Pricey Pretty Things

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Luxury tech has traditionally been limited to big-ticket items — there's a small but substantial market for $25,000 TVs, for instance, and true audiophiles can drop more than $100,000 on a speaker setup. With Sony's new Qualia line, that high-end sensibility comes to the usually mass-market world of personal electronics.

The company has announced four Qualia products so far, and each is a marriage of luxurious materials, cutting-edge design and industrial-strength tech. Although the products are undeniably pricey, they're also really cool.

The $3,900 Qualia digital camera (available in June) is a techie piece de resistance, with styling that evokes Connery-era Bond. Thumb size and weighing just 2 oz., the camera comes in a leather-and-chrome briefcase with loads of accessories, from flash unit to telephoto lens to video-output connector for viewing shots on TV. The camera uses a thin lithium-ion battery and the smallest autofocus lens available and has only two buttons on its exterior. Image quality is a mere two megapixels, but some nice software tricks compensate for the lack of resolution.

Qualia's extravagance gets a bit out of hand with the $1,900 MiniDisc player (also out in June), which is chrome plated, carved out of solid brass — to eliminate structural seams that weaken over time — and accompanied by silicone-tipped brass earbuds. Sure, it basically performs the same functions as a run-of-the-mill $80 player, but its slick, cold body has a heft that's absolutely seductive.

Coming late this summer: custom-built headphones that reproduce frequencies ranging from 20 Hz to 120 kHz, generally considered a broader range than humans can hear. After a set is purchased, it's adjusted to one of three sizes to fit the wearer's head. And for the $2,600 list price, you also get your choice of colors — red or blue.

The fourth Qualia product is out now, and while it's the only nonpersonal tech item of the bunch, it's the most innovative. The $30,000 projector features the highest screen resolution available for TV and movie watching, and a high-powered xenon lamp that mimics sunlight.

Still, how many people are really going to spring for these products? Sony says it has a database of a substantial number of core customers in the U.S. to whom the new line will appeal. If you're one of them, you can sign up for availability updates at sony.com/qualia. Just don't tell us. We'll be envious.