The Internationale Funkausstellung is not a jazz-fusion music event. Nope, the IFA is apparently the world's largest consumer electronics show these days, and it runs until 6th September in Berlin. Once over the disappointment that the only music was Muzak-alike piped hell, the race was on to discover the best gadget of the show. All in one day. This was made somewhat more difficult than usual as Sony were amongst the list of notable non-attendees. But never mind, there was plenty else to pick from. So, would I choose one of the 1920 x 1080 HDTV flat screen televisions, or maybe one of the many Blu-Ray devices, perhaps even a Skype enabled cordless telephone? Nope, surprisingly the gadget I liked best was the dinky V-Mate from SanDisk.
This video flash memory card recorder, there must be a better name, simply enables you to record video from your TV, cable or satellite set top box, DVD, VCR, TiVo or other PVR etc, directly onto a memory card. And there is none of the usual proprietary cards only nonsense that some manufacturers (notably absent) might have included. The V-Mate supports recording onto SD, MMC, MMCplus, MMCmobile, SDHC, MiniSDHC, MicroSDHC, Memory Stick PRO, Memory Stick Duo and Memory Stick PRO Duo.
It is this wide card format support that appeals to me, because it makes this a very versatile device. Coupled with the fact that it handles the analog to digital conversion, compressing video into MPEG-4 in multiple formats and creating whatever file format the target mobile device requires, it's pretty much untouchable at a price point expected to be no more than $130 when it goes on sale in the US in October. While the ability to just dump video onto a memory card and stick it straight into your mobile phone, PDA or even Sony PSP is tempting enough, the V-Mate has a maximum recording resolution of 640 x 480 that makes it possible to generate recordings suitable for playback on your laptop as well.
Although I am on the list for a review unit as soon as they become available to journalists in Europe, I have not had the chance to play with one in-depth as of yet. However, first looks are impressive it has to be said. Dead simple to use and allowing up to 3.5 hours of video per gigabyte (assuming mobile phone playback at a bit rate of 544kbps) it could be the answer to those of us who have plenty of gadgets with a memory card slot and video playback capability. Not only does it mean less expense than buying yet another gadget for the pocket in the shape of a mobile video player, but because solid state memory consumes less power than a hard drive based device, you get more video bang for your buck. Heck the thing even comes with a remote control and an infrared emitter to automatically turn on the TV tuner box, select the channel, and do its stuff when so programmed.
The V-Mate is, in my opinion, the best 5" of technology at IFA 2006.