Archive for October, 2009

3-D TV, coming to your living room soon?

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

A model wearing Sony's 3-D specs

A model wearing Sony’s 3-D specs

3-D TV was the big draw at CEATEC IT and electronics exhibition this year. The fact that big names such as Panasonic, Sony and Sharp all showcased screens indicates that 3-D TV might now be ripe for commercial success. While you still need to wear special glasses to enjoy the experience, the clear lenses do not alter your perception of the rest of the world around you and makers claim that they significantly reduce the incidence of headaches. Any movie can be rendered 3-D by processing it through a special box that can convert the signal in real time.

While attending the show Japan Pulse got a sneak peak at Panasonic’s Phantom 3-D TV screen. When we donned a pair of specs we were impressed by how clear the rest of the world looked through them. First, we were treated to an aquarium display: The way the fish swam through the air toward us was very impressive but we couldn’t help noticing that around the edges the image lost its sharpness. Once we moved on to view the product with a bigger screen, following a video game character around a virtual rendering of Ginza, this didn’t seem to matter so much. Video games tend to draw the eye into the center of the screen, which means the technology will have maximum impact in this format.

These TVs are definitely an effective tool to draw the gamer further in to a virtual world, but viewers of movies might not be so happy to sacrifice sharp peripheral image for the impact of 3-D. We’ll have to wait until 2010 to see if 3-D proves to be a hit or miss in commercial markets.

Tokyo venues thinking outside the box

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

soundgardening

Great music has the ability to transport you to a different place. Sometimes quite literally. Over the last few months, some interesting aural performances have been happening in venues that are not known for – or built for – live music.

Continue reading about unlikely venues →

DoCoMo brings us little closer to our cell phones

Saturday, October 10th, 2009

Shall I connect to the internet master?

Shall I connect to the Internet, master?

NTT DoCoMo, evidently feeling that customers are just not attached enough to their mobile phones, has been developing a new range of Machi-Chara (virtual characters) that can help customers manage their cell-phone correspondence. “Even your older brother will  get angry with you if you ignore messages,” explained the booth babe at the recent CEATEC IT and electronics exhibition in Makuhari Messe.

These cute animated characters have been around for awhile, typically roaming around the users’ screen and reacting to incoming calls and messages, or even helping you with your appointments diary. What’s different about the new, yet-to-be-released range is that they are exploiting otaku moe (character love) fetishes to the max and messages from them are designed to have a more personal touch. For example, the maid in her frilly white apron might ask you, “May I connect to the Web site, master?”

There are three characters in total: older brother, younger sister and maid. The first is aimed at women and the latter two at men, presumably the logic being that women enjoy being bossed around by an angry older brother while men prefer to assume a dominant role with their personal online slave. We expect this application is going to be extremely popular amongst male anime fans.

Japan’s Uniqlo bent on world domination, reasonably priced socks

Friday, October 9th, 2009

Back in 2001, an up-and-coming retailer from Hiroshima opened a branch of its reasonably priced wares in the swank Ginza district. Even then people considered this a bold move by Uniqlo, whose casual, utilitarian fashions were considered unworthy of high street. Now fast forward to the present: Uniqlo’s Ginza Flagship just had a makeover, the company recently posted a 31% sales jump and branches are popping up all over, including flagship stores in New York and Paris. The founder and new “Maestro of Cool,” Tadashi Yanai, is the richest man in Japan.

What have they done so right?

Continue reading about Tadashi Yanai and Uniqlo →

3D marketing in motion

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

As we all know, Madison Avenue and their international counterparts got hideously drunk on the coincidental cocktail of Mentos and Diet Coke, and marketing departments around the world have been trying to bottle that sensation and sell it to YouTubers ever since.

Some companies have simply capitalized on the organically grown fan love. Others have promised fame and fortune to tomorrow’s consumer-media stars, or even going so far as tutoring  would-be viral videomakers. But one fool-proof way to create buzz is to provide a prefab scenario starring you, the loyal consumer. Only need photo; no creativity required.

Take OfficeMax, which nailed it last holiday season with its Elf Yourself campaign, by teaming up with JibJab, makers of fine cheeky greeting cards for the YT generation.

But when it comes to generating a true wow factor, Japan’s Motion Portrait might have an edge over other cut-n-paste photo labs. As predicted on Pink Tentacle two years ago, Motion Portrait was seen a killer app for 3D-enhanced games, sites and services.

Continue reading about Motion Portrait →

Drowning recession sorrows in cheap booze

Monday, October 5th, 2009

¥790 vodka nomihodai!

¥780 vodka nomihodai!

Standing outside Shimokitazawa station on a gloomy Saturday afternoon were these two guys trying to brighten up the day with an almost unbelievable offer: one hour’s worth of vodka nomihodai (drink all you can) for only ¥780.

Welcome to the wonderful multicolored, slightly vomit-spattered, world of recession drinking.

In addition to a proliferation of nomihodai offers, cut-price tachinomi (standing only) bars, where the customer sacrifices the comfort of a seat in return for cheap drinks and no table charge, are becoming ubiquitous. According to the Yomiuri Shimbun the number of standing bars in Sendai has increased fourfold since last year.

Continue reading about recession-style drinking →

Japanese gamers buy up Google’s City Streets

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

Picture 2

Nearly a month after the launch of Google City Streets, many of Tokyo's hottest properties have been snapped up

Many of today’s parents complain that their kids have abandoned cultural touchstones like checkers and chess for the digital decadence of World of Warcraft and Monster Hunter 3, but now Google has given one of the most popular (and conventional) board games in the world a modern spin.

Google City Streets takes Monopoly to a completely new level, incorporating the Internet giant’s mapping technology  to make the entire world the game itself. Launched in September, the game provides each new player with $3 million in electronic funny-money to start buying up the word’s streets. This includes everything from Broadway to the Autobahn to Takeshita Dori, but, as Diego from the Anime Affairs blog points out, many people may be satisfied by simply owning the street they live on in real life.

Continue reading about Google's City Streets as monopoly →

Japanese R&D brings 3D technology closer to home

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

3D_blue_1503D_red_150While most people look to Hollywood films and childrens’ features for the latest in 3D technology (selections from James Cameron’s “Avatar” will be premiered at TIFF this month), much of the coming onslaught of multidimensional entertainment is emerging here in Japan, and far the multiplex.

For starters, there is Fujifilm’s pricey new 3D compact camera and viewing system. Early reviews of the Finepix REAL 3D W1 have not been kind (or fair), but it would still behoove gadget hounds to read up before plonking down the estimated ¥100,000 for the gear required. Sony’s new HFR Comfort-3D is for pros capturing live-action events, and at 240 frames-per-second, that’s a lot of action. We’ll watch, too, because if Engadget is right, 3D tech may really be the killer app for sports.

If Sir Howard Stringer is correct, we’ll all be watching these sporting events on 3D TVs by next year. Sony, Panasonic, Samsung and every other major electronics producer either has or will have product ready by then, but a good place to look for the latest news will be at the CEATEC convention in Makuhari Messe next week, where many of the latest gear will be announced.

For gamers, the Playstation 3 will soon offer 3D capability to all of its existing games. The Xbox is likely to do the same. While not 3D in its conventional sense, I like how these games use voxel data and the now-ubiquitous tilt-shift photography method to give a sense of depth.

Perhaps the most significant application of 3D technology to affect our lives won’t come from entertainment but from the incorporation of haptic technology. Japanese scientists are now working on holograms that you can touch (or feel like you’re touching anyway), and everyone is talking about when our keyboards will be replaced with sci-fi e-Gloves that search and organize the Web more intuitively than our wireless mouse and track pad ever could. Yes, the future is here – you can almost reach out and give it a squeeze.

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