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High-Def Is the Word at Electronics Show

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LAS VEGAS (AP) _ The wraps came off high-definition DVD players at this year's annual Consumer Electronics Show, offering the final component to replicate the movie theater experience at home.

And while a fierce DVD format war likely will delay the mass adoption of such devices, digital video is here to stay _ the Consumer Electronics Association trade group estimates 25 million U.S. homes will have a high-def TV set by year's end.

But big, expensive flat-panel sets aside, this year's gadget show offered plenty of smaller screens for video featuring the works of a phalanx of celebrities _ Tom Cruise and Robin Williams included _ who came to Las Vegas to help hawk them.

They included handheld devices that can play live or stored TV, music videos and even NBA games _ one of the offerings Google Inc. announced.

Yahoo Inc., DirecTV, Starz Entertainment Group and Sony were also among the companies getting deeper into the business of trying to make it simple to watch recorded Hollywood movies, home video and even live streaming television wherever you may be, on all manner of device.

Not to be outdone, radio was out in force as well, including palm-sized satellite receivers that hold hours of recorded music. Digital radios, which promise a high-definition listening experience from traditional earth-bound stations, were also on display as that service begins a wider national rollout this year.

Among the more interesting gizmos on display at the show, which ends Sunday:

_ The Inno, a portable combination XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. receiver/MP3 player with 1 gigabyte of internal memory.

The device, from Pioneer Electronics, allows users to store songs taken from their own CD collection, as well as 50 hours of XM programming. Playlists can combine songs from both sources.

Users can also bookmark songs they hear on XM, then buy the tracks for 99 cents from Napster. The device will be available in March and retails for $399. A boom box and car kit are also available.

_ Samsung Electronics Co. also announced a line of portable satellite radio/MP3 players.

The Helix XM2Go player is similar to the Pioneer Inno and will also sell for $399 in March.

But an even smaller Samsung player, called the Nexus, works along with a portable XM antenna/receiver called the Passport. The Nexus receives satellite radio signals when connected to the Passport and can record XM programs along with a listener's own music collection. Removed from the dock, the Nexus plays back the XM tracks recorded earlier.

A player that stores 25 hours of music will sell for $199 in March, while the larger player that holds 50 hours will sell for $249.99.

_ Several new handheld video options included the Gigabeat player from Toshiba, one of a series of devices running Microsoft Corp.'s portable media center software.

The device comes with either a 30- or 60-gigabyte hard drive and can store hours of music, videos, and TV shows and other content. The device displays the video on a 2.5-inch color screen. It also has a built-in FM tuner.

Both models will be available in March, with the 30 GB player selling for $299 and a 60 GB model retailing for $399.

_ GPS devices were another hot item at the show. The units, designed chiefly to get drivers door-to-door on unfamiliar roads, are expanding to include DVD players and music files.

The AVIC-Z1 from Pioneer has a 30 GB hard drive, using two-thirds of that space to store navigation information and the rest to hold as many as 2,500 songs ripped from CDs.

The system also plays DVDs on its 7-inch screen and, with an adaptor, can be used to control an iPod music player.

The system includes voice recognition, so a command such as ``Go to LAX'' will produce a detailed map to the Los Angeles airport. A user's entire address book can be transferred to the device from a cell phone or PDA wirelessly using Bluetooth and can be accessed via the touch screen.

The AVIC-Z1 will be available in April at a cost of $2,250.

_ New technology is also updating an old habit _ reading.

Sony is betting more on a smaller number of key products, including its electronic book reader.

The slim device can store hundreds of books in its internal memory and boasts a long battery life, which the company claims will allow a person to read ``War and Peace'' without a recharge.

The screen is not backlit so it doesn't flicker. And the size of the text can be changed to accommodate aging eyes.

Sony will be selling books for download on its Connect online service. Users can also display their own documents on the device, making it an efficient place to store files for long business trips.

The device will be available sometime in the spring but has yet to be priced.

_ As sophisticated as most electronic devices are, it would seem many of their designers have taken a cue from a very low-tech device _ the Swiss Army knife.

The I-Sonic from Polk Audio plays CDs and DVDs, is XM Radio-ready and has an auxiliary input for an iPod or other portable music player.

Its main function is as a high-definition radio player. HD Radio is relatively new, and the number of stations is growing. With HD radio, FM signals sound as good as CDs.

The I-Sonic is a one-piece unit that has remarkable sound for its small size.

The unit will sell for $599 when it goes on sale in April.
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