J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
The Hottest Gadgets and Gizmos from Japan

Issue No. 164
Tuesday October 12, 2004
(Long URLs may break across two lines, so copy to your browser.)

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As you may have known, CEATEC JAPAN 2004 happened over this past week
and weekend. This year's convention was host to displays from hundreds of
exhibitors -- plenty well known, plenty not. Either way, I felt
as though in this edition of Gadget Watch I'd provide a brief overview of what
I thought were some of the coolest technologies at this year's convention.
This varies quite differently from the normal Gadget Watch newsletter,
but I think you'll excuse me. Especially after you hear about
what's around the corner in a few years.

The convention itself was officially "broken down" into two categories of
exhibitor: Digital Network and Electronic Components, Devices & Industrial
Equipment. But unfortunately, these categories are too broad to effectively
organize all the cool stuff that was really on display. So I'll be writing
about different technologies organized into the following categories:
removable storage, audio/video/displays, wireless
technologies/communications, cameras, and finally good old "other." Of course,
I won't be getting to everything debuted at the convention, but I'll
just give a brief outline of what I found to be innovative and "new."
Ceatec's official site, of which there is also an English version, provides
plenty of links for you to delve into.

Now let's get to it!


I had predicted CEATEC JAPAN 2004 would prove to be sort of a "proving
ground" for Blu-Ray and HD DVD. The two competing next-generation digital
formats have both been coming along nicely, and I think the offerings from
each side reinforced any doubts you may have as to whether or not these
products will actually make it outside of Japan one day.

Just in case you've been too busy watching Ichiro set records to know
what "Blu-Ray" and "HD DVD" are, here's a very very brief outline.
"Blu-Ray," so called because it uses a blue laser (rather
than the red lasers of CD and DVD), is primarily backed by industry
giant Sony. So backed that Sony has announced the PlayStation3's
format of choice will be Blu-Ray. So backed that Sony has purchased MGM
Studios to make sure they have plenty of content to offer when the format
starts out. The technical specifications of Blu-Ray include an up to
50GB capacity with dual-layering technology (similar to the dual-layering
used on DVD movies you purchase), but Sony seems to have an ace up their
sleeve -- they have announced that more than two layers can be stored on
the discs, supposedly providing up to 200GB capacity. The Blu-Ray
Disc Association officially launched just this past week, October 5th,
with more than 70 companies supporting the technology. Even 20th Century
Fox announced on the day before that they would be joining the Blu-Ray Disc
Founders Group. So you begin to see the primary advantages Blu-Ray has over
its HD DVD competitor: a strong industry backing and lavish technical
specifications. Moreover, Blu-Ray devices have been available to
Japanese consumers for quite some time now. Both Sony and Matsushita
(a.k.a. Panasonic) already offer Blu-Ray recorders for video usage.

HD DVD, on the other hand, is officially backwards compatible with now
all-too-popular DVD. In fact, Microsoft has announced that the next
version of Windows, Longhorn, will come with native support for HD DVD.
The same cannot be said for Blu-Ray. Unfortunately, HD DVD weighs in with
a 30GB capacity, significantly less than Blu-Ray. There have also been
no announcements of potential expansions upon this capacity by HD DVD's
primary caretakers, Toshiba and NEC. As I said earlier, though, the main
advantage of HD DVD is that it is compatible with existing DVD products.
This doesn't mean that you'll be able to play HD DVDs on your current
DVD player, but it does mean that you'll be able to play your current
DVDs on your HD DVD player.As for what is common between the two formats,
you can look only to the wavelength of laser used and compression
format -- both have announced they will use Microsoft's Windows Media Video 9.

Anyway, getting back to CEATEC, let's see what each format had to
offer. From the Blu-Ray camp, Sharp offered up a demonstration version
of their "AQUOS High-Definition Recorder," Pioneer showed off an
internal (ATAPI) Blu-Ray/DVD/CD burner, the first I've seen, and Sony
of course displayed their Blu-Ray products already on the market.
HD DVD's answer? NEC had an external HD DVD/DVD burner, and Sanyo
demonstrated one of the world's first HD DVD players. These may not
seem much to someone reading this paragraph "in passing," but one
(or both) of these formats is set to replace DVD. In other words,
you best be paying attention! It's always interesting to see how
formats are born and die. Given the strong backing demonstrated
by both HD DVD and Blu-Ray, it's been interesting to follow the
format war thus far. I'm sure it will only get more interesting
as releases draw nearer. As one journalist put it, "no matter who
loses, we win."


Instead of writing a long-winded introduction for this category,
I'll dive right in. After all, you probably wouldn't be subscribing
without some interest, right?

While not necessarily stunning innovations in themselves, it was
nice to see an excellent turnout of LCD and Plasma displays at this
year's convention. In the "large to gigantic" category, Sharp had
the world's largest LCD -- at 65 inches -- on display. Also from
Sharp was a demonstration unit of their 2.4" LCD screen with 3D
technology. You won't be needing any silly glasses to see 3D on
this bad boy. Too bad you're limited to 240 x 320 resolution...but
hey, it's going on your phone, so what do you care?
Speaking of small displays, I was impressed by Casio's working
2.2-inch screen with VGA display capabilities. VGA would be 640 x 480,
which, needless to say, is quite impressive for a screen of this
size. Many people would say, "Well if your screen is that small,
what do you need the resolution for? The text is gonna be too
small to read." But I get huffy and respond, "Because
you can fit more pixels in the same amount of space, the clarity
of the letters themselves will be increased. Think about the
difference between Windows XP with ClearType turned on and
ClearType turned off." If for no reason other than making text
sharper, I like Casio's innovation. There's that word I was
talking about earlier -- innovation. Mitsubishi has plenty wrapped
up in their cell-phone sized "reversible LCD." While this was
announced earlier this year, I'll give a recap for those who
may have missed it. Basically, the concept consists of a
single LCD screen with a transparent backlight on each side.
When one backlight is turned on, the screen will be visible
from the side opposite it. So what happens when both backlights
are turned on? Simple: the screen is visible from both sides.
You're probably thinking that doing this would cause the same
image to appear on both sides of the screen, albeit mirrored,
and you'd be right. To combat this, Mitsubishi has developed
technology to swap the image out 120 times per second. Math
wizards have already realized that 120 different frames per
second would yield 60 frames per second on each screen,
which is I guess what you could call "standard." Expect
to see Mitsubishi's technology implemented for corny
cartoon characters on your phone soon enough.

Wrapping up with audio/video/displays, Casio also had an LCD on
display which doubles as a fingerprint sensor.

---Wireless technologies/communications

Bluetooth, 802.11a/b/g, Wireless USB, oh my! Japan is all
wrapped up in wireless technologies, and I certainly don't
blame them. I hate wires just as much as the next guy.

I'd like to tell you about a pretty interesting technology
called "Visible Light Communications" being pushed by Keio
University Professor Nakagawa. Though the original idea
was pioneered by none other than Alexander Graham Bell, Prof.
Nakagawa has turned a simple phone call (as was as far as
Bell got) into multiple-Gbps communications with visible
light. I can't really explain how this works without going
crazy myself, but the long and short of it is that an LED
(light emitting diode) has the capability to transfer data
up to 80Mbps from around 10 meters away. I had no idea
such a thing was possible, but apparently Prof. Nakagawa
has been doing experiments since middle school and found
that the main factor influencing data transfer speed was
the quickness with which the signal light could react.
Since LEDs are known for their "instant-on" properties,
they are well suited for this application. A
demonstration at the booth consisted of a traffic light
(with LEDs for lights, as is the case throughout Japan)
which would communicate with a PDA from 10 meters away.
The PDA would pick up the signals emitted by the LED
lights themselves. While the obvious disadvantage to
"Visible Light Communications" is the "Visible" part, I
felt like this technology would still be interesting to
a few of you.

There are plenty more wireless technologies to talk about.
First and foremost, NEC had a nice "Wireless USB" setup
going in their booth. Promising the same transfer speeds
as USB 2.0 (480Mbps), wireless USB is also backwards
compatible with existing USB devices. And by "backwards
compatible" I mean you buy a "wireless USB adapter" for
each product that you want to be wireless, a PCI card for
your PC, and bammo -- instant wireless network capable of
480Mbps transfer speeds. Moreover, the wireless adapter
itself supports the USB Mass Storage class, meaning you
don't need any driver support on the software end of things.
One disadvantage I see with Wireless USB, though, is that
many devices are bus powered. Unless NEC plans some sort of
wireless power delivery technology (which would be exceedingly
dangerous with the only way I know of, microwave beams),
bus-powered devices such as some hard drives and removable
storage devices won't be getting too far from your PC.

I'm a sucker for integration, and NEC Electronics had
something right up my alley -- a "video transmission system
using wireless LAN." It's exactly what it sounds like; you
plug any video source into the box, which will encode your
video to MPEG-2, transmit it over 802.11a/b/g wireless
networks, and the receiver at the other end of the waves
will decode the signal and output it to your video source.
I'm thinking this is a wonderful solution for people who
don't want a mass of wires extending to their flat screen
TV or what have you. Or security. There's a lot of
applications I can think of for this sort of technology,
but I'll leave you to come up with your own.

Subscribers living in Japan who own cell phones probably
know about QR codes. For those of you who don't, these are
best described as "two-dimensional barcodes," and resemble
(in appearance) the scatterplots on any UPS package. The
technology has really taken off in Japan, so I wanted to
cover a creative new innovation by NTT DoCoMo dealing
with QR codes.

Ever heard of stenography? Its official definition is
"the art of writing quickly," but recently, the term has
come more to mean "embedding data into images in ways not
visible to the human eye." NTT DoCoMo has gone and done
just that with QR codes. By embedding QR codes into seemingly
normal pictures, NTT enables data -- such as bookmarks,
email address, contact information, etc. -- to be "encoded"
with an image. The current process of using a QR code consists
of photographing the barcode itself with your camera-phone,
but NTT's new process allows you to photograph basically
anything and extract data from it. If you photograph a
postcard encoded with a QR code, for example, you may be
asked if you'd like to visit that place's homepage. Or
perhaps a driver's license photograph could be encoded with
QR code data to allow for a higher level of security.


I've really only got one thing to report on for cameras,
but it's still cool. A company called Nucore Technologies
has developed a new line of processors for digital cameras
that supports the recording of HDTV quality images at a rate
of 30 images per second. What does this mean for you? Well,
presuming the rest of your camera's hardware supports it,
your digital camera could essentially turn into an HDTV
camcorder. But that's just it: "your camera's hardware"
likely isn't capable of this quite yet. Most flash medias
do not support the write speeds required for this
application just yet, and even if they did, their
capacities still don't allow for enough video to make
it worthwhile. So I guess you could think of this processor
as being "shoes to fill" for the digital camera world,
because the prospect of being able to record HDTV movies
with an ordinary digital camera is quite sweet.


I was reminded of "Metal Gear Solid" when I heard about
NTT's "Non-Audible Murmur" technology. A small microphone
near your ear will detect the transmission of sound
throughout the human body. So in other words, you don't
need to actually speak to...speak. While this of course
has some implementations for the cellular phone world,
social healthcare-based Japan is also looking
into the technology for sick patients who are unable to
talk due to weaknesses.

So, that about sums up this year's convention. Or at
least it sums it up for me :) As I said, there's plenty
more information about each vendor's booth at the official
site. Or just run a search for "CEATEC JAPAN 2004" on your
favorite search engine -- the convention is no small deal,
and plenty of English-language gadget/technology sites
have covered it. Otherwise, I'll see you guys next week
for your normally scheduled gadget news programming!

CEATEC JAPAN Official Site:

Subscribers: 6,456 as of October 12, 2004

Written by: Liam McNulty
Edited by: Burritt Sabin (

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