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Our Holiday Guide to ... Holiday Guides

By Cynthia L. Webb
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Friday, December 3, 2004; 10:04 AM

'Tis the season for all things electronic. IPods, cell phones, gaming systems and digital cameras are among the tech items at the top of holiday wish-lists. Consumer electronics are so hot, department stores are stocking up on gadgets rather than ho-hum fashion and home products, hoping to cash in on the craze this holiday season.

But sorting out which MP3 player is best (an iPod or a Rio, for example), how to select one gaming console over another or making sense of all the different plasma and high-tech TV platforms can become as much a chore as decorating your house for the holidays.

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Enter the ever-popular tech gadget gift buying guide, a staple of a number of publications this year, designed to be a roadmap for the best and brightest gifts of the season. Buying tech gadgets for friends and loved ones at the holidays creates big business. How big? "This season, 42 percent of consumers are expected to buy electronics as gifts, making it the fourth most popular gift category after clothing, toys and DVDs or videos, according to a survey of more than 2,000 consumers conducted by NPD Group, a market research company in Port Washington, N.Y.," the Associated Press explained in an article about old-line retailers hawking consumer electronic goods to compete with the likes of Best Buy, Circuit City and others.
The Associated Press via washingtonpost.com: Retailers Stock Up on Latest Gadgets (Registration required)

Specifically, digital TVs and MP3 player sales are helping to buoy sales at Best Buy, Dow Jones Newswires noted yesterday. Department stores and big-box stores like Target want in on this action.
Dow Jones Newswire via The Wall Street Journal: Best Buy's Sales Rise Modestly, Boosted by TVs, MP3 Players (Subscription required)

Sorting Through All the Gadgets

The Boston Globe is among the newspapers with its own guide to buying technology gifts, including MP3 players and TVs. Reporter Hiawatha Bray does a good job offering up some alternatives to the standard tech gadget fare (though iPods and cell phones with hip ring tones are a must-have item for most guides, including Bray's). The Globe guide is handy for offering similar items for both cheapskates and those who want the top of the line. Bray didn't skip over the iPod, which ranges in price from $249 to $599 for an iPod Photo, but also offered up an interesting alternative: "The Creative Nomad MuVo sells for $50 and is about the size of a cigarette lighter. Forget about storing your photographs, or your entire CD collection; this music player packs a mere 128 megabytes of storage, only enough for about three CDs worth of listening. On the other hand, because it uses flash memory instead of an expensive and power-hungry mini-hard drive, the MuVo will run for hours on one AAA battery. And it doubles as a thumb drive. Just plug into a computer's USB port as an easy way to copy a few files. No, it's not nearly as hip as an iPod Photo, but we really didn't want to see your baby pictures anyway." Want to keep your music to yourself? Bray suggests either the $300 Bose headphones, or: "If you prefer the peace that comes from saving money, consider a set of Koss QZ Pro headphones. They work on the same principles as the Bose system, but cost a mere $60."
The Boston Globe: When I Do My Holiday Tech Shopping, I'm Looking For ...

The Washington Post's Web site has an expansive gift guide which I mention regardless of working for the same company. The guide is particularly helpful for searching for gifts by category, with buying guides separated for some of the most popular consumer electronics items this year: personal computers, digital photography, digital music and handheld devices.

Tech guru Rob Pegoraro's advice on gaming consoles is worth a read (even if hard-core gamers might disagree about which device is better). He gives the thumbs-up to Microsoft's Xbox. "One console, the Nintendo GameCube, is clearly obsolete, with a diminishing supply of new titles. The other two -- PlayStation 2 and Xbox -- are far more competitive. After years of steady work by Microsoft to improve the Xbox's capabilities and the support from its developers -- getting Electronic Arts to write games for its Xbox Live online service this year was a huge coup for Redmond -- the Xbox is now the PS2's equal. Sony's console still offers far more titles, including plenty of PS2-only titles (like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas), but the Xbox delivers better graphics and has quite a few exclusive games of its own these days, such as Halo 2." Pegoraro will be online on Monday as part of a series of discussions to answer personal technology questions.

The Globe's piece lacks the three-dimensional appeal of having a gift guide tailored for the Web. It helps to have pictures to look at and other tidbits that won't fit in the day's papers. The Post has a multimedia guide with pictures and details of the season's must-have items, with the iPod as the first showcase in the digital picture collection. CNET's News.com also has a collection of pictures online showing the most-wanted tech items, including Nintendo's DS gaming platform.

News.com's holiday gadget review is another noteworthy stop for tech shoppers. CNET is known for its product reviews and this expertise shows in the expansive details in its 2004 guide and its stand-alone review site. CNET gives a leg up to flat-screen TVs. "While PCs and peripherals such as MP3 players have traditionally topped tech wish lists, this year retailers are expecting some changes, thanks to fast-falling prices on new TV technology. Flat-panel displays can now be had for $1,500 to $1,800, making them more competitive than ever with laptops and other computer gadgets," CNET said. The news site gives buyers a likely price range for snapping up the hot plasmas screen TV. "Opening prices on 42-inch plasma screen TVs -- which had been in the $3,000 to $5,000 range earlier this year -- will easily reach down into the $1,500 to $2,000 range this holiday season. At the same time, good prices on LCD TVs, whose screens range up to about 30 inches, will be in the $1,000 to $1,500 range, while 50-inch or larger rear-projection TVs go for around $3,000, according to data from retail tracker NPD Techworld."

CNET also has helpful advice for buying digital cameras and finding bargains on PCs and MP3 players. CNET mentions iPod at the top of its music-player list, of course, but gives some alternatives, noting the "rest of the field, including Archos, iRiver, Digital Networks, Creative and Sony (which recently said it would add MP3 support to its digital audio devices) all are gazing at good sales prospects for the holidays." CNET this year is offering a "Holiday Help Desk" call-in show for readers to ask questions about tech gadgets.

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