BBC Say Yes (Probably) to FreeSat

The BBC have been talking about launching a free satellite service since before 2004. Very cleverly they labelled it Freesat.

BBC Say Yes (Probably) to FreeSatSince then, we’ve returned to it a number of times, as it appeared to drop from the general BBC conversation.

Well it’s back in the news now, as the BBC Trust has reached a provisional decision on Freesat. Their view is one of support and have opened a 28 day public consultation prior to making its final decision in April 2007.

They foresee the satellite being shared among the UK broadcasters and guarantee that it will remain free after a one-off initial payment to cover the cost of equipment and installation.

There are problems with the much-trumpeted digital switch-over in the UK. Many areas are not covered by the digital transmitters because they are located in a remote area or that the geography of the area blocks the transmissions – in fact over half of those yet to switch (3.5 million homes) fall outside the Freeview coverage area. Satellite-delivered services do not suffer from these problems.

To date BSkyB has been the only company offering satellite delivery in the UK, indeed the BBC is carried on it. The proposal of FreeSat isn’t without impact.

As Acting BBC Chairman Chitra Bharucha put it, “We have considered the market impact and whilst there may be some negative effects, in our view these should be balanced against the potential positive market impact of greater choice. Overall, we believe a “Freesat” service to be in the public interest and we hope that other public service broadcasters would join the BBC in a joint venture.”

There’s additional benefits beyond coverage, that of delivery of HD signals, which currently it isn’t practical to do countrywide over Freeview.

Those wishing to comment should get over to the public consultation.

SPV M700 Launches on Orange UK: Also In Black

The latest model in the SPV range has arrived on the UK Orange mobile phone network.

SPV M700 Launches on Orange UK: Also In BlackThere’s been shots of the SPV M700 floating around for a while, but as of today it’s been confirmed that there will be a black version in the UK to partner the White.

As well as all of the goodies detailed below, the SPV M700 has Sat Nav built-in – one of the early phone to have this. The handset will be able to take advantage of Sat-Nav from Orange.

The Sat-Nav is powered by Webraska with all maps and live traffic updates are held on a central server and are downloadable from the Internet via WiFi, 3G, GPRS or the Orange EDGE network onto the mobile device. Initially only available to business users, it’s now open to all.

The M700 has a 2.8in, 240 x 320, 65,53-colour display, a 2.1 megapixel camera and secondary, VGA camera for video calls and runs Windows Mobile 5.0, so offers Microsoft Office applications including Excel, Word and PowerPoint.

With all of this on board Orange is billing it as helping “you work faster and more efficiently when you’re away from your desk.”

This 3G handset can offer data rates of up to 1.8Mbps (network allowing) There’s quite a few wireless networks supported including EDGE networks as well as UMTS, GPRS and WiFi.

You can get the SPV M700 from Orange shops and online at It’s free on contracts over £35.

Sat-Nav from Orange

Apple TV Delayed Until March

Apple Fans Are NutsApple has announced that their Apple TV product will be ‘a few weeks late.’

Observers aren’t that surprised by this as it was originally intended to be released in February and that’s pretty much run out. The new date is quoted as mid-March.

Apple TV will have a similar interface to their Front Row software and will play downloaded music and videos on a home stereo or television, playing it directly from an Internet connection or networked computer, either by wired or wireless networking, with 802.11n supported.

When it was launched at the start of January, Jobs described it as such, “Apple TV is like a DVD player for the 21st century—you connect it to your entertainment system just like a DVD player, but it plays digital content you get from the Internet rather than DVDs you get from a physical store.”

Apple hope to do the same for TV as they’ve done for digital music, although there’s been quite a lot of backlash against this idea.

The expected cost of Apple TV hasn’t changed £199 or $299.

Sony DSC-H7 And DSC-H9 Cameras Announced

With dSLRs plummeting in price, upmarket bridge cameras are having to up the feature set to keep punters interested, and Sony are hoping that their replacements to last year’s DSC-H2 and DSC-H5 cameras have got what it takes.

Sony DSC-H7 And DSC-H9 Cameras AnnouncedSony’s new DSC-H7 and DSC-H9 cameras come with an immense 15x optical Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar zoom, which translates into a whopping 31-465mm range (35mm equiv) – perfect for wannabe paparazzi and lurking stalkers.

(The one advantage that the small sensors of digital compacts have over their dSLR rivals is that they can facilitate huge zooms that won’t end up challenging a Northern mill chimney in size.)

The two 8.1-megapixel cameras are more or less identical, except the higher priced DSC-H9 comes with a larger LCD monitor (3″ screen with 230k colours compared to the DSC-H7’s 2.5″/115k screen) and a natty fold out screen. We like them.

Sony DSC-H7 And DSC-H9 Cameras AnnouncedBoth cameras sport face detection technology, HDTV output, red-eye reduction and an action-freezing shutter speed up to 1/4000 of a second, backed by a slew of auto, manual and scene modes.

The same Bionz processing engine that lurks inside the excellent Alpha dSLR camera is onboard, as well as Super Steady Shot optical image stabilisation and a high sensitivity ISO 3200 rating for low light shots.

Sony has also included their NightShot technology, which is a whole load of fun if you’re snapping away in a coal mine, but we reckon Sony’s design team must have been chewing on the crazy dust when they decided to leave out any movie modes.

Sony DSC-H7 And DSC-H9 Cameras AnnouncedThere’s no RAW image capture either, an omission that will surely push keen photographers further in the direction of cut price dSLRs like Nikon’s fine D40

They’re still both fine looking cameras, mind, and priced at around $400 (DSC-H7) and $480 (DSC-H9), we reckon they should do well when they beam down from Planet Sony sometime in April.


Olympus VJ-10 Radio Server

Olympus VJ-10 Radio ServerLooking like it’s teleported straight off the film set of 2001:A Space Odyssey is this new futuristic radio from Olympus sporting a colossal 37GB of disk space and a 3.9″ screen.

Details are rather scarce at the moment – actually, all we’re going on is a short article and some nice pics – but its curvy, silver-clad lines are pushing all the right buttons for us.

According to the limited specs available, the unit can record up 2500 hours of programming depending on the selected recording mode (32 to 128Kbps WMA), letting fans of The Archers store over a year’s worth of rustic shenanigans on the device. Oh the joy!

Olympus VJ-10 Radio ServerWe can’t see any mention of a DAB radio on the radio which suggests it’s not for the UK market, but naturally there are presets galore for AM/FM bands.

According to the article, “Olympus did things very well by presetting 20 different programming depending on the frequencies you’re choosing”, which we think means that you can program recording schedules.

MP3 and WMA files can also be uploaded to the VJ-10 for playback and the radio can be used as external hard disk via the built in USB port.

Olympus VJ-10 Radio ServerThe publicity shots show the radio in what looks like a docking bay, although with no pics of the thing untethered perhaps the radio doesn’t pop out after all. Which would be a bit rubbish.

The VJ-10 Radio Server measures up at 205x120x89mm, weighs 640g and we haven’t the foggiest if or when it’ll ever drift past the white cliffs of Dover or how much it will cost. But we still like the look of it.


Mobile Use In UK Cars: Penalty Points And Fines Await

As of today, drivers using their mobile phone while driving in the UK will be hit with increased fines.

The previous fixed-penalty fine of £30 is increased to £60 with the courts having a possible maximum fine of £1,000.

The real disincentive to drivers will, however, be the three penalty points that will be added to their driving license. If UK license holders have over 12 points on their license they are banned from driving for three years.

If those caught are driving anything bigger than a car, say a bus, coach or goods vehicle, the maximum fine is considerably higher, rising to £2,500.

Peter Rodger, the Institute of Advanced Motorists’ chief examiner, said: ‘Inevitably some drivers will think that they should buy a hands-free kit and the problem will go away.

“That would certainly suit the manufacturers. But drivers should be aware that they are potentially buying trouble – even when you are hands-free, research has shown that you are four times more likely to crash because your concentration is split.

“The best advice is to switch off before you drive off – and if you really can’t do that, be prepared to stop and find somewhere legal and convenient to return that missed call or check your messages.”

Some of the rules that do confuse are that the rules still apply, even when people are sitting in traffic jams.

Freeloader Solar Technology Portable Charger

Freeloader Solar Technology Portable ChargerHaving a ton of the latest technological gadgets bulging in your pants may give you a Noughties swagger, but you’ll be looking like a prize chump if the batteries go flat, so Solar Technology’s new Freeloader charger might help you keep your cool.

Billed as an ‘advanced portable charging system’, the portable device sports twin fold-out solar panels for that mini-Space Station look, with the makers claiming that the panels can charge up the internal battery in as little as 5 hours.

Freeloader Solar Technology Portable Charger
They may not sound much, but seeing as some Brit summers seem to contain less than five hours sunlight in total, it’s a good job that the Freeloader has a trick up its sleeve, offering the option to charge up the internal battery via a (supplied) USB cable.

This gives you the chance to store up on battery power before you leave the house and then top it up whenever there’s a bit of sun in the sky.

The 1000mAh environmentally friendly Li-ion battery seems to have a reasonable bit of oomph to it too, and is quoted as being able to power an iPod for 18hours, a mobile phone for 44 hours, PSP for 2.5 hours a PDA for 22 hours.

The Freeloader can hang on to its battery charge for up to 3 months and can conveniently charge a device while its internal battery is being topped up via the solar cells or by USB cable.

The charger comes with a power master cable and eleven adaptors to fit a ton of devices listed on their website:

Freeloader Solar Technology Portable Charger

  • LG Chocolate series phones
  • Motorola V66 series and current V3 series phones
  • All Nokia current and N series phones
  • Samsung A288 and current D800 series phones
  • Sony Ericsson T28 and current K750 series phones
  • 4mm straight jack for Sony PSP, Tom Tom sat nav, digital camera’s, PDA’s and two-way radio’s
  • Mini USB for Blackberry Smart phones, Nintendo DS, Bluetooth headsets etc
  • USB 2.0 female socket for iPod, iPod Shuffle, MP3 players, smart phones, PDA’s, GPS “plus much more”

Sized up at a portable 123mm x 62mm x 17mm and weighing 185g, the stylish Freeloader comes in a tough aluminium case and could prove a handy purchase for travellers, road warriors and folks looking forward to this year’s festival season (Glastonbury mudstorms notwithstanding).

The Freeloader solar charger is available now from Solar Technology’s website at £29.99.


iAxe USB Guitar For Laptop-Toting Plank Spankers

Guitar bands may well be back in, but all those clunky effects pedals and old-school spaghetti cables are unlikely to impress the chix at the front, so aspiring Rock Gods may want to check out the new iAxe USB Guitar.

iAxe USB Guitar For Laptop-Toting Plank SpankersAs the name suggests, this Strat-shaped guitar comes with a USB port, allowing aspiring six string warriors to plug into their laptops and access a host of cool effects.

The guitar certainly looks the part, sporting a maple neck, solid body, single-coil pickups with 5-way switching, shiny chrome machine heads and a whammy bar letting you go for a bite while the sustain continues making that ‘eeeeeeeee’ sound.

The ‘idiot proof’ software supplied lets bedroom plank spankers jam along to their own music, with the ability to slow down or speed up tracks to learn those tricky licks and difficult ‘shapes’.

iAxe USB Guitar For Laptop-Toting Plank SpankersThere’s also a multi-track recording/editing function for laying down dual-guitar sonic attacks, delicately layered tracks or a Ronnie Spector wall of noise.

If your neighbours aren’t down with your late night, death metal interpretations of teenage angst expressed through the medium of a heavy fuzzbox effect, there’s a handy headphone socket to help keep the noise down to minus eleven.

The sound may well be Shea Stadium, but at just £99 the price is definitely Bull & Gate, and the USB iAxe is available now for wannabe six string renegades on the highway to desolation from online widget merchants, Firebox.

YouTube Traffic Surges

It may have suffered more law suits than slippery Jeffrey Archer, but new figures reveal continuing growth for the video sharing site, with many visitors seeking out user-generated content.

YouTube Traffic SurgesResearch firm Hitwise reported that online traffic to YouTube soared past rival US TV websites, with the site recording more visits than all the television network Web sites combined during the week of Feb. 3rd.

Whipping out their big calculators and pulling out a few pencils from their white coat top pockets, Hitwise calculated that YouTube’s share of internet visits leapt to 0.6031% during the week of February 3.

By comparison, traffic to the whole bloomin’ lot of US TV network websites could only muster a measly 0.4865% share.

Remarkably, YouTube’s US market share actually jumped 13.9% in the two weeks after MTV and Comedy Central parent Viacom had made the company remove 100,000 of its clips.

YouTube Traffic SurgesHitwise researcher LeAnn Prescott, commented, “This is a landmark event in the changing face of web traffic and entertainment consumption, now that entertainment seekers are now more likely to go to YouTube than any other television network or gaming website.”

The Hitwise research looked at the words and phrases used in Internet search engine queries that led surfers to YouTube videos.

Although amateur videos remain popular, the number one online video search in the four weeks up to February 17 was for television commercials shown during the recent US Superbowl game – something that will, no doubt, warm the cold steely hearts of their marketing dept.

According to Hitwise’s figures, the second most common video search was for “white and nerdy” while “Charlie the unicorn” came in at third.

We didn’t have a clue who the chuffin’ Nora Charlie the unicorn was so we looked it up. And boy, was it rubbish.

It’s A Wild, Wild, Wi-Fi World

New figures from a US survey by Pew Internet Project reveal that cables are becoming, like, soooo 1990s as more and more people connect to the internet via wireless connections.

It's A Wild, Wild, Wi-Fi WorldThe study, released yesterday, shows that some 34% of internet users have surfed the web or checked email on a computer or smartphone/PDA using a Wi-Fi connection or mobile phone network.

Wi-Fi In The House

Wi-Fi is also proving a hit in the home, with nearly 20 percent of US Internet users now having domestic wireless networks – up a hefty 100% from the same time two years ago.

“We know that ‘always on’ broadband connections really deepen people’s relationship to the Internet; adding ‘on the go’ to the mix takes this a step further,” commented John Horrigan, associate research director at Pew.

“The convenience of wireless access gives people the chance to fire off a quick e-mail to someone while waiting in a doctor’s office or check the news headlines on the way to work,” he added.

The figures show that wireless folks are more addicted to email than other web users, with 72% checking their email ‘on a typical day’ compared to 63% of home broadband users and 54% of all internet users.

It's A Wild, Wild, Wi-Fi WorldThey’re news junkies too, with nearly half (46%) going online to read news compared to 38% of home broadband users and 31% of all internet users.

Of course, these figures should be taken with a Table Mountain of salt, because it’s ruddy obvious that someone who relies on mobile email for work is going to be using wireless connections more often than your average home user.

Where they connect

The report looked at where people hook up wirelessly and found that the majority (27%) log on in web cafes or other non- work/home environments.

Some 20% of internet users said that they’ve gone online wirelessly at home with 17% connecting at work. Naturally, there’s a fair bit of overlap, with people connecting at two or three of the places above.

It’s a shame the survey didn’t ask how many were hooking up to free networks and how many were grabbing a sneaky piggyback ride on other folks’ unprotected connections, though.

But there’s lots more analysis of varying interest here: Pew Internet (PDF)