Tech Watch: Apple's MacBook Announcement Eclipses Toshiba's New Notebooks; Warner Reveals DivX Distribution Plans

While Apple's Steve Jobs wowed Mac addicts with the latest versions of the MacBook today, Toshiba quietly announced a roundup of new notebooks. Care to wager on the winner?

Apple Showcases New MacBooks

At a special notebook-themed product event today, Apple revealed significant revisions to its two lines of portable computers, the MacBook and the MacBook Pro. The big news: brighter displays, faster graphics, and one-piece aluminum enclosures, with some innovative, smaller features making their debut as well.

CEO Steve Jobs took the stage at the Cupertino, California event today and announced incremental changes to the company’s popular ultra-portable, MacBook Air. The MacBook Air will now feature larger hard disk options, plus graphics chipsets from Nvidia and an LED-backlit display. The Air will also sport a new trackpad that will appear on all new Apple notebooks.

With a larger surface than previous versions, the Air's new trackpad features no-button clicking. Instead, the input device has a glass surface that enables clicking anywhere on its face, with a feel much like the iPhone. The new trackpad is also multi-touch enabled, allowing users to use several fingers to scroll, rotate and manipulate objects on screen.

The new MacBook and MacBook Pro will arrive in advanced, one-piece aluminum enclosures that should increase strength while reducing overall weight. Both notebooks register at just under one-inch thin, and at 4.5 pounds and 5.5 pounds respectively. Both the 13.3-inch and 15-inch screen sizes remain as options, and the screens will be glass-enclosed LED-backlit displays with similar aesthetic features to Apple’s popular desktop, the iMac.

Perhaps the biggest internal change is Apple’s decision to switch from Intel to the Nvidia graphics chipsets, specifically the 9400M and 9600M GT. In the MacBook, Apple claims the new chips will run five times faster than the old MacBook graphics processing units, while in the MacBook Pro — which featured a different Nvidia chip in the last generation — the new graphics cards will run three to eight times faster. The 9600 card also features a "turbo" mode for MacBook Pro users to speed up graphic-intensive tasks, but it puts a damper on battery life.

So what else is under the hood? The MacBook Pro comes with 2.4, 2.53 or 2.8GHz Core 2 Duo chips from Intel, and the regular MacBook sports either a 2.0 or 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo. The machines will feature a maximum hard drive spec of 250GB and 320GB respectively, and the Pro version will add a FireWire 800 port.

The new MacBook starts at $1300 and the MacBook Pro will start at $2000. No revision to the 17-inch MacBook Pro was announced. The MacBook Air starts at $1800, and the existing entry-level white MacBook will remain in the line as a budget option at $999.

Toshiba Picks a Bad Day To Announce Notebooks

While the rest of the tech world is drooling over every last detail of Apple's new MacBooks, Toshiba quietly introduced several pragmatic, attractive portable options of its own.

First up is the enterprise-oriented Tecra R10, which weighs a reasonable 4.4 pounds and is only 1.13 inches thick. Battery life is also decent at 5+ hours, and the heavy lifting is done by an Intel Centrino 2 processor aided by an Nvidia Quadro NVS graphics processing unit with 128MB of RAM. The 14.1-inch display is LED backlit, and the machine will sport an ExpressCard slot for expandability, as well as a couple of thoughtful features like USB ports that stay on even when the machine is asleep (to charge any gadgets that are plugged in.) It’s a little over-priced at $1550, but the svelte form-factor will give Lenovo a run for its money amongst business customers.

If form factor and longevity are your priorities, the new Portege R600 might be worth a look. Thanks to its compact 12.1-inch display and a conscientious Centrino 2 CPU, the little bugger weighs only 3.2 pounds and gets killer battery life: a claimed 7.5 hours on one charge. Like the Tecra R10, it’s a hair over 1 inch thick — 1.18 to be exact — and comes in an unobtrusive gray matte finish for $1400. Both notebooks are available immediately.

Warner Bros. To Sell Electronic Movies

While it seems that this whole "Internet" thing has many traditional media companies totally baffled, a few are beginning to mobilize in promising ways. Today Warner Bros. showed a stroke of prescience by inking a deal with DivX, Inc. to distribute movies electronically in the company’s already-popular DivX format. Sony orchestrated a similar deal with DivX earlier this year, so Warner Brothers isn’t exactly a pioneer — but the more companies amenable to electronic distribution, the better.

The new DivX content will be playable on computers and mobile devices, and while DivX likes to trumpet its "high quality," we’ll have to wait about a year before the format goes HD. That said, the title selection should be significant. Warner Bros. representatives say that the "wide-ranging agreement covers all titles available for digital distribution... including current and back-catalogue major motion picture and television programs." The content will also be compatible with DivX-compatible DVD players, Blu-ray players, and game consoles.

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