Our new tech column by Marco Valente takes a look at the latest products, news and developments in consumer technology – from gadgets to great software.

LG 47LG60 Scarlet HDTV

Aesthetically, she is beautiful, with her subtle violet glow on a gloss finish (i.e. fingerprint magnet). As a design element this set complements any contemporary décor. The scarlet comes with a bunch of great HDTV features and extras, such as an HDMI port (allows for a connection to an HDTV peripheral) and a USB port for viewing Divx movies or your photographs from your recent Cape Town trip. The HDTV resolution tops out at 1080 pixels: the high definition quality is rather impressive, not just in size but also picture quality. The Scarlet comes with an excellent HD video processor; reducing detail-destroying motion blurs thereby retaining a sharp full-
coloured picture which equals absolute delight for a videophile.

However, when viewing terrestrial channels such as SABC, the quality is degraded; worse than on a standard resolution set. Since SABC is being broadcast on an analogue signal at low res, the scarlet has to up-scale the image, therefore causing pixilation. However, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue as SABC is soon set to digitise its broadcast, enabling a better viewing experience on HDTVs. Obviously this isn’t an issue with DSTV’s HDTV channels. Coupled with her eye candy looks, the Scarlet makes for an impressive piece of home entertainment. Just as this review was published, LG released a newer model of the Scarlet, but this fantastic product remains on sale at a slightly discounted rate. Retail Price: Around R 21,000. – Web content South African style

For the content-hungry, like me, Muti is a localised version of the popular website. It’s a user-generated content site which allows users to post relevant stories, and vote for the most interesting articles. As a result, usually the cream of the crop rises to the top. Muti receives several new stories daily from around the South African web; thus the topics on display have relevance to our social and political context. There has been criticism that the choice of top content is dominated by a few of the main users within the existing community. Whether that’s true or not, I can’t say, but Muti is still a young site and its developers promise many more features to come in the near future. As the user interface and options offered are still rather simple I would like to see future developments on this website. Muti is also a great platform for corporate networking opportunities as it puts one in contact with other web savvy individuals and professionals. It’s also a useful tool for promoting one’s content, company website or blog:

LG Blu-ray Player – LG BD300

A slightly oversized package next to my 3cm high DVD player; nonetheless it is a Blu-ray player. This beast comes equipped with features beyond just full HD resolution (1080p) Blu-ray playback, such as an HDMI port (HDTV port), Component output, USB drive support and network video streaming. Unfortunately, it only has a two channel analogue output. While also boasting digital audio output this is useless to many older surround sound systems as they usually only support component, 2 channel and 5 channel output. My pioneer 5 channel home theatre system, which I purchased last December, doesn’t support digital audio. It’s silly of LG to not make their product backward compatible to theatre systems currently on the market.

The video streaming functionality however is what caught my attention as it allows one to watch movies straight from YouTube, provided that you have a decent internet cap of course. However, configuring its networking capabilities requires some technical knowledge. (I’m not sure the average user would be able to figure out what DNS settings are.) LG claims this player is capable of reading a wide variety of media formats, however I found that the variety wasn’t so wide: it played Divx movies but it struggled with standard MPEG videos (most user-created videos are in MPEG format as Divx format videos required extra gymnastics to create) and was unable to play Ogg music files; something my modest little DVD player accomplished with ease! That questions the player’s “multi format” support claims. While MP3 playback might satisfy most, Ogg is an upcoming format for audio compression that provides better quality of sound at a smaller file size; hence it’s my format of choice. So without any music format converting efforts, I was unable to play my music library on the player. Nevertheless, all-in-all Blu-ray playback and in-movie features were quite impressive.
Retail Price: Around R 4, 000.

Getting to grips withTwitter has been around for a while now but only recently has it generated much discussion and media attention. Twitter is basically a micro-blogging site, which allows one to post very short updates; whether they be personal or on a professional level. Many businesses have seen its potential and in certain cases the positive effects of Twitter as a marketing tool. Hollywood celebrities have embraced it as a powerful tool to stay in touch with their fans. Some have touted Twitter to be the Facebook killer, but it isn’t really as it provides quite a difference service. If anything, Facebook has made itself more like twitter with its new status update system. Similarly to Facebook, however, it is addictive and you could find yourself obsessively checking your Twitter feed every fifteen minutes:

GNUcash – Personal financial management application

It’s not quite Pastel or Quick Books, but if your digital financial management needs are not on an enterprise level, than the GNUcash application is a mighty useful one. It’s released under the GPL licence, meaning that it’s open source, and free to download, use modify and pass on. GNUcash is perfect for personal and small medium enterprise financial management, it is configurable to the South African currency, and it also allows you to set tax rates for convenience. It comes with the ability to generate various financial reports, both standard and custom.

The layout is logical, and five minutes spent reading the help contents will have you up and running and sorting out your budget, income and expenses. Its interface is vastly different to other accounting programs, but once one is accustomed to it, it becomes a very pleasant and extremely flexible application to use. I have been using it for just short of six months to manage my financial affairs and I’m greatly impressed with its performance:

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