Creative's booth at CES this year was as large and in-charge as last year, and it held some exciting new products. The most talked about, and our personal favourite, was the new InPerson portable video-conferencing system. It's marketed as something of a tool for businesses: execs can chinwag and show off their latest diagrams and chest hair patterns to each other via the Web tubes. But we don't care about those guys. Our application for this is far more interesting.
InPerson could be the ideal way for couples, families and friends separated by distance to hook up without the need for a computer. Yes, video-calling is a piece of cake with some free software and a webcam, and most decent laptops have these features built-in as standard. But this little gizmo will cost about £60 when it's released in the second half of this year in the U of K -- and its painfully simple operation and cute form factor make it an ideal alternative to an expensive laptop or sitting up straight at a desk to use a PC.
It's got a VGA camera plonked in the middle that'll rotate to point at wherever -- or towards whatever -- you want to broadcast to your hunny. There's a speaker and microphone built-in, but mic and headphone sockets sit on the side if you want to use a headset.
A monthly fee is required to use the service (we're told around £5) but the first year of use comes free. Up to four people can be on a conference at once, and the H.264-powered video compression gives decent image quality -- itself capable of being outputted to a TV via composite cable -- over as little as a 256Kbps Web connection. Considering how easily this system could work using P2P technology, a monthly charge may quite rightly put off customers.
But if your friend doesn't want to buy an InPerson, they can use an ordinary microphone and webcam on a PC or laptop. They just need to visit a special Web site. A little plugin is installed to their Web browser giving them a compatible conferencing experience without messing with hardware or software drivers.
All in all, pretty neat, if basic: there's no built-in memory for songs or videos, or any ability to record chats. But it will work over Ethernet or Wi-Fi and, after playing with it today, we're fairly impressed, especially considering its price. Expect more news on InPerson in the coming months as it makes it's way to our shores. Click through for more from Creative.
What's all this, what's all this? A Zen Stone with a speaker in the back!? Preposterous, surely? We kid you not: Creative has shoved a little speaker driver into the back of the cute iPod shuffle competitors. Both the Zen Stone and the Zen Stone Plus have been given their own voice boxes that apparently "free people from headphones". No they don't. But they do sound cute.
Both models are still going to be available without speakers, but expect speaker-equipped versions to ship in the next few weeks. The Zen Stone comes in 1GB and 2GB capacities, with prices expected to start at around £30. The Zen Stone Plus comes in 2GB and 4GB flavours, starting at what we expect to be around £45.
If nothing else it'll give the chavs on the bus a new and exciting way to annoy commuters. Thank God for noise-cancelling headphones.
Upscaling DVD players may be all the rage at the moment but can the same technology be applied to videos with really crap resolutions? Say, those 320x240-pixel vids on your iPod? Yeah, we know they'll go up to 640x480 resolution if you make the effort, but what about 1,920x1,080? Then you'd be cooking with gas.
Creative's Xdock HD upscales videos on your eye-pop to 720p or 1080i HD resolutions, converts audio to DTS 5.1 surround-sound and, if you've got Creative's X-Fi Wireless Receiver, beams your beats around your house, too. The X-Fi Crystalizer technology is incorporated as well to make those MP3s sound less rubbish.
Our buddies at Creative gave us a private demo of the Xdock HD. We got to poke around one of the first models ever assembled and the results were pretty impressive. There were compression artefacts here and there, but the upscaled picture was stunning considering the poor iPod video was being pushed on to a 60-inch 1080p HDTV.
"We designed the Xdock HD so that all the movies, music and photos that you carry with you on your iPod can be experienced in HD in your home," said Steve Erickson, VP of audio for Creative. "The Xdock HD transforms your iPod from a portable device into a high-quality HD entertainment system."
More news on the Xdock HD when it becomes commercially available in the spring for about $400 (£200).