Award-winning designs, Amusing gizmos

Jan. 9, 2003
Some of today's most innovative thinking goes into entertainment gadgetry.

The 8-track tapes you've been hanging on to are officially antiques. But joining them soon will be VCRs, cassette tapes, and conventional AM/FM radios. What's hot now? Think digital and online, as in digital-video recorders (DVRs) and micro hi-fi systems with Internet connectivity.

On the lighter side, how about a toy gun you can point at someone (just not at close range) and fire without fear of taking an eye out? For some of the latest technological developments to just plain old fun, read on.

You can take it with you

Though it appears to be an evening bag, it's really a portable DVD player. For those who have it all and want to take it with them, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., Seoul, Korea (, developed Padis (Portable all-disc integrated system). A 2002 Industrial Design Excellence (IDE) Silver award winner, it features a 10-in. high-resolution LCD, and loads discs of all formats, including DVD, DVD-audio, CD-RW, DVD-RW, and MP3. An internal memory stick makes it PC compatible. Nickel-ion batteries provide 5 hr of power, and are recyclable. The Padis is only 23-mm thick and sits in a corrugated magnesium case with polycarbonate/ABS molding. Price: $999.

Good, clean fun

Next time your significant other bugs you, pick up the Zero Launcher and blow off some smoke. No, it's not a gun, it's a toy that creates fog rings for fun. From Zero Toys Inc., Concord, Mass. (, it launches 2-to-6-in.-diameter fog rings capable of sailing up to 14 ft. The Launcher comes with three ounces of nontoxic cherry-scented Super Fog-Ring Fluid, the same liquid Hollywood depends on to make special-effects fog.

To blow smoke, an elastic diaphragm pushes a burst of air through a small opening. Airflow slows at the edge of the opening, causing a toroidal vortex to form with the fast-moving air through the center. The fog ring moves forward when a plunger strikes the diaphragm, sending a fast-moving pulse of air, continuously creating a low-pressure area behind it. The low pressure takes a ring of fog along with it.

The specially formulated liquid used to make fog rings quickly disappears at room temperature, leaving no trace. Price: $19.95 for Launcher, $3.95 for fluid.

101 channels

A plug-and-play satellite radio gives listeners access to 101 channels just about anywhere. The Delphi XM SKYFi Radio, from Delphi Product and Service Solutions, Troy, Mich. (, and XM Satellite Radio, Washington, D.C. (, is a compact unit said to have the most advanced user features of any satellite radio yet.

The SKYFi receiver features a large display that shows channel number and name, channel category, artist name, and song title. Twenty channels can be preset via the receiver or remote control.

The SKYFi audio system is a portable unit that integrates with the receiver via a dock. It's essentially a boombox that contains a pair of high-quality speakers with an integrated high-gain antenna. Power comes from an ac adapter or batteries. An adapter lets SKYFi work with any car stereo. Also, a vehicle FM modulator kit can be installed for a wireless look.

A high-gain indoor/outdoor antenna and adapters let the system connect to home-audio systems. Price: $129 for SKYFi receiver; $99 for SKYFi audio system; and $69 for home or vehicle adapter kit.

For exploring wrecks at the bottom of the pool

The Spyfish Submarine Telepresence Vehicle (STV) is a miniature remote-controlled submarine equipped with two video cameras and lights. A 150-m cable attaches to a cable winder, processing box, and display screen. A wireless remote control lets users navigate the STV. If the cable becomes caught, it can be detached remotely and the Spyfish will automatically surface.

Developed by IDEO, Palo Alto, Calif. (, and H2EYE International Ltd., London (, the skin of the Spyfish is a dual-density, glass-reinforced microcellular polyurethane finished with a high-gloss

15-stage painting process. Lithium-ion batteries power the STV for over 2 hr. A camera mounts on front with a pan-and-tilt mechanism for a 180* view. Two 10-W HID high-efficiency floodlights ensure clear visibility underwater, even at depths where sunlight doesn't reach. The top camera works as a periscope, giving above-water views to help guide the Spyfish back to the boat. Also, video footage can be recorded.

The system has USB connectivity for downloading files, updating software, and running diagnostics. The Spyfish evolved from foam and CAD models into technical prototypes to win a 2002 IDE Silver award. Price: $14,900.

So long VHS, hello easy digital conversion

Have stacks of old VHS tapes collecting dust? The AVerDVD EZMaker converts analog video to digital in one step and in real-time. From AVerMedia Technologies Inc., Milpitas, Calif. (, the unit is compatible with all DV, miniDV camcorders, VHS/VCR, and analog camcorders.

Special software lets users personalize and edit DVDs by adding titles and background music. DV, AVI, QuickTime, and MPEG files can also be imported. The software makes it possible to add or delete clips on previously recorded DVDs and burn video onto the same disc.

The unit comes with a PCI card, software, an RCA-to-phono jack, and installation guide. System requirements include a CPU of 1 GHz or higher; Windows 98SE, ME, 2000, or XP; an audio line-in from a sound card; AGP graphics card with 8-Mbyte memory; Microsoft DirectX 8.0 or higher; and a CD or DVD burner. Price: $49.99.

Streaming radio

The Streamium MC-i200 micro hi-fi system is an Internet audio player. The MC-i200, from Philips Audio, a div. of Royal Philips Electronics, Netherlands, ( connects to online radio stations as well as digital music services such as AOL Music. A large, five-line LCD continuously shows what's playing and the name of the artist, regardless of whether the track is being streamed or played back via a CD.

The MC-i200 connects directly to cable or DSL broadband Internet service by a home network router. It also connects to a PC to transfer files. The micro system delivers 100 W and plays back from both CD-R and CD-RW discs. An MP3PRO format uses less space than standard MP3 files. The system also has a conventional AM/FM tuner.

Features include aluminum-alloy flat speaker cones said to produce a lower and louder bass line than current micro hi-fi systems. Price: $399.99.

I've got the music with me

The iPod from Apple Computers Inc., Cupertino, Calif. (, is for those who can't think of leaving home without their favorite tunes. The MP3 player plugs into a Macintosh or PC and downloads music at the speed of 10 sec/CD. It comes in 5, 10, and 20-Gbyte versions that hold between 1,000 and 4,000 tunes. A rechargeable lithium-polymer battery gives 10 hr of power. The iPod automatically recharges using a FireWire cable when connected to a Mac or PC. All iPods carry iTunes software with automatic synchronization that keeps music and playlists up-to-date.

The iPod measures 4.02 3 2.43 3 0.78 in. and weighs only 6.5 oz. It sits in a polycarbonate/ABS top with a polished stainless-steel bottom. Its large, high-quality LCD is illuminated by a white backlight for viewing up to six lines of text. A touch-sensitive scroll wheel adjusts scrolling speed based on song-list length. A 60-mW amplifier is said to give CD-quality sound with a wide dynamic range. iPod headphones carry neodymium transducer magnets for bass response, smooth midrange transitions, and accurate high-end reproduction. Price: $299 for 5-Gbyte version; $399 for 10 Gbyte; and $499 for 20 Gbyte model.

DVR caters to busy schedules

Tired of forgetting to tape your favorite shows? Let a TiVo digital-video recorder (DVR) save the day. From TiVo Inc., Alviso, Calif. (, the system includes a Series2 DVR and service to make all your television dreams come true.

The DVR holds a hard drive that connects to the outside world via jacks on the back. The television signal comes into a built-in tuner on the DVR through an antenna, cable, or satellite. Signals from an antenna or cable go into an MPEG-2 encoder for conversion to digital and then to the hard drive for storage. An MPEG-2 decoder converts stored signals back to analog and sends them to the TV. TiVo runs on a highly modified Linux platform. The operating system sits on the hard disk, along with recording space and a buffer for live broadcasts. One drawback: Adding more recording time on a DVR involves buying a new unit.

And the benefits? With a VCR, a program must finish recording before you can view it. In contrast, a program can be viewed at any time and even while recording. But, the pausing-live-television feature is a bit misleading. The unit begins recording once the pause button on the remote is pressed. The freeze-framed image gives the appearance of paused videotape. Live TV can be paused for 30 min. Also, DVRs allocate a portion of the hard drive to a live TV buffer that constantly records and stores about an hour's worth in the buffer.

Service includes Wish Lists and Season Pass. Wish Lists let viewers type in names or keywords using an on-screen keypad of programs to record, for example, every Eddie Murphy movie that comes along. Punch up Season Pass and the DVR records a whole season of new programs but edits out reruns.

Since TiVo's start in 1997, competitors such as Metabyte Networks and Sonicblue's ReplayTV have cropped up. While the competitors offer somewhat comparable services, ReplayTV boxes come with Ethernet ports that access the Web, making it possible to share TV programs with other DVR owners.

Price for Series2 DVR: $299. Service: $12.95 monthly; $249 for the unit's lifetime.

Phone home, surf the Web

Handspring Inc., Mountain View, Calif.

(, recognizes that juggling multiple electronic devices is downright annoying. Enter the Handspring Treo 180 -- featuring a cell phone, e-mail and Web browser, and a Palm OS personal organizer in a single 5.4-oz package. The Treo has 16 Mbytes of memory and is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. For communicating, it carries a full Qwerty keyboard, and the 180g model has a Graffiti area. The Handspring Treo 180 is a 2002 IDE Gold award winner. Price: $249.

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