- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2002

Here's a look at some new hardware and software items:

DC3300 by Argus Camera, stand-alone unit, $199, four AAA batteries required. For memory keepers in the family or busy businesspeople on the go, this multifunctional device offers a voice recorder, a 1.3-megapixel digital camera and video camcorder all contained in a silver case the size of a Junior Mints box.

Its 32 megabytes of built-in flash memory allow it to save up to 250 still images, four hours of voice recording or five minutes of video (less when combined), which then can be downloaded onto a PC or shown on a TV.

It's surprisingly simple to activate. Users just pop in the batteries, look through the 1.5-inch color display and start collecting information. Photos can be taken in two resolutions, and an optional message function can be played when one is viewing the image.

A few slick features include the ability to pop in a smart media card for extra memory, digital zoom, built-in speaker, a carrying case and cables to get all of the technology rolling.

Once data has been collected, users download the information into a USB port on the PC. With the help of a software program, Picture Station III, users can cut off dead space in messages, add text, crop and print photos or prepare any of the media for e-mail delivery.

The image quality is great for Web-site realms (it's not bad as prints, either); the audio quality is more than adequate for notes; and the video quality the least impressive of the three is usable for the grandparents.

The bottom line: Argus brings people closer to the "Star Trek" lore of hand-held technology.

"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," by Warner Home Video for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, $26.99. Author J.K. Rowling's books about a magical world of young wizards thrilled movie audiences last year, and its digital-video-disc equivalent will impress equally.

The two-disc extravaganza is more of a puzzle expedition than just a visual event, as viewers must use their noggins to navigate Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for the chance to immerse themselves in Harry Potter's world.

The DVD adventure begins quietly on the first disc, which simply presents the 152-minute film in anamorphic widescreen along with a standard cast list and a few trailers.

Viewers relive the life of Harry, an 11-year-old boy verbally abused by his guardian aunt and uncle, who learns he is not just an ordinary boy. With the assistance of Hogwarts' gamekeeper Rubeus Hagrid, Harry learns that he is a wizard and will receive training at one of the most prestigious and unusual institutions in the country.

Starring Daniel Radcliffe and also containing enchanting performances from Richard Harris, Robbie Coltrane and Alan Rickman, the film lived up to its hype and gave director Christopher Columbus a floating feather in his directorial cap.

Ah, but the fun just begins with the movie. The second disc holds the secret of the Potter world, and I recommend loading it onto the computer for the tastiest treat although standard DVD entertainment centers can access most of the features.

Begin the adventure by entering Hogwarts' Great Hall to uncover the secrets of the school as a pupil, following the same routine as Harry, including visiting Diagon Alley to pull some cash out of Gringott's Bank, using the Sorting Hat to determine one's house, and seeing a lesson in the sport of Quidditch. Success is rewarded with video montages, character biographies, sketches and interviews.

Searching and solving become the order of the day as a persnickety narrator eggs on players to solve the stone sequence of the back alley or select the proper wand without blowing up Olivander's shop. This disc will be a child's delight but an impatient film connoisseur's nightmare. I spent way too much time just looking around for the fabled payoff deleted scenes from the movie. I will note that persistent fans will not be disappointed.

I also enjoyed the 360-degree iPIX tour of the some of Harry's main hangouts in the castle. This software plug-in allows users to fully scan a room and zoom in on interesting objects.

Additionally, just for overkill, viewers can use One Voice technology (microphone not included) to issue verbal commands to navigate the disc, get involved in the virtual world of interactive trading cards and play two demonstration versions of games one gives players the chance to assume the role of Harry Potter and another to build his Lego macrocosm.

The overall presentation is so authentic that viewers even can make the narrator munch on a sardine version of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans.

The most magical part of this experience? I had no tech problems while perusing the discs. Everything worked flawlessly on both my 2-year-old computer (which occasionally required the installation of software) and my television's DVD player. This treat alone made this guy, who hasn't even read one of Miss Rowling's books, a fan forever.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC, 20002; or send e-mail ([email protected]).


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