Sony RDR-GXD500 Review: DVD Recorder With Freeview

Sony RDR-GXD500 DVD Recorder With Built In Freeview TunerAs the number of digital TV-enabled households continues to rise and the analogue switch off looms ever closer, it seems strange that Sony’s RDR-GXD500 is the first DVD recorder to come equipped with a built-in digital TV tuner.

Over 60% of UK households can now receive digital TV, but trying to record the content can involve nightmarish battles with endless cables and component boxes.

Sony’s RDR-GXD500 is a one-stop solution that’s easy to set up and use, with its all-in-one functionality letting users view Freeview digital channels, make digital recordings and play discs all from a single compact unit.

The included ‘learning’ multi-function remote control lets you jettison your TV remote too, leaving one less thing to have to find on a drunken Saturday night.

Setting up the recorder is a breeze: plug it into your telly, turn it on and then let it automatically scan for channels.

Sony RDR-GXD500 DVD Recorder With Built In Freeview TunerThe unit’s onscreen interface is simplicity itself, with the eight-day electronic programme guide (EPG) banishing those video timer nightmares forever – this puppy is so simple, even a granny overdosed on Christmas sherry would have no problem setting up a recording of Des and Mel.

Selecting programs to record is as simple as clicking on the programme you wish to record from the EPG and that’s it. Easy!

Things look pretty good under the hood too, with the unit sporting high quality components such as a 12-bit/108Mhz DAC and both digital and analogue tuners, allowing you to record one channel while you watch another.

Conveniently, the RDR-GXD500 offers simultaneous record/playback and chase play (this lets you begin watching a recorded programme before it’s finished) as well as a veritable armoury of advanced editing, archiving and organising functions.

In use, the Sony performed flawlessly. Memories of long hours endlessly fast forwarding and rewinding video tapes looking for a programme, were banished forever thanks to the recorder’s indexing and multi speed search facilities.

The digital reception was crisp and sharp and infinitely superior to the vintage On Digital box lurking downstairs. Images were rock solid, the black is Bible black, and the colours are vibrant and richly balanced.

Sony RDR-GXD500 DVD Recorder With Built In Freeview TunerA range of recording quality modes let you increase recording time at the expense of image quality.

The highest setting (HQ) produced copies that were indistinguishable from the original broadcast, although this brought the recording time down to a just over two hours.

With the lowest quality mode, SLP (super long play) time-rich viewers could squeeze in up to six hours of recording with that old school ‘snow storm’ dodgy video feel.

DVD playback was pretty damn good on the machine, with a stable image output providing very little in the way of ‘smearing’ and digital artifacts.

Overall, the Sony RDR-GXD500 gave a consistently good account of itself in all areas, and as such, this is a DVD recorder I can wholeheartedly recommend.

Sony RDR-GXD500 DVD Recorder With Built In Freeview TunerHighly recommended


Pros: Great all round performance, integrated digital tuner and simple Cons: The baffling lack of progressive scan video capability

Size (WxHxD): 49x9x38cm
Weight: 5.1kg
Recording formats: DVD-R/-RW, DVD+R/+RW
Playback formats: DVD, DVD-R/-RW, DVD+R/+RW, CD, CD-R/-RW, VCD
Video outputs: Component, SCART (RGB), S-Video, composite, RF
Audio outputs: Line out, optical digital, coaxial digital

Street price: Under £400 (~US$762 ~€591)

Sony RDR-GXD500

YP-T7: Samsung Yepp Music Player – Compact Review

YP-T7: Samsung Yepp Music Player - Compact ReviewSamsung have made their intentions clear. They want to be the number one in portable music players.

The YP-T7 is a new generation player, designed as an attention grabber, to play to Samsung’s strengths – they are one of the three companies that actually manufacture LCR screens and they produce Flash memory.

It’s very small, light and packed with wowee features. Music formats support is broad (MP3, Ogg Vobis, Windows media) and the quality of playback is strong, as are the included headphones.
YP-T7: Samsung Yepp Music Player - Compact ReviewThe potential of the 65k colour screen is well demonstrated by the graphically-rich menuing, but when you try to display photos and text files on it, its limitations are highlighted – it’s just too small, and when loading images, slow.

The on-board microphone and adjustable recording quality really impressed us, making it ideal for interviews and podcasts. The FM radio is among some of the best we’ve used on a portable player. The USB-rechargeable battery appears reasonable, with the official running time being listed as 10 hours, as would be expected from a Flash-based player over an HD-based one.

We’re impressed with this beauty. Compact, highly competent player with quality mic-recordings.

Weight – 36g
Dimensions – 37 x 62.5 x 14mm
Colour screen – 65,000 colours
Music formats – MP3, Ogg Vobis, Windows media
Interface Type – USB 1.1, USB 2.0
Battery Life – 10 Hours (Samsung figures)
Price – US$190 (€147/£102)

Stars – 4 out of 5 Pro
Very compact, Strong, quality mic recordings, Good radio, decent battery.
Photo support not great

A very competent player who features raise it slightly above the rest of this crowded, fast-moving sector, and will impress your mates … but for how long?

YP-T7: Samsung Yepp Music Player - Compact Review
YP-T7: Samsung Yepp Music Player - Compact Review
YP-T7: Samsung Yepp Music Player - Compact Review

Jabra BT 250 And Logitech Mobile Freedom: Review and Comparison

Jabra Freespeak 250 & Logitech Mobile Freedom Review and ComparisonJabra Freespeak 250 & Logitech Mobile Freedom Review and ComparisonIntroduction
I’m no stranger to Bluetooth headsets, and the way this review is written reflects that: I’m not going to go through the whole look-no-wires thing over and over again as they do in adverts and will instead go into a little more detail about the headsets in question.

This review serves to compare and contrast the Jabra Freespeak 250 and Logitech’s Mobile Freedom.

My initial impression of the two headsets was quite different: The Logitech comes with less extra bits and pieces, and as everyone knows, it’s the details that make the difference. The content of the box include the headset itself; a charger that plugs directly into the headset; the manual; and some extra foam ear-covers.

The Jabra however adds a mains desktop charging dock and some exchangeable ear pieces of different sizes to suit various sizes of ears.

The Jabra desktop charger really comes in handy as it means less messy cables that you always have to lurch for and dig out of the back of the desk. Just slotting the headset into the charger makes life a lot easier.

The two headsets themselves are of fairly different styles. The Jabra goes behind the ear, has an earpiece that actually goes into the ear, and has a small microphone that sticks out from the bottom of the ear, while the Logitech has a small clip that goes round the back of the ear and has the rest of the headset (the chip, electronics etc. in a small microphone boom.

Jabra Freespeak 250 & Logitech Mobile Freedom Review and Comparison
Headsets Compared Front. Jabra BT 250 on right. Matchbox for scale.

Jabra Freespeak 250 & Logitech Mobile Freedom Review and Comparison

So, now to try each one on: The Logitech is a bit fiddly to get seated correctly, but once it’s fitted, it is very comfortable and even after extended use isn’t irritating. Sadly, the Jabra is quite another story: It goes on quite easily, but it feels quite heavy and the earpiece doesn’t actually insert into the ear properly as it was designed to. At least that was the case with my ear. So on comfort, the Logitech wins and rightly so; it’s almost undetectable if you fit it properly.

Score for Comfort:

Pairing the headsets to a phone is quite similar in each case: All you have to do is hold the power button down for 10 seconds, search for the headset from the phone and then select it, enter the code 0000 as the passkey and then you’re done!

The phone that I performed these tests with was a Sony Ericsson P910i, but the experience should be similar whichever handset is used.

What is meant by pairing?
Pairing refers to the process of connecting two bluetooth devices to each other. Because there are no wires, you can’t simply plug a bluetooth device in: Instead, you have to enter an identical PIN number into each device. If this security wasn’t there, then anyone could theoretically listen into your conversation while you talk over a bluetooth headset. This security feature also prevents Paris Hilton-style hacking, although it doesn’t eliminate it 100%.

After the headsets were paired, I initiated a voice call from the handset to see if the headsets worked. While both took over the microphone and speaker from the phone just fine, the quality varied widely. Both had a slight hiss, the Jabra was an order of magnitude worse than the Logitech. The Jabra also had other quality issues, the worst of which was that the sound both in the speaker and that going through the microphone to the other party was choppy, not dissimilar to the way a normal mobile phone call gets when reception is poor. This problem varied in it’s intensity, but often got so bad I had to get the phone out of my pocket and use that instead. I did experiment with the distance that the phone and the headset were from each other, and the problem with the Jabra did increase with the distance it had to transmit. When the phone was <5cm from the phone the problem became almost unnoticeable, but if you have to hold your phone next to your head to use the headset then you might as well not bother with the headset. This is a fundamental flaw: What good is a headset, if its main purpose doesn't work satisfactorily? When you receive a call, the phone rings and at the same time an alert is sounded through the headset. Answering calls with the headsets is simple enough, or at least it should be because you just have to press one button. In the case of the Jabra, this button was located at the back of the ear, near the top. Not only did answering calls mess up my hair, it also looked stupid because I had to go looking behind my ear for the button. This is quite similar to the fact that the earpiece doesn't fit in the ear properly: It's a good idea, but it's designed terribly and clearly hasn't been properly thought out. Jabra Freespeak 250 & Logitech Mobile Freedom Review and ComparisonAfter some time, it is possible to become accustomed to the buttons, but nevertheless, technology should be intuitive, not require training. On the Logitech, this button is on the outside of the unit, and is easily accessible. Of course, pressing a button isn’t the only way to answer a call: It is also possible to simply say “answer”, if your phone supports this function, and this is one place where the Jabra is better than the Logitech: With the Logitech, the word answer has to be said quite loud, whereas with the Jabra, it can be muttered and the headset still recognises it. This is a big advantage as you, like me, will probably not want to stand there yelling “ANSWER!” at the top of your voice. It would just make you look stupid!

Both headsets have voice-dialing features, meaning that you press the afore-mentioned button, and then say the name of whomever it is you want to call. This feature works well on both headsets, but with the Jabra you have to find the button first, which as I mentioned earlier, is badly placed.

During a call, you can adjust the volume of the earpiece using buttons on the headset itself. The ones on the Jabra are, again, in an awkward place, although in this case it isn’t as bad as the answer button. The Logitech provides aural feedback to button-presses, which is a good thing, as sometimes it isn’t clear if you pressed a button or not and then you press it again in error. It also tells you when you have selected the maximum volume, meaning that you aren’t stuck hopelessly pressing a button to no avail. This feedback isn’t so loud that it is annoying though.

In terms of operation, the Logitech is a far better headset because of it not having any interference and because of the superior location of it’s buttons.

Score for Operation:

Battery Life
The battery lives below are according to the manufacturer. It is realistic to expect around half of the values below in a real-life situation.

Jabra 250: Standby: 240 Hours, Talk time: 8 Hours.
Logitech Mobile Freedom: Standby: 250 Hours, Talk time: 7 Hours.

This is one of the only areas where the Jabra beats the Logitech. In practice, you tend to be able to charge your headset at least once every 10 days or so unless you’re lost in a jungle or something though, so it’s not too much of an advantage. The extra hour of talk-time that the Jabra offers could definitely come in useful though.

Score for Battery Life:

Both headsets can be had for about £35 (US$65/€50), which appear as pretty good value for something that only a year ago would have set you back around £100 (US$189/€145).

Score for Price:

Between the two, I far preferred the Logitech over the Jabra.

While the Jabra did look appealing, the sound quality and Bluetooth range were extremely poor, I found it difficult use and uncomfortable to wear.

The Logitech did have one problem and that was the need to yell voice-dial commands, but this flaw is small in comparison to the negative aspects of the Jabra Freespeak. The Logitech was very comfortable to wear, and the buttons were easy to access.

Score Total (Out of a possible maximum of 20):
Logitech: (14)
Jabra: (11)

PalmOne Releases Tungsten E2 PDA

PalmOne Releases Tungsten E2 PDAPalmOne’s Tungsten E – introduced in 2004 – proved to be a rip-roaring success, becoming the top-selling handheld in North America and among one of the best sellers world-wide.

However, the handheld market has changed rapidly in the past eighteen months, with the growth of rival Windows powered PDAs and, more importantly, the explosion of smartphones offering PDA-like features.

Unlike the groundbreaking PDAs created by the innovative Sony Clie range (sadly since departed the Palm platform), palmOne have decided to play very safe indeed, with the new Tungsten E2 using the same tried’n’trusted design as the Tungsten E and Tungsten T5 units.

This means that the plastic tablet-style unit measures up at a reasonably lithe 114 x 78 x 15 mm and weighs a pocket-unchallenging 133 grams.

A square 320 x 320 16-bit colour TFT dominates the front of the unit, which palmOne claims is “typically 30% brighter than the Tungsten E display” with “40% better colour saturation”. As usual, there’s a fixed handwriting area below.

PalmOne Releases Tungsten E2 PDAApart from the inclusion of palmOne’s new Multi-Connector serial port (replacing the previous mini-USB port), everything is much the same as its predecessor, with the directional pad, application buttons, SDIO slot, IR port, headphone jack and metal barrel stylus being unchanged.

What is new, however, is the overdue inclusion of Bluetooth 1.1, supporting all the standard profiles with a helpful onscreen wizard aiding connectivity. Sadly, Wi-Fi is not included, although palmOne claims that the E2 works just dandy with their SDIO Wi-Fi card.

There’s been some tinkering under the hood, with the unit sporting a new 200 MHz processor (up from 126MHz) which should make most Palm apps purr along nicely, and the inclusion of non-volatile memory to avoid data loss in case the battery runs down. Shame there’s only a measly 32MB on offer though.

Battery life, as ever, is excellent, with some users reporting that they’ve managed to squeeze an amazing 17 hours of non-stop MP3 playback out of the device (palmOne claim a more modest 10-12 hours of continuous use).

MP3 playback comes courtesy of the bundled RealOne audio player, with users able to listen via the built in speaker or headphones.

PalmOne Releases Tungsten E2 PDAOther software includes a media suite (for playing back videos or viewing photo stills) an upgraded PIM suite, Web browser in ROM, with VersaMail and Documents To Go available on the included CD.

For an entry level PDA, the new palmOne E2 is a very capable device, with the inclusion of Bluetooth, superb battery life and improved multimedia features making it an attractive offering for budget-minded professionals and consumers looking for an affordable handheld.

OUR RATING: 4/5 stars Cost: £169 (US$249, €248)

palmOne Tungsten E2

Cyberphone K USB Skype Handset Review

Cyberphone K USB Skype Handset Review Skype is a Voice over IP (VoIP) service that allows you to make phone calls via a broadband connection to other users for free. And we like it.

Being able to ring chums up all over the world for jack diddly squat, frees up more money for beer, and its productivity-boosting features (like instant messaging and conference calling) rewards us with more pub time. Great!

But not everyone likes having to bellow into a computer microphone to make phone calls, or – even worse – sharing their intimate conversations with chuckling workmates eavesdropping on the conversation blasting out of PC speakers.

The only way you can hope to get a bit of privacy with VoIP calls is to don a headset that makes you look like a cross between a call centre dork and a fitness instructor. Not cool.

Cyberphone K USB Skype Handset Review Despite all the benefits of VoIP telephony, the perceived ‘fiddlyness’ of the technology makes it look like an uber-geeky toy for weird, gadget-loving, parameter tweaking folks (cough!).

And here’s where the VoIP Cyberphone Skype phone comes in.

Although it looks like the kind of phone you could pick up at Brick Lane market for the price of a cup of tea, it’s actually a smarty-pants USB-powered device that makes using VoIP a breeze.

Installing the device is simple: slap in the CD, install the software and then go to and set up an account. Job done!

Cyberphone K USB Skype Handset Review Once installed, picking up the Cyberphone causes the Skype interface to immediately pop up on your PC’s desktop (sadly, this amused us for some time) and you can then scroll through your contacts via the ‘+’ and ‘-‘ buttons on the phone’s keypad.

Once you’ve selected the Skype user you want to talk to, simply hit the ‘call’ icon on the handset and you’ll hear a familiar ring tone, until the end user picks up. And then you can chat for as long as you like. For free.

Phone clarity was as good as any landline (although we did have to delve into the computer’s control panel to ‘up’ the volume) and the whole experience was as easy as, well, using a phone.

Cyberphone K USB Skype Handset Review Naturally, fellow Skype users can ring you for free too, and you can elect to use your PC’s ring tones or use the one built into the phone.

You can also use the phone to ring up lesser mortals not connected to the web courtesy of Skypeout. Shell out for a €10 (US$13/£7) voucher and you can then enjoy greatly reduced calls to regular phones all over the world, saving up to 85% off standard BT rates.

Ringing up non-Skype users is simple enough, although you’ll have to include full international codes every time, which is a bit of pain if you’re only calling someone in the same area.

Mac users will be more irritated to learn that the phone won’t work fully with their OS, even though the Skype software does.

Cyberphone K USB Skype Handset Review VERDICT

These minor quibbles aside, Cyberphone is a trailblazing product that will soon repay the modest investment.

The handset may not be challenging Apple for design awards, but it’s a solid, basic, no fuss device that opens up the world of free VoIP telephony to everyone.

It’s simple, straightforward and saves you a bomb.

Highly recommended

FIVE STARS. Cost: €54.99 (US$71/£37), Skype Cyberphone
Available from Firebox (UK) for £29.95 (US$56/€43).

RAJAR announces results of Audiometer Validation Test

RAJAR announces results of Audiometer Validation Test Arbitron Portable People Meter and Eurisko Media Monitor selected for further field testing RAJAR(Radio Joint Audience Research) has announced the results of its pioneering Audiometer Validation Test which took place in November 2004.

Of the three audiometers which took part in the test, two have been selected for further fieldwork tests: the Arbitron Portable People Meter (PPM) and the Eurisko Media Monitor.

The Audiometer Validation Test, designed in conjunction with the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), was set up to determine how well the audiometers could identify up to 33 different radio services (both music and speech-based) under as wide a variety of real life situations as possible.

The three audiometers, the Arbitron PPM, the Eurisko Media Monitor and the GfK/Telecontrol MediaWatch, were all subjected to the same listening conditions over the course of a weekend in November 2004.

RAJAR announces results of Audiometer Validation Test To make the test as thorough as possible, hundreds of unique listening environments were generated, with RAJAR specifying several criteria which the audiometers should fulfil – these included the ability to identify all formats equally, whether music or speech, against a variety of extraneous background noises, when played at differing volume levels and regardless of whether the wearers were stationary or in motion.

RAJAR wasn’t anticipating 100% accuracy from any or all of the audiometers on test, but they hoped to be able to identify listening correctly across FM, AM and DAB in a variety of day-to-day conditions.

Sally de la Bedoyere, managing director, RAJAR, commented on their results:

“RAJAR has selected the Arbitron PPM and the Eurisko Media Monitor meters following analysis of the Test results, which showed that, despite using different techniques, both audiometers identified very similar numbers of listening sessions. Their level of correct identification was in line with that anticipated when designing the test.”

She added that their decision was based “solely on the needs of the UK market, where monitoring AM, FM and digital broadcasting is highly complex.” and described the tests as “Another momentous hurdle has been crossed in our journey to achieving the objectives of the Roadmap by 2007.”

As radio continues to fragment, the ability to measure small audiences becomes ever more vital to the survival of stations, with advertisers needing solid proof that they’re not investing their precious advertising budget into tumbleweed stations.

This has added significant pressure on RAJAR to produce reliable measuring systems, with the threat of lawsuits always hanging in the air (see: RAJAR defeat TWG Audience Court Case

Digital-Lifestyles was present during the testing last year and we can vouch that it was very comprehensive – and quite possibly the largest world-wide trial to date.

Skype Phone Review: Siemens M34 Wireless DECT Handset

Siemens have yet to release this in most of the world. If you’re interested in the combo, drop us a quick note to
Siemens.Skype(at) We’d be happy to pass them on to Siemens, with the vague possibility that it might hasten their introduction in your country.

Siemens Gigaset M34 USB Adaptor SkypeWe all know that Skype is great. There’s a real thrill in speaking to people all over the world and knowing its not costing you anything at all.

The downside has been that you have to be around your computer when you’re speaking.

No more. The Siemens Gigaset M34 USB adaptor and one of a range of their handsets give you the freedom to walk around while chatting.

We’re testing the M34 with the Siemens Gigaset S440 wireless DECT handset that we first heard about back in November last year.

Here’s a sneak preview – we’re really impressed (may be even gushing) and think it marks a significant shift for the widespread acceptance of Skype.

First impressions

Siemens Gigaset M34 USB Adaptor SkypeThe Gigaset S440 is a handset fashioned more like a mobile phone. With a backlight colour screen and icons, it’s about the swankiest DECT handset we’ve seen. At 14cm (5.5-inches) tall, it sits comfortably in the hand.

The S440 is available as a ‘normal’ landline phone. It’s when it’s combined with the M34 USB add-on, that it starts to become extra special.

The M34 has a slightly rounded and swoopy look to it. It’s total length is about 10cm (4-inches), under 3.5cm (1.25-inch) at it’s widest point and a little over 1cm (0.5-inch) thick. There’s a thin strip of illumination at its end.

Handset performance

Siemens Gigaset M34 USB Adaptor SkypeAs mentioned, the Gigaset S440 is also a ‘normal’ phone and it retains this skill, giving you the ability to make both Skype and landline calls depending on your needs. Landline calls involve dialling as you would normally, and Skype takes a few steps more, which are detailed below.

Not only does the S440 handset look pretty sleek, but it’s performance matches its looks. We were hugely impressed with the wireless range. The Digital Lifestyles offices are on the second floor and were able to walk down into the cellar of our building and walk down the road and around the corner and still speak via Skype or landline. It’s worth bearing in mind that we’re in the centre of London too, and the airwaves are pretty congested.

It’s a strange feeling standing in the local sandwich shop queue and receiving a Skype call. It also feels a little naughty.

Process of making a Skype call

Siemens Gigaset M34 USB Adaptor SkypeEnough of this background. How easy is it to use with Skype, I hear you call. Pretty simple.

The summary is – once you’ve got it configured (more later), you press a few buttons, make a menu selection or two, and then you’re chatting.

Here’s the detail. At the centre of the handset is a four-way selector. You use this, to select INT, which brings up a list of other handsets and services that you can connect to. By selecting the M34 USB adaptor, you’re offered a menu of applications that you can run through the M34 (we’ll detail the others below).

Simply selecting Skype, brings up the your Skype buddy list on the handset. How cool is that?

To speak to any of them, simply highlight the name, press the Green dial button and you’re speaking on a normal phone handset – via Skype!

Using the handset daily

Siemens Gigaset M34 USB Adaptor SkypeWe found it becomes completely natural to use the S440/M34 combo. You really notice how restricted you are when you’ve got to call without it.

When the pure thrill of Skyping on a handset wears off, we found ourselves wishing that switching between using the M34 for landline calls and Skype was a little quicker – just because we’re impatient. Don’t forget, this is an initial release and the handset wasn’t designed from the outset to make Skype calls. We’d imagine later generations will have a single key to take you to the list of your Skype buddies.

If you need to make calls to International landlines, you’re in luck, as SkypeOut is catered for too. When the handset is in Skype mode, simply dial the full international number and you’ll connect. Just like dialling from a mobile phone – but at Skype’s reduced prices.

So what happens when your yabbering away on a Skype call and you receive a legacy (landline) call? The S440 bleeps in your ear and you’re offered the option to disconnect from Skype. You can then take the call as normal.

Receiving a Skype call is as simple accepting a connection.

If you’re using the phone all day, and believe us when the calls are totally free, you’ll be chatting on it a lot. The battery lasts about a day, so you’ll need to recharge overnight.

Setting it up with Skype

Siemens Gigaset M34 USB Adaptor SkypeThe set-up needs to be done in the right order, but if you follow the instructions it will work without a problem.

Assuming you already have Skype running on your PC, install the M34 driver disk and plug the M34 in to an available USB port. After running the Gigaset M34 software and syncing the S440 base station with the M34, you’re away – with your Skype buddies appearing on your handset.

Beyond setting it up to run with Skype, the application that comes with the M34 lets you program the dialling memories of the handset, but from the comfort of your own PC keyboard. It can also integrate with MS Outlook.

It does more than Skype

And you thought Skyping was enough?

We imagine you’re pretty impressed with the ability to Skype on this handset, but there’s a world of extra features available too.

Here’s a brief run down.

Siemens Gigaset M34 USB Adaptor SkypeInstant Messenger via Skype, AOL or MSN. We tried this, but didn’t make a habit of it. It’s okay for very brief messages, but the restriction of the keyboard makes you itch to get back on the QWERTY.

Remotely trigger applications on your PC from the DECT handset. We couldn’t actually think of any practical uses for this, but you might get excited about the idea triggering a CD compilation while you’re sitting in the garden.

SMS from your landline. This has been done by a couple of other handsets, and more likely to be used by people who don’t already own a mobile phone.


You should be able to tell, we’re impressed with the Gigaset M34/S440 DECT handset combo.

In our eyes it’s a Product Of Significance, as we had thought when we first heard about it.

It takes Skype out of the hands of the technically aware, directly into the hands of every consumer. There can be no-one in the developed world who doesn’t know how to use a phone handset. If you can do that, you can now use Skype.

No longer do you need to be tied to a computer to use Skype. You can wander free, while smiling to yourself that you’re not spending a penny, to speak to someone on the other side of the world.

We’re aware there are other Skype handsets around, but from what we’ve seen, none of them are as integrated as this Siemens solution.

Sure, to get this product to perfection it could do with single key to get you to your Skype buddy list, and the battery could last a little longer, but this is the first release.

While the M34 & S440 aren’t quite perfect … we’d recommend them to anyone.

Opera browser is about to get even faster

Oslo-based Opera Software, best known for its Opera Web browser, has announced that it plans to integrate SlipStream Data’s Web and e-mail acceleration technology into the next release of its desktop Web browser. Set to integrate into Opera 7.60, Opera claims that it will enable users up to six times faster browsing on dial-up and wireless connections, a particularly neat feature for those with limited bandwidth.

SlipStream Data’s Web Accelerator technology only accelerates certain text and graphics on Web pages, so it won’t speed up everything you do on the Internet. However, both companies claim that with Web Accelerator you will notice a significantly faster experience when you visit Web sites, send and receive e-mail, and perform other Web-based activities. To achieve this speed up, proprietary lossless compression is applied to text, HTML, XML, JavaScript and style sheets. Proprietary image compression is applied to GIF and JPEG images, as well as to Flash content.

SlipStream also accelerates e-mail traffic (POP3 and SMTP) using lossless compression, but does not speed up file downloads (over FTP or file sharing programs), streaming audio/video and HTTPS (secure Web sites). If you have a slow Internet connection (such as a dial-up or wireless connection) with a bandwidth of less than 300Kbit/s, you should experience a significant degree of acceleration using SlipStream, boldly claims the company.

However, SlipStream Web Accelerator does not increase the speed of file downloads such as music files, or streaming video or audio media. Opera 7.60 is set to usher in more innovative browsing features – something we’ve come to expect from its developers. The public release of v7.60 is planned for the end of 2004.

SlipStream is currently supported by over 900 ISPs worldwide, according to the company, with its popularity due to that way that it allows service providers to offer a faster and more flexible way of rolling out value-added services. SlipStream SE (Secure Enterprise) further optimises bandwidth and improves the performance of Web-based applications, accelerating secure access to e-mails, FTP and other critical business data.

“SlipStream is the dominant acceleration solution provider for ISPs in North America, South America, and Europe,” says Jon S. von Tetzchner, CEO, Opera Software. “Their innovation and reputation for service, makes them an ideal partner. We are eager to work together to deliver an improved experience in installation, operation, and support to enterprises and users wanting more Web speed and performance.”

“As Opera is known as the fastest browser on earth, the decision to consider the browser for this integration was simple,” says Ron Neumann, President, SlipStream Data. “Our goal is to offer a superior accelerated browsing experience on any platform and Opera’s multiplatform support helps achieve this. This integration gives ISPs increased support and speed for their users, and will also significantly increase the productivity of mobile workers. Such a partnership helps us continue to expand and embed our technology into new markets.”

As well as its speed, another key factor in Opera’s success that the browser is cross-platform and modular, and currently available for Windows, Linux, Mac OS, Symbian OS, Windows Mobile, BREW, QNX, TRON, FreeBSD, Solaris and Mediahighway platforms.

Gadget review of IBC04

IBC was good this year. There was real stuff to see. Ideas that were whispered two or three years ago are now products you can play with rather than vapourware. But you had to be cheeky to find some of them. Marching up to the stands with a request for a 90 second product demonstration certainly helped to cut through the sales bitch, sorry, pitch. Camera man Dave Allen and I spent a couple of days preparing our "gadget safari", looking for products, including software, of interest to the independent producer.

The Long Slow Fade
I am currently making a documentary on DV-CAM about the (slow) death of analogue radio. The question is whether digital radio will replace it in the form we were all expecting five years ago. In the UK, DAB is working. Elsewhere on the continent, it is a mixed bag. In Holland, for instance, the Dutch public broadcasters have stuck 6 of their channels on the air. But there is no added value for listening on DAB – the data is just the RDS feed and, with so few mountains, people are not writing to their favourite FM stations complaining about reception. Commercial broadcasters, still smarting from a crazy Dutch government auction of FM frequencies, refuse to play the DAB ball until they see a way of getting a return on investment.

With hindsight, the radio dial is the worst human interface ever invented. Millions of pounds of valuable content is hidden behind a number – or in the old days the name of the transmitter site! Do you know anyone who sorts their address book by their friends phone number? If you do, probably best to avoid them for intellectual conversation! It is unlikely that they floss very often too.

Pure Bug with DAB EPGWith all the competition from the "red button" and "iPod favourites" radio needs an electronic programme guide – an EPG. At IBC, Unique Interactive together with two receiver manufacturers – Morphy Richards and Pure Digital demoed the first attempts. Yes, the programme schedule is in there. But the intelligent radio that knows your preferences, anticipates and pre-records shows you might like is some way off. We’ll probably see the "personalised" software on Wi-Fi enabled MP3 players before the radios are out there.

In South Korea, the national broadcaster, KBS, is working with Samsung to make a multimedia enabled radio. On the WorldDab stand they showed how they’re putting video over the DAB network and calling it Digital Multimedia Broadcasting [Watch a QT video of DMB]. Korean Digital Multimedia BroadcastingThey know the broadcast network is ideally suited to mass distribution of media rich content. The economics of sending 3 minutes of video to 100,000 people make 3G a very expensive way of getting content broadcast, especially in a crisis. Nokia know that, but have chosen partners such as NTL and HP to work on a competing method of content distribution, DVB-H. Both are really in the physics experiment stage – no-one has developed stimulating content for these platforms yet – and it is not going to be ringtones that save the day [Watch QT video of NTL].

DAB, the other DRM, Wi-Fi
Two other technologies seem to be moving along. DAB has a complementary technology designed to make AM (long wave, medium wave and short wave) sound like FM. By turning the transmitter into a giant modem, and using 1/3rd of the power, the results are impressive. The RTL group plans to revive the "great 208" and see DRM (in this case, Digital Radio Mondial) as a cheap way of covering audiences spread over large distances. Three radios were on the DRM stand. I was particularly interested in a ?199 (~$245, ~£135) "cigarette box size" radio from Coding Technologies. It plugs into the USB port of a laptop and is also powered from the USB port. You need a bit wire as an antenna (keeping it away from the laptop processor), but the concept is a true plug and play [Watch a QT video of DRM].

As Wi-Fi takes off, a Wi-Fi enabled radio would be handy. There is a huge choice of radio programming streamed on the web. But you can’t carry it around the house. Philips StreamiumPhilips has a system called Streamium, which is more of a Wi-Fi enabled hi-fi/boombox. A clever piece of kit, but Philips haven’t a clue on how to promote it to the public. A Cambridge based research company called Reciva, on the other hand, had a much better concept to show at IBC – a kitchen radio format with a familiar tuning knob to change channels [Watch a QT video of Reciva].

It is no longer cool to be just a supplier to the "radio" journalist. Most of the people making recorders or editing systems are coupling the audio editing to some form of video editor. Handheld Digital audio recorders look pricey (?1000 +) when put alongside the new Sony HDR-FX1 HD-CAM cameraSony HD-CAM, the HDR-FX1, which will offer entry-level hi-definition video for the prosumer market for around €3,500 (~$4,314, ~£2,390). It also seems crazy that many of the best video editors can be downloaded for a couple of hundred bucks for personal use and yet some audio editors have made it impossible for the freelance community to buy cheap personal copies of the software. They forget what power of persuasion these people have in getting technology adopted within many broadcasting stations.

Our shortest visit was to Canford audio who have nothing on their stand – except one of the world’s biggest catalogues of audio equipment. In the back we spotted a pair of headphones, the DM H250 with a USB connector and a built in DA/AD converter – ideal for newsrooms with audio workstations that don’t want the expense of a separate analogue sound network. The headphones retail for around £110 (~$136, ~€75).

And finally on the audio side we picked up an iPod with a difference. It is actually a company within Harris called Neural Audio that was showing what their codec technology can do with a very limited number of bits. You got what sounded like perfect mono at 24 kb/s, and 5:1 surround sound at 96 kb/sec [Watch a QT video of Neural Audio].

Then onto stuff for the video/journalist in the field?and we found something that really is for someone like me. You are out on location with a complicated story?how do you remember your lines? Telescript has a small Teleprompter that works with a lap-top and is bright enough to be useful in the field. It will set you back £1,500 (~$2,700, €2,200). The batteries last for a day’s shooting. [Watch a QT video of the Telescript]

It doesn’t take long for videographers to realize that steadycam isn’t steady enough for the bigger screens we see today. But the tripod and dolly manufacturers guess correctly that we don’t want to spend our old age in a home for the bewildered with back pain. IBC had a lot of useful equipment for the documentary maker. The Italian company Manfrotto had a carbon-fibre tripod with gimbles, just the thing to keep the camera level on uneven terrain. They also had useful remote controls for handycams allowing for much smoother zooms using buttons on the tripod. LED backlights and even dim-able LED spotlights were on show – and much closer to daylight that I expected [Watch a QT video of the lights]. Perhaps one of the fastest demos was from Microdolly Hollywood who have a portable dolly-track which folds up in 5 seconds -flat! [Watch a QT video of Microdolly] I also bumped into an Israeli company called DVTEC. They have some useful devices to take the weight off your shoulders with a heavy camera, plus a compact car mount which, although light, won’t come off as you drive [Watch a QT video on DVTEC’s product].

My vote for originality goes to Puddlecam from the Norwich based EV Group. They’re in the sports TV business, trying to offer way in which to make unique action shots without ruining the camera. The indestructible Puddlecam is ideal for getting those action shots from the side of the road – in fact from anywhere where ordinary cameras fear to tread [Watch a QT video of Puddlecam].

I think software concepts also deserve a prize. If you want a complete set of test and measuring equipment while doing important DV recordings in the field, look no further than DVRack from the US company of Serious Magic. It is like taking a broadcast truck on location – except the software runs on a laptop. Download the demo to try before you think about purchasing [Watch a QT video of DVRack]. Personally, I was impressed, especially since you can start using this software to save DV to hard-drive and only use DV tapes as back-up. US$495 (~?403, ~£274) is the download price. If you need maps on location, then the Norwegian company of MAPcube offer a special deal to independent journalists who need to draw accurate maps, perhaps for a TV documentary or a website. They take publicly available data from NASA, but then adjust the presentation to make it usable for the broadcast industry [Watch a QT video of MAPcube]. Finally, the satellite company of SWE-DISH caught our eye with a satellite dish, FA150T, that can be folded and carried as a back-pack – at 38 kg (84 pounds) a bit heavy for the overhead locker, but ideal for expeditions to some of the remote areas of the world. Why are these devices still so heavy? Because they need a power amplifier to make contact with the satellites. This one from Sweden uses GPS to find the location of pre-programmed satellites. It is controlled from a laptop. A perfect case of shoot the video, then automatically point to dish to transmit [Watch a QT video of SWE-DISH].

That’s all we can squeeze into this space. This survey was done independently of the stand holders – no money changed hands nor was any equipment donated. Colleagues from other IBC sessions in the series also found other gadgets. Perhaps we can persuade them to share their discoveries for a follow-up column. If you want to see the stuff in action, watch the videos!

About Jonathan Marks
Jonathan Marks has worked in public broadcasting in the Netherlands for just over 24 years, but started his own consulting company in the middle of last year called Critical Distance. He produced a popular communications show on Radio Netherlands called "Media Network". He now plays devils advocate to a number of companies, questioning their strategies, but at the same time preparing alternative scenarios for what technology is making possible.

Dis/located Drama – Mobile Bristol in Queen Square in Bristol

1831 Riot! – “an interactive play for voices” played in Queen Square in Bristol until 4th May. The play is the latest fruit of the Mobile Bristol project – a collaboration between HP Labs, the University of Bristol and the Appliance Studio, which is working to overlay a wireless ‘digital canvas’ on the city and to explore the social and creative possibilities enabled by such a fabric.

Queen Square is the largest square in England outside London, dating from the early 18th century and recently restored to genteel, leafy tranquility following the removal in 2000 of a dual carriageway driven diagonally across the square in 1936.  It was also the scene of some of the most significant events of the 1831 riot in Bristol – which was instrumental in the eventual passage of the 1832 Reform Act significantly increasing the number of men who had the vote and starting Britain on the road to universal suffrage.

The current production is a specially commissioned piece which attempts a documentary style, fictionalised recreation of some of the key events of the riot which took place in and around the square.  To experience the drama you visit a stand on one side of the square to pick up a small backpack containing a GPS enabled iPaq, a large pair of stereo headphones and an A4 flyer providing a brief explanation of the project, but woefully little background on the riots themselves.  You are then free to wander the square at will until you have exhausted the experience, your enthusiasm or your stamina.

On the morning that Richard Higgs and I visited it was bright, sunny and warm.  As we strolled around the square different segments of audio were triggered as we moved between different areas.  The effect was most like tuning in to the middle of an afternoon play on Radio 4, with similar production values and the same instantly identifiable style – a somewhat ironic choice for a riot.  Even knowing the nature of the beast there was a strong tendency to try and construct a coherent story of the events from the fragments available, which was far from easy – perhaps appropriately for a riot. 

Despite wandering around the square side by side we often found that what we were hearing at any given time differed – sometimes due to a simple time lag and sometimes due to hearing different segments on different visits to the same area.  Our movements clearly triggered some, but not all, of the changes to what we were hearing and it was hard to distinguish such changes from simple scene changes within a segment.

The headphones were large, well padded and effectively blocked out external noise – this made it difficult to conduct the intermittent conversation with which we peppered our walk.  It also had the strange effect of divorcing us from our surroundings much like listening to music on a Walkman or an iPod, which seemed at odds with the very idea of interactive locative media.  I would have been happier with something that allowed the mundane noises of the square on the day to bleed into the authored experience rather than trying to cut them out.

Although we were left feeling that full the potential hadn’t quite been realised, it is early days for this kind of experience design and 1831 Riot! is a valiant and at least partially successful attempt to paint something interesting and worthwhile on the digital canvas. 

Bristol Wireless