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 Just don't tell us. We'll be envious.