Peter Lewis On Technology
By Peter Lewis

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Burn, baby-boomer, burn! Boomers may weep with nostalgia when they see Verbatim's Digital Vinyl CD-R discs, which resemble 45-rpm records. (Youngsters may weep at their ungroovy prices, $12.99 for a ten-pack.) They hold 700 megabytes of MP3 music files, and they're much less likely to scratch and warp than those old 45s. They also put a new spin on data backups.

A great camera is pointless if it's so heavy or bulky that you hate to carry it on a trip. The delightfully small Olympus C-50 Zoom ($599) is a rugged five-megapixel camera that fits easily into a pocket or purse yet delivers shots that rival those of larger and more expensive five-megapixel models. The C-50 has a 3X optical zoom lens, equivalent to a 38mm to 115mm zoom on a conventional camera. It'll appeal to beginners with its point-and-shoot simplicity, but also offers a full range of manual settings for advanced users. The C-50 uses the new xD memory-card format and a proprietary battery, so you'll want spares of each in your stocking. The Fujifilm FinePix F402 ($349) is one of the smallest, lightest four-megapixel cameras we've seen. Technically, it's a two-megapixel camera that uses Fuji's Super CCD magic to generate four-megapixel images (suitable for making prints up to 11 by 14 inches). It, too, uses xD memory.

Nearly 40 years have passed since AT&T demonstrated its Picturephone digital video-telephone system at the New York World's Fair. Everyone thought that by the year 2002, videophones would be as common as personal hovercraft and vacations on the moon. And they were right! But now comes the Vialta Beamer Phone Video Station, which attaches to any old-fashioned analog telephone line and allows callers to see each other. (Both parties must have Beamers, of course; they cost $500 for a set of two, and extra Beamers are $300 each.) Setup is easy. When two Beamer buddies talk, they simply hit a button and see each other on a small color screen. The video ranges from decent to jerky, but for now it's the next best thing to being there.

The Delphi XM SKYFi Radio system lets subscribers listen to 100 channels of nearly CD-quality, mostly commercial-free programming at home, in the car, or even at the beach. Radio signals are beamed digitally from satellites, so you can listen to your favorite XM channels almost anywhere, from the Rockies to Death Valley. XM apparently listened to its subscribers, who didn't like the idea of having to buy a separate $10-a-month subscription for each XM receiver. The key is Delphi's $130 portable XM SKYFi Satellite Radio receiver, a palm-sized device that plugs into a variety of sound systems. One is the Delphi Audio System boom box (below, $100). As an AC-powered desktop radio, it easily moves from room to room. Add eight D-cell batteries, and it can spend a day at the beach. The SKYFi receiver module also plugs into a car adapter ($70) or home stereo adapter (also $70). or

Dell's handheld computers are definitely going to shake the PDA market. The first two models, both slapped with the Axim X5 name, are based on Microsoft's Pocket PC Premium operating system. The entry-level Axim--just $199 after a $50 mail-in rebate--is built around an Intel XScale 300-megahertz chip backed by 32 megabytes of memory. Its more advanced sibling, with a 400MHz chip and 64 MB of memory, costs $299 after a $50 rebate. Both have 3.5-inch color displays and removable, rechargeable batteries as well as Type II CompactFlash and SecureDigital MMC expansion card slots, allowing them to be used as voice recorders, MP3 music players, or, with optional attachments, wireless web devices.

What are you going to do with the home videos you record over the holidays? Burn them to DVD, or course, for archiving and sharing with friends. But will your DVDs play at Grandma's house? There are pluses and minuses to all of the main rivals trying to become the universal format for DVD recording: DVD-RW, DVD-R, DVD+RW, and DVD+R. Should you care? Yes and no. Sony's DRX-500UL external recorder for Windows-based PCs ($429) solves the conundrum by including all four formats. It connects to a PC via USB 2.0 or iLink (Sony's name for FireWire) connectors. An internal drive, the DRU-500A, costs $329.

You could look it up: Microsoft Encarta is now the most popular encyclopedia in the U.S. The 2003 Encarta Reference Library ($64.95, after a $10 rebate) is a magnificent reference tool for families with or without school-age children, containing thousands of articles, pictures, animations, maps, and video clips. It can even update itself over the Internet. Windows only.