The 10 most cutting-edge products of 2008

In his latest installment of Fully Equipped, David Carnoy puts forth a list of the 10 most cutting-edge products of 2008--so far.

This year still has several weeks left on the calendar, but it's not too early to look back at the past 10 months and evaluate how we've progressed on the consumer tech front. Rather than look at the best products of the year, however, I decided to focus on the ones that were the most cutting-edge. As such, I've looked back at everything we've covered this year, and I've done my best to winnow down the list and come up with 10 products I think are at the cusp of... something. They may not be fully baked, and they may be overpriced, but they're at the forefront of their respective categories. Of course, I've surely missed some worthy products, so feel free to agree or disagree and add your own selections in the comments section below.

1. Digital SLR: Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Canon USA
There's been a lot of anticipation surrounding the arrival of Canon's EOS 5D Mark II dSLR, the successor to company's workhorse EOS 5D, a favorite among portrait photographers because of its full-frame 35mm sensor. The new model, which is slated to ship at the end of November, features that same full-frame sensor, 21-megapixel resolution, and fairly aggressive pricing ($2700--body only) for a camera in its class. But what really sets itself apart from the competition is the addition of HD video capture. Nikon's relatively inexpensive D90 also offers 720p video capture, but the 5D Mark II's video is a big step up. Granted, it's from Canon, but an early sample video looks really good--and Senior Editor Lori Grunin says she's been impressed with the footage she's seen.

With both excellent still capture and HD video capture, the 5D Mark II may just revolutionize photojournalism--and journalism in general.

>> Read the CNET first take of the Canon EOS Mark II
>> Check out the video sample (canon.com)


2. LED-backlit LCD TV: Sony KDL-55XBR8
A few weeks ago Senior Editor David Katzmaier reviewed Samsung's LN46A950 LED-backlit LCD TV and declared it, "The most advanced television money can buy." He also said it "represents the peak of flat-panel LCD performance and picture quality." But then the Sony KDL-55XBR8 arrived and stole the crown from the Samsung.

In the world of LCD TVs, the hot feature is LED-backlighting--and it doesn't come cheap. The Sony KDL-55XBR8 costs a whopping $7,000. Samsung's A950 series, which contains the aforementioned 46-inch model and a 55-inch model, retail for more than double what typical LCDs of their size cost. And LG will be joining the LED crowd with its upcoming 47LG90. They incorporate something called "local dimming," a bit of circuitry that allows individual LEDs behind the screen to be dimmed or turned off as needed. That tech wizardry produces extremely deep black levels that are closer to those produced by the best plasma displays. Until now, of course, LCDs have had a reputation for mediocre black-level performance compared to that of plasma.

At $5,000, Sony's 46-inch model is even more expensive than the Samsung. (LG's 47-incher will list for $3,700.) We're not sure how many takers there will be at these prices, but in a couple of years, we can expect to see these top-of-the-line LCD TVs at more midrange prices.

>> Read the full CNET review of the Sony KDL-55XBR8
>> Read David Katzmaier's blog on LED-backlit LCD TVs


3. Network media streamer: Sling Media SlingCatcher
Slingmedia
Sling Media has been talking about its new killer device--the SlingCatcher--for close to two years. Well, it's finally about to arrive and it from recent demos we've seen, it's looking very promising. Just what is SlingCatcher? Well, it's sort of a triple-header digital media device. First off, it can act as a receiver for any Slingbox, so you can watch your living room DVR on your bedroom TV (for instance). Secondly, it's a plug and play digital media player: plug in a USB flash or hard drive loaded with movie, music, and photo files, and there's a good chance the SlingCatcher will be able to play it back. Thirdly, the SlingCatcher also lets users mirror anything on their PC screen to their TV screen through an application called SlingProjector--meaning anything you can watch on your computer can now be viewed on your TV. And there are even rumors that it will eventually be able to stream video directly from the Web. Trust us, it takes the whole place-shifting, time-shifting concept to whole new level.

>> Read the CNET first take of the SlingCatcher


4. Wi-Fi radio: Logitech Squeezebox Boom
Logitech Squeezebox Boom
Logitech
Think of a Wi-Fi table-top radio as sort of supercharged version of Bose's popular Wave radio. In addition to being able to access music from PCs and networked hard drives on your home network, it can also tap into the thousands of Internet radio stations around the world. Several new Wi-Fi table top radios have come onto the market in recent months, but we currently feel that only one has gotten it totally right.

Here's a snippet from our full review: "One of our favorite streaming-audio products in recent years is the Logitech Squeezebox Duet. That unit makes it fairly simple to access a wide range of Internet- and PC-based digital audio sources, and listen to them in any room of your home. But the Duet is a two-part product--a base station, plus an iPod-like remote control--the former of which needs to be hooked up to an amplifier of some sort to actually hear any music. Wouldn't it be great if you could just shrink all that down into a single all-in-one device? That, in a nutshell, is exactly what the Logitech Squeezebox Boom is."

>> Read the full review of the Squeezebox Boom


5. Digital photo frame: Kodak OLED picture frame
Kodak
While LCD and plasma continue to make incremental improvements, the display technology still garnering a lot of buzz is OLED. The technology is still really expensive, and everyone's waiting for larger panels to become available. But while we wait, Kodak has gone ahead and introduced a 7.6-inch OLED photo frame with build in WiFi that carries a whopping price tag of $999. That's the price you pay for cutting-edge.

>> Read the CNET first take of Kodak's OLED digital photo frame


6. Green surge protector: Belkin Conserve
Belkin
Not surprisingly, it turns out that when your electronics seem like they're off, they're not. Alas, they're in standby mode, which means they're drawing power and inflating your energy bill. Enter Belkin's Conserve surge protector. It's designed to shut off electronics that don't need to be on while allowing some components--like your DVR or router--to continue running. The Conserve, which hits stores soon, comes in 8- and 10-outlet versions that include a remote wall switch that flips the power on or off. Both models feature two always-on outlets for those products you need to have constantly on. Of course, how much you save will depend on how many electronics you have running. We're not not sure yet how much you can save (we look forward to some long-term testing), but even with a modest savings of $5-$10 a month you'll make back your investment on the $50 Conserve ($60 for the 10-outlet model) in less than a year. Not watching your 50-inch plasma and playing your PS3 or Xbox 360 all day would probably help, too--but at least you're not wasting energy while you're asleep.

>> Watch the CNET First Look video of the Belkin Conserve surge protector


7. Netflix Watch Instantly players
LG
Until May of this year, Netflix subscribers could only tap into Netflix's Watch Instantly video streaming feature on a Windows-based PC. But now the options are expanding. There's the $100 Netflix Player by Roku, LG's BD300 Blu-ray player with built-in Netflix streaming capabilities, and soon the XBox 360 will support the Watch Instantly feature. In our review of the Roku box, we were a little disappointed by the slim movie library, but since its release Netflix has been adding more flicks and TV shows: it recently inked deals with Starz and CBS (the parent company of CNET) that really expands the number of quality offerings. The service still needs broader studio support to really achieve critical mass--Warner Brothers' massive library would be a huge boost, for instance--but the fact that a growing amount of quality content is available for one low monthly fee makes the Netflix subscription all the more attractive.

>>Read the reviews of the Netflix Player by Roku and the LG BD300 .


8. Netbook PCs: Dell Inspiron Mini 9
Some people call them Netbooks. Some people call them mini laptops. I call them cheap, lightweight laptops--and several have hit the market this year. It's hard to single out one model over another because they all have their pluses and minuses but--for the moment, anyway--Dell's Inspiron Mini 9 seems to have a struck the decent balance between price, performance and features. Look for this segment of the laptop market to get even hotter as prices get trimmed, included storage capacity increases, and Intel comes out with a speedier version of its Atom chip.

>> Read the CNET review of the Dell Inspiron Mini 9
>> Read Dan Ackerman's "Building the perfect Netbook" blogpost
>> Read "The search for the perfect Netbook" comparison



9. Smartphone: T-Mobile G1 with Google Android OS
Apple fans, don't assault me. Yeah, the iPhone's cutting-edge. I know, you know it, but that's old news. The T-Mobile G1--or simply the Google Phone, as some people call it--was finally unveiled and the reception wasn't wholly enthusiastic (bottom line: the iPhone is better). But while the G1 certainly has its drawbacks (no integrated headphone jack, no stereo Bluetooth, no video capture, no support for corporate email--yet), the concept of a more democratic "open source" phone that runs on a Linux-based OS has the potential to shake up the cell phone and mobile Internet markets and help transform smartphones into smarter devices. That said, the smart bet, is to wait for the G2. All cutting-edge stuff takes a generation or two to work out the kinks.

>> Read the CNET review of the T-Mobile G1 and watch the hands-on video

Honorable mentions:
>> BlackBerry Storm (new touch-screen BlackBerry due out soon)
>> Motorola ZN5 (5-megapixel camera phone with Kodak Gallery integration)


10. Sony PSP 3000
The next iteration of Sony's Playstation Portable may not be a huge leap forward but the addition of a brighter, glare-resistant screen, a built-in mic, and better video-out support does take the system up a notch and raises the bar for portable gaming. For its part, Nintendo will launch the DSi in Japan in November, with a worlwide release planned for early 2009. The DSi is 12 percent thinner than the DS, has a built-in 3-megapixel camera, an SD card slot, and slightly larger displays. As happy as that makes Nintendo fans, we're giving the cutting-edge nod to the PSP 3000 in the mobile gaming category--at least until we start seeing a better gaming selection on the iPhone/iPod Touch.

>> Read the CNET review of the Sony PSP 3000 and watch the hands-on video

 

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