Heavenly Holiday Tech Worth Saving Up For
Christmas in October? It's never too early to start planning your gift giving--or to start laying the groundwork for how especially good you've been this year. And if you're making a list, you certainly have a lot to choose from: Santa's little helpers have been busy cranking out some great stuff, from connected media players and multitouch screens to wafer-thin HDTVs and groovy netbooks. Here are 10 shiny objects we hope to see in our homes in December.
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HP DreamScreen 100 Internet Touchscreen
Think of it as a digital photo frame on steroids. The HP DreamScreen 100, available in 10- and 13-inch models, does more than merely display family snapshots. Connect this sexy display (#98 in The PC World 100: Best Products of 2009) to your home network via Wi-Fi or ethernet, and you can then use the handheld remote to stream your favorite Pandora channels or up to 10,000 Internet radio stations, view your calendar, set alarms, see a five-day weather forecast, and catch up with your peeps on Facebook. Put this beauty on your nightstand, and you can finally toss your old clock radio.
Microsoft Zune HD
From its luscious multitouch OLED screen to its slick social media tools, the Zune HD is as cool as anything that doesn't have an Apple logo. The HD stands for both high-definition radio--the new Zune handles music and data streams from multicasting radio stations--and high-def video. (We ranked the Zune HD at #22 in The PC World 100: Best Products of 2009.)
Using an an external dock, you can connect the Zune HD to your HDTV and watch movies at 720p. Log on to the Zune Marketplace via Wi-Fi, and you can buy tunes and shows, stream music, get expert recommendations, and connect with other like-minded Zune owners. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus--and he lives in Redmond, Washington.
LG SL90 HDTV
You get nothing but screen with this "borderless" 1080p HDTV from LG, which features a bezel less than an inch wide, covered from edge to edge in glass. At only 1.15 inches thick, the SL90 is also one of the thinnest flat panels ever made, thanks to its LED backlighting, which also boosts image contrast and cuts energy consumption. The 120MHz refresh rate makes the on-screen action more attractive too, removing the blur that can occur during fast-motion scenes on 60MHz LCDs. Available in 42- and 47-inch versions, this LG is coming to a mancave near you.
Manufacturer's site | $2000 to $2400
Sony Alpha DSLR-A330 Digital Camera
Surprisingly lightweight and lovely to look at, this copper-colored 10-megapixel camera bridges the gap between SLRs that require shutterbug skills and supereasy point-and-shoot models. A pull-out 2.7-inch LCD lets you angle the image preview on the Sony Alpha DSLR-A330 for easier viewing in different lighting situations, while the autofocus and image-stabilization features help you avoid capturing images with too-much-coffee-before-lunch jitter. Brief tutorials on the camera's screen explain the effects of each setting and teach you how to take better photos as you go.
FLO TV Personal Television
This 5-ounce device offers a 3.5-inch touchscreen and a tuner that receives content via the FLO mobile TV network, which features live broadcasts of shows from most of the major networks and such cable staples as ESPN, MTV, and Nickelodeon. The MediaFLO broadcast service is available in 86 metro areas at this writing, and it's expected to reach 200 million consumers by year end. Never leave home without your TV again.
Manufacturer's site | $250, plus $9 a month
Samsung Go N310 Netbook
This nifty netbook comes in four crayon colors, each with a rounded, rubberized texture that feels so much like a basketball that you may be tempted to dribble it (but try to resist). Despite its overall petite size, this sub-3-pound portable features a roomy keyboard and a gorgeous 10-inch LED-backlit screen, and its battery lasted for more than 9 hours in PC World tests. A Windows 7 version and a model with an AT&T 3G card embedded will be available in November. He dribbles, he shoots...nothing but Net.
Gateway One ZX Desktop PC
By grafting a widget-driven multitouch interface on top of Windows 7, Gateway puts photos, music, movies, games, social networks, and more at your fingertips--literally. These slender, all-in-one desktop systems come in two flavors. With a 1080p LCD, a 1TB hard drive, 8GB of RAM, an HD Webcam, a DVD reader/writer, a 5.1 surround-sound card, and an optional TV tuner, the 23-inch ZX6800 is designed with gaming and entertainment in mind. The 20-inch "student" model, the ZX4800, packs a little less oomph but costs roughly half as much. We can't wait to get our hands on one when they come out later this fall.
Manufacturer's site | $750 to $1400
Blue Microphones Eyeball 2.0 Webcam
We know you're pining for a sleek PC. Don't you deserve an equally stylish Webcam for your Skype chats? The Blue Microphones Eyeball 2.0 features a large high-fidelity microphone with a tiny 2-megapixel video camera peeking out from the side. Place the device on your desk, or remove the base and anchor it on top of your notebook. Don't feel like showing your face to the world? Just snap the camera into place behind the mic to prevent any accidental Webcam broadcasts.
Kodak Zi8 Pocket Video Camera
Pure Digital's Flip may have invented the market for pocket-size digital video cameras, but Kodak took the idea to the next level. The Zi8 (#20 in The PC World 100: Best Products of 2009) captures full 1080p video at 30 frames per second, as well as 5-megapixel stills. Built-in image stabilization helps you avoid the accidental shaky-cam effect, while an external microphone jack lets you capture more of the sound you want and less of your own huffing and puffing. The Zi8 alone won't make you the next J.J. Abrams, but it can help your home movies look and sound more like Star Trek and less like Cloverfield.
Olive Opus No. 4 Digital Music Server
If you've been very, very good this year, Santa might leave one of these under your tree. For the audiophile who turns his nose up at MP3s, this digital music server is just the thing. It lets you rip up to 6000 CDs and store them in lossless DAC format. You can then connect the Opus to your home stereo and select music from the touchscreen. Add a few Melody No. 2 multiroom modules, and you can share your pure, unadulterated audio throughout your home via Wi-Fi or ethernet. It's one of the best reasons we've yet found to be less naughty and more nice.
More info | $1500 to $1800 (Opus No. 4), $600 (Melody No. 2)