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KODAK Zi6 Pocket Video CameraKodak has released the Zi6, a PDA-size camera that has the capability to record HD video of the utmost clarity. Consumers can record in multiple modes, including camera photos (of course), HD60, HD, and VGA.  The device offers AV and HD ports to facilitate connection to an external display for instant, high definition viewing.  When waiting immediately is not required, the content can be uploaded to PC via the provided USB port. It also comes with software that can be used to upload video to Youtube with ease. Kodak opted to run the camera on two AA batteries, of which two rechargeables are included, along with a battery charger.

The controls for the camera are extremely easy and can be learned in a matter of seconds. The Kodak Zi6 uses a joystick – tap once to record, another time to stop, to the left to play a video, and to the right to stop. The setup is great for those not as tech savvy, allowing everyone to use the camera because of its simple control scheme.

The USB port, of course, makes it simple to transfer video and photos to your PC.  A Macro mode feature is available that boosts image quality when focusing on something close up. It has a large LCD screen for viewing videos and photos captured.  A mirror is also integrated on the back for those who wish to take pictures or video of themselves.  The camera also includes built-in speakers so that video content can be accessed with sound immediately after recording.

The camera is an excellent option for those who like to record video on the go, and could make for a special gift to unwrap on December 25th.

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Western Digital has released the new WD TV external HD media player that works in conjunction with one or two external hard drives to playback video, audio, and view photos at up to full high definition quality (1080p).  The device automatically sorts video, audio, and image files into corresponding categories for convenient navigation.  The player’s interface presents the option of thumbnail or filename browsing.  Thumbnails are extracted from movie cover art, album covers, and photos.  The media library functionality can also view all media files by type in a single menu, no matter the physical location of the files.  Multimedia content can be arranged into categories such as album, artist, genre, and date.  Similarly, search is provided by title, artist, genre, filename, and partial filename.  For photo viewing, the WD TV supports custom slideshows with transition effects and background music, as well as zooming and panning.  Video and music playback supports all the common commands you would expect, such as fast forward, rewind, pause, etc.

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The WD TV offers HDMI and composite video connections. ArcSoft MediaConverter 2.5 is included with the packaging for photo, video, and audio file conversion in case file compatibility is an issue at any point.  However, the WD TV player provides comprehensive format support. 

Video formats supported include AVI (MPEG-4, XviD, AVC), MPEG-1/2, WMV9, MOV (MPEG-4 and H.264), MKV, and H.264.  MP3, WMA, OGG, PCM WAV, AAC, FLAC, AIF/AIFF, and MKA are supported for audio.  JPG, GIF, PNG, TIF/TIFF, and BMP image formats can be viewed.  PLS, M3U, and WPL playlist formats are also recognized.

Aside for the player itself and the conversion software already mentioned, the packaging also includes a stand for WD My Passport hard drives (although any type of USB drive can be used), a remote control, composite AV cables, AC power adapter, and installation guide. The WD TV provides a simple, affordable solution for playback of PC video formats.  Note that the WD TV does not currently offer network support/streaming functionality.

Pricing for the WD TV is expected to be around USD $125.00, and will be available through all major retailers.

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Thermaltake Blacx HD DockThe Thermaltake Blacx Hard Drive Docking Station functions as an external hard drive enclosure, but with the brilliant benefit of being able to quickly and easily insert and eject the disk drive without having to get inside the hard drive enclosure.  The unit has many useful purposes for providing extra disk space anywhere needed.  We’re currently using it to provide extra disk space to a network media player.  It could also be used to move large data that will not fit on a USB flash drive between rooms, offices, etc.  The Blacx handles both desktop and notebook drives at sizes up to 1TB.  It also features hot swap support for drives.  The docking station is fully USB 2.0 complaint, to offer speeds as high as 480Mbps, and it works with both PCs and Macs.  The Thermaltake Blacx is very affordably priced at $39.99.

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We have reviewed numerous options in network media players, ranging back to the now defunct GoVideo D2730 Network DVD Player.  While every option has a shortcoming here and there, the DViCo TViX M-6500A Network Media Player is overall the best option we have thus far reviewed.  In addition to the network playback support from a PC or NAS, it also offers internal hard drive support for playback without any external source being powered on.  The new M-6500A features a black aluminum enclosure, Sigma’s latest SMP8635 processor, HDMI output, increased main memory, and more.

Formats supported for playback include WMV9, WMV-HD, DIVX, XVid, HDV, MKV, H.264, VOB (DVD layouts), ISO, MP3, WMA, FLAC, WavPack, PCM, DTS, and more.  Unfortunately, the player does not support WMV8.

DViCo M-6500A Network Media PlayerAnother beneficial feature of the TViX player is the bi-directional USB support.  That is, the unit can be connected to the PC to transfer files to and from the internal drive and external drives (USB slave) and USB flash drives can be connected as an additional source for video playback.  The latter is particularly useful for single-use content since users can simply copy a desired file onto a USB flash drive, connect it, and immediately play the video.  Both NTFS and FAT32 are supported for media file systems.

In addition to video, the player also offers music playback and image display.  All multimedia formats can be streamed via a LAN connection, played from the internal HDD, or accessed from an external USB device.

As for shortcomings, while the DViCo TViX M-6500A Network Media Player provides excellent overall format support, we have experienced playback trouble with some AVI videos.  The fact that high-definition formats and video content as fully supported (HD 1080i/720p/1080p Video output) is indeed a plus.  However, due to the player’s UI being specifically designed for hi-def display, if you have an older TV that does not support HD or does not support it well, the UI will be difficult to read.  Remember that having a LCD TV does not automatically mean that it is HD-ready.  In fact, we had to replace one of the test LCD TVs for this very reason.

The TViX M-6500A sells for about $399.  Note:  The TViX M-7000A model also exists.  However, it is not readily available in the US.  Also, feature-wise, it is almost idential to the M-6500A, while costing more and possessing a shape that does not fit well with most home theater systems.

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