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New cameras aim to make kids more than just a blur

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Focused product: Gadgets can help transform the difficult into the routine and make the impossible possible. In the world of home movies, the current challenge is developing the technology that drives autofocus in video cameras. This is tougher than it seems, because the average camcorder user makes home videos that feature children, who never stay in one place for long. This often means blurry footage of the little ones.

Panasonic is trying to take a leap forward by crafting camcorders that can maintain autofocus on moving objects. Moreover, the latest camcorders from the company automatically adjust the brightness and contrast.

The idea takes technology from the facial-recognition systems that have become popular for still cameras, in which the camera recognizes a face and keeps it in focus without the photographer having to do anything else. Panasonic is bringing the feature out in a range of four new HDC series digital camcorders.

Apart from the moving focus, they feature three 3.15-megapixel 3MOS sensors, which Panasonic claims boost the low-light ability of the camcorders. They also each have a 2.7-inch touch screen and a 12X optical zoom Leica lens. They can record in full high definition and use the AVCHD codec. At their maximum resolution they devour 8 gigabytes of memory for each hour of footage and the battery life is about an hour of regular usage. The top model, the HDC-HS300, packs a 120-gigabyte hard drive; the HDC-HS200 has an 80-gigabyte hard drive; and the HDC-TM300 sports 32 gigabytes of flash memory. Each one can also record to SD memory cards. The fourth model, the SD200, instead relies on external memory. An 8-gigabyte SD card is included in the package.

The HS300 and TM300 will be available in black or silver and include optical viewfinders. The other two models will only come in silver and, as they lack viewfinders, can only be used with the LCD screen. The weight of the four models, including battery, vary from 520 grams for the HS300 down to about 400 grams for the SD200.

The HS300 will retail for ¥160,000; the HS200, ¥140,000; the TM300, ¥150,000; and the SD200, ¥130,000. All of the models hit the market Feb. 5.

The series’ improved ability for dealing with moving objects is a natural progression, but just how well the technology works has yet to be seen — so potential buyers should make sure they try before buying. Apple users also note that the software is Windows only. panasonic.jp/dvc

Game time: Once upon a time, if you wanted something better than a keyboard and a mouse for playing computer games, then you bought a joystick. It was adorned with nothing more than a firing button. There is nothing so simple about the G13 Advanced Gameboard from Logitech’s local affiliate Logicool.

The device is intended to complement the mundane keyboard and mouse for computer gamers. Looking like a device likely to appear in a 1950s sci-fi show, it connects to your computer via USB and includes 25 keys that can be assigned customized functions. The Gameboard also has a 160×43-pixel LCD to display live game statistics, system information and messages from other players. Alongside those is a small joystick and a pad for the player to rest their wrist on. It has enough internal memory for users to store up to five ready-to-play profiles. It also offers preconfigured settings for some popular games, including “World of Warcraft” and “Call of Duty 4.” The gadget measures 171×243×41 mm and is a somewhat chunky 650 grams.

The G13 works with both XP and Vista Windows systems and, in a welcome break for Mac users, cooperates with OSX 10.4 or higher. If you are a serious gamer then ¥9,980 is a low price for a better gaming experience. The Logicool accessory enters the market Jan. 30. www.logicool.co.jp

Mac backups: Appealing to a wider market are two new devices from Western Digital

The My Book Mac Edition external hard drive and My Passport for Mac portable drives are Mac-specific versions of Western Digital drives. The products are preformatted for Macs, connect via USB 2.0 and include GreenPower technology to save power consumption.

The My Book has a 1-terabyte capacity, which is enough to store nearly 300,000 photos or up to 440 hours of DVD-quality video. The My Passport comes in 320-gigabyte and 500-gigabyte choices. The smaller-capacity model can hold about 90,000 photos and the larger one about 140,000 photos. In keeping with their Windows counterparts, the Western Digital products look good in their dark colors. The My Book weighs 1.15 kg.

The My Passport models resemble stylish diaries and weigh a slimmer 180 grams. The company claims that both drive types are shock resistant. The My Book is powered via an AC adapter, while the portable drive draws its power from the host computer. They work with OSX 10.4 and 10.5 operating systems. The My Book and the 500-gibabyte My Passport costing just over ¥20,000, and the smaller model costing just over ¥16,000.

External hard drives are pretty much a necessity these days, both for providing extra storage capacity and to back up your computer. There are fewer hard disks preformatted for Macs on the shelves, so the Western Digital gadgets are welcome additions, especially as the company matches style with substance in its external hard drives. www.wdc.com/en/products/index