devices become more pervasive, they become a bigger target,” he gloomily added.

Mobile Malware Set To Triple in 2006Schmugar claimed that the consumers’ lack of interest in applying security software to their mobile devices (i.e not buying their software) is likely to compound the problem.

Whipping up the fear and dread, he pointed out that the “I Love You” virus, which rapidly infected tens of millions of PCs in 2000, would have spread wider and faster in smartphones which do not have security software installed (i.e. their product).

According to McAfee, a 45 to 50 percent rise in commercial PUPs is expected next year, although the company reckon that new legislation – coupled with restraint in the advertising software industry – may keep a lid on growth.

Although we’ve no doubt that smartphones are going to increasingly be targeted by pesky phishers and vile virus writers, we won’t be dipping in our wallets quite yet.

McAfee Avert Labs Unveils Portable Video For iPods Unveils Portable Video For iPodsBlinkx have unveiled To Go, a new service that helps users track down online video content and then lets them upload it to their iPod or personal video player.

With the growth of video blogging and video-capable personal players, there’s a growing interest in viewing free alternatives to commercial broadcasts, and To Go service aims to “throw open the doors” to a wide variety of new, user-generated video. Unveils Portable Video For iPodsVisitors searching the company’s database of video blogs and podcasts are able to either save the video to their player with a single click, or save the search to a channel which automatically feeds updated video content to their player, where it can be viewed as a single media stream.

Blinkx takes care of all the formatting, regardless of the original file type, so that video content selected for saving is automatically re-encoded to the appropriate video format for the user’s player.

Blinkx founder Suranga Chandratillake commented, “We wanted to make the experience of finding compelling multimedia and making it portable, as efficient and easy as possible.” Unveils Portable Video For iPods“Our vision of IPTV combines the interactive, customisable experience of the Internet, with the simple, seamless way we watch TV, and now we’ve made it portable,” Chandratillake added.

As you know, we’re big on seeing technology being used to promote and propagate user-generated content – the process of the democratisation of the media, if you want to get arty fart about it – so we look forward to seeing how blinkx’s initiative fares with the public.


Pressure Builds – No Christmas Cheer For BT

As competition hots-up, no pre-Christmas cheer for BTBT has been hit by two further blows, bringing into stark relief the height of the mountain it must climb to achieve its TV ambitions. Secondarily, drawing into sharp focus the changing landscape for domestic phone calling, as the competition begins to consolidate.

The bad news for the BT TV proposition, is that BSkyb has got its 8th millionth customer. These customers are, by and large, the sort of customer BT badly needs for its triple play TV offering to be a success. They’re high-delivering ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) viewers that will delight the beleaguered BT finances.

Sky’s achievement of the 8 million target is also likely to be a blow to the ambitious NTL. Expect little let up from Sky as it battles to reach the 10 million mark by 2010 and continues to push its Sky+ and multi-room offerings.

As competition hots-up, no pre-Christmas cheer for BTSeparately, a consolidating Carphone Warehouse has been on the acquisition trail and agreed the purchase of Tele2’s UK and Ireland operations, and separately, Onetel.

The deal with Tele2, the Swedish telecoms company, at a price of £8.5 million plus the £2 million cost of a planned restructure, will add around 188,000 customers in the UK and a further 36,000 in Ireland to Carphone Warehouse.

The deal appears to makes sense for Carphone Warehouse, and they expect the transaction to add to their earnings in the current financial year. They intend to migrate the purchased companies customers onto its own network, under the TalkTalk brand.

As competition hots-up, no pre-Christmas cheer for BTThe purchase of Onetel from Centrica for £132 million includes £37.1 million, while will be delivered if Centrica deliver a targeted number of customers in the next three years via its British Gas operations. The Carphone Warehouse will also pay Centrica an additional £22.2 million if higher sign-up targets are met.

Onetel’s residential customer portfolio is made up of 1.1 million Carrier Pre-Select (CPS), 250,000 indirect access, 60,000 broadband, 40,000 mobile. There are also 50,000 CPS business customers. Carphone Warehouse are upbeat about this purchase too, saying the acquisition will “increase current year pre-tax profits by approximately £4m, and next year’s pre-tax profits by approximately £20m.”

As competition hots-up, no pre-Christmas cheer for BTHere at Digital Lifestyles, we expect competition to be even fiercer in 2006 as both BSkyb and the Telcos battle to capture high spending subscribers.

MP3 players: Our Festive Selection

MP3 players: Our Festive SelectionCreative Zen Vision:M

Although looking like a near-exact copy of the video iPod, the 30 gig Zen Vision is a fine player in its own right, sporting persuasive features not found on its rival.

Sharing near-identical physical dimensions as the iPod, the Zen manages to add a composite video out connector for playing video content on TVs, an integrated FM radio with 32 presets, voice recording, alarm clock, groovy customisable themes and the ability to synchronise Microsoft Outlook data, such as contacts, calendar and tasks.

MP3 players: Our Festive SelectionThe player’s a versatile chap too, with the Vision:M outgunning the iPod by supporting a wider range of formats, like MP3, WMA and PlaysForSure audio formats and MPEG1/2/4, DivX and XviD, Motion JPEG and WMV for video.

Battery life is claimed at four hours in video-playback mode (twice as long as the iPod) and fourteen hours for audio.

Expected on the streets now, the Creative Zen Vision:M will sell for around $350 (~£197, ~€291).

Creative Zen Vision:M

MP3 players: Our Festive SelectionSony NW-A1000

It’s taken Sony a long time to come up with a serious challenge to iPod’s dominance, but the new NW-A1000 could be the one to unseat the Nano.

Resplendent in an unusual organic form factor, the player sports a translucent acrylic clad exterior that reveals a large, bright display lurking below. It looks fantastic, and it’s refreshing to see a radical new design coming through in a market dominated by iPod-alikes.

MP3 players: Our Festive SelectionThe palm sized player (88 x 55 x 19 mm) comes with a built in 6GB hard drive and supports MP3 files as well as Sony’s ATRAC3 and ATRAC3+ audio formats. Battery life is claimed at 20 hours (although several reviews have found that figure to be wildly optimistic).

Thankfully, Sony have finally ditched the awful Sonic Stage software needed to transfer files over the USB 2.0 connection, but the new Connect Player software still has some way to go to match the simplicity and ease of use of iTunes.

The player’s already available in Europe and North America, priced around €250 and $250.


MP3 players: Our Festive SelectionApple iPod Nano

Introduced in September, Apple’s fabulously designed iPod Nano has already proved an enormous hit, with its teensy-weensy dimensions and stunning looks crushing every flash-based player in sight.

Sure, it’s not perfect – there’s no video support and the thing scratches easier than a Shakin’ Stevens 45 – but it features Apple’s superb Click Wheel user interface and offers a crisp 1.5″ colour screen for viewing photos.

Coming in 2GB and 4GB flavours, the diminutive player (3.3 x 0.98 x 0.33 inches) supports MP3, AAC and Audible 2, 3 and 4 formats and is compatible with the iTunes online store.

Microsoft Outlook calendar and contacts info can be synchronised via iTunes 5, and with the player sporting the same 30-pin dock connector as the iPod and iPod mini, there should be no shortage of accessories.

There’s a nippy USB 2.0 port onboard and battery life is claimed at a healthy 14 hours.

Starting at €200 (~$240 ~£135), the Nano is available in just black or white for now.

iPod Nano

Boomerang Box Offers High Accuracy UK Tracking System

Boomerang Box Offers High Accuracy UK Tracking SystemCambridge outfit, HD Positions, have launched their ‘Boomerang Box’ device, a new low cost, high accuracy positioning system which locates vehicles and other valuable assets.

The Boomerang Box is a robustly constructed device with two year battery life and low installation cost, and it can be bolted into vehicles or containers or just slapped in the drivers seat.

Powered by Cambridge Positioning Systems (CPS) Matrix technology, the system uses the Orange UK network and provides coverage all over the UK – including inside buildings and containers – with a claimed accuracy of less than 100m.

Back in Febuary this year, we covered CPS’s work with Nokia to bring their mPosition System to market.

There’s a growing demand for location based services letting companies keep a watchful eye on the whereabouts of valuable moveable assets like trailers, cars, motorcycles, caravans etc (maybe they’ll stick them on employees soon so they know when they’re skiving off in the boozer?).

Boomerang Box Offers High Accuracy UK Tracking SystemThe service works by HD Positions supplying the interface to Matrix, facilitating related Machine to Machine (M2M) services, including network connectivity, billing and support.

Nigel Chadwick, director of HD Positions commented that the market for high accuracy positioning systems has been held back by a number of factors including poor area coverage, prohibitive purchase, fitting and operating costs, power consumption, and slow and inconsistent location reporting.

Clearly chuffed with his new product, he continued, “The Matrix system, combined with the latest devices now appearing on the market provide consistent and high accuracy positioning with high speed reporting at low cost, and as such are increasingly deemed by management teams as an essential and viable element of asset management and risk reduction.”

Boomerang Box Offers High Accuracy UK Tracking SystemWe tried to find a picture of the actual Boomerang Box, hopeful that it would be an amusing looking thing that would spice up this rather dull report, but there was nothing to be found on their Website.

So here’s a picture of a frankly disturbing fluffy cat called ‘boomerang’ that we found on the Web instead.