Strange New World: Picks of the Week

While the consumer electronics industry continues to enjoy its summer nap, the outdoor tech world has managed to get itself into a dust-up — and onto the leader board for our picks of the week.

Get this: The beacons used to locate your sorry lost self in an outdoor emergency are undergoing some controversial changes. Elsewhere in the strange new world of tech, there are rumblings of — gasp! — a shortage in liquid crystal displays for the coming holiday season and traditional gaming platforms take on the popular Nintendo Wii.

Here, then, are our picks for top tech stories of the week:

When Is a Personal Locator Beacon Not a Personal Locator Beacon?

It sounds like something from a Jerry Bruckheimer movie: a portable gizmo that alerts parajumpers to come fetch you when you're stuck in a canyon or lost at sea. Actually, such personal locator beacons do exist. Made by companies including ACR Electronics and McMurdo, they use a slick combination of satellites, Global Positioning Systems and radio beacons to forward your location to authorities in an emergency.

We love personal locator beacons; they are a must for serious outdoor adventurers. But the price and the clunk factor are definite turnoffs. Better units can cost nearly $700 and are the size of a very, very, very large cell phone.

An Australian company called TracMe is taking a new tack. It is making a simple $150 beacon that can fit easily in your pocket. The TracMe cannot compete with a true personal locator beacon in terms of features because it has no satellite connectivity or GPS. The unit simply emits an audio signal with a range of a few miles on the radio bands found in most consumer walkie-talkies. So rescuers need to know roughly where you are to come and find you. And although experts could locate a TracMe with any radio that used the frequencies, most rescue teams would need a proprietary direction finder. So that can limit effectiveness.

Purists in the search-and-rescue business say TracMe gives a false sense of security and should not be allowed to be labeled a "personal locator beacon." And it is true that there is the whiff of marketing spin with this product. But we think the TracMe's low price and ease of use can only help in an emergency. And it doesn't hurt that the unit can send a signal for about a week.

Remember that guy who cut off his arm with a pocket knife when he got stuck under a boulder in Colorado? The TracMe probably would have saved him a whole lot of fuss. And whole lot of blood.

Are LCDs Getting Scarce?

It looks like the age of steadily dropping prices for liquid crystal display TVs may be coming to an end. After about a decade of steady discounting, the supply of LCDs seems to be tightening. TV trade rag This Week in Consumer Electronics is reporting that both LCD TVs and digital picture frames are getting scarce in certain sizes.

The culprit here is offshore manufacturing that is — to the ultimate shame of the American technology media — still beyond our ability to predict, or even fact check. So we're frankly not sure what is going on here. The speculation is panel makers are tightening production to stabilize pricing. And there is a concern that the price of LCDs may actually rise for the first time this holiday season.

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