Saturday, December 03, 2005

Holiday Gift Suggestions - Gadgets

Here's the first installment of my holiday gift list for the TV lover. First up I thought I'd start with gadgets and accessories. Please not that I'm generally not recommending specific models or manufacturers but rather items you might want to look at.

TV Sets: I'm not going to suggest a new TV. There are a couple of reasons for this. Everyone has their own preferences of course and a discussion of the relative merits of CRT, Plasma, LCD, Rear Projection and Projectors wouldn't be that useful. More to the point however is the fact that if you're anything like my brother - who is in the market - you should be doing diligent research about what to buy. After all, while the prices for 4:3 CRT TVs has gone down considerably since I bought my 27" TV a few years ago (and that was down a lot from prices before that), most of what you want to buy is going to represent a major financial expenditure and you want to go into that knowing what you want and what you can afford. I do recommend a 16:9 TV for anyone who is buying a new television, but be aware that most of these are "HD Ready" which usually means that they need a tuner of some sort to be fully functional.

Game Consoles: Another area where I'm going to recommend holding off if you're after the latest and greatest. Although Microsoft has recently shipped their "next generation" system, the X-Box 360 a major problem remains in that the unit is is short supply in the stores. It seems like they made a supreme effort to have something out for the Christmas shopping season even if the supplies are low. Also be aware that although Microsoft is quoting a low price, this is for a very stripped down unit - the "core system" - and to get a lot of what you really need you'll have to pay more. (Of course even the core system probably has more computing power than most home computers.) Beyond that there appear to be some problems with the initial release units which are likely to be worked out with time. Once Sony's Playstation 3 and Nintendo's Revolution are released, probably by the third quarter of 2006, you should see some price competition. You might look for good prices on some of the earlier systems now.

DVD: DVD players are today at the stage that VCRs were a few years ago. It is literally possible to get a bottom of the line DVD player for $40 or $50 and that's in Canadian money. I don't recommend the very low end players as some of them have problems with overheating and problems reading discs. You're probably better to pay a little more (and based on prices at Future Shop here in Canada it's a very little more) and get a better quality name brand unit. I'd probably stay away from High Definition DVDs for the moment to see which of the two formats - Blu-Ray and HD-DVD - gains becomes the standard.

Recording Devices: With the VCR going the way of the dinosaur (Future Shop currently offers one model, and no longer sells blank tape - combination DVD players and VCRs are only slightly more common) people who want to time shift programs need to look at the two major alternatives - Hard Drive units and DVD Recorders. The most famous name in stand alone Hard Drive devices is TiVo and although TiVo isn't available for sale in Canada the company has recently made it possible for Canadians who buy the units to program them for Canadian cable and satellite companies. Programmable PVRs - where a user can program the unit using an online guide - are are only available through the cable companies and satellite service providers, usually integrated into their HD tuner boxes. There are some DVD recorders that combine a Hard Disc Drive with the DVD Recorder so that you can record a show on the Hard Drive and then transfer it to a recordable DVD if you want to save it. Units with HD Drives often have built in software to allow you to edit programs before you commit them to recordable DVD. In Canada these sell for $450 and up. Somewhat more affordable are DVD Recorders with built in VCRs which also allow some editing between VCR and DVD. Most name brand standalone DVD Recorders sell between $200 and $350 in Canada which is about what I paid for my first VCR about fifteen years ago.

Home Theatre System: My brother built his home theatre system piece by piece, but he was an audiophile before he became interested in home theatre and had most of the components ahead of time. If you aren't an audiophile you might want to consider a Home Theater System which has all of the components you need, and in a lot of cases one you might not - a DVD player. Prices for name brand systems range from about $200 and up. As usual in such cases the difference in price is often driven by power use and manufacturer names. offers reviews of systems in various price ranges. One thing I'm not sure of is just where a system reaches a point where the average person can't detect the difference between systems. In most cases that probably depends on the end user.

Remote Controls: If you're like my brother you have too damn many remotes. In my brother's case, to watch a DVD he has to use the remote for the TV, the remote for the DVD player and the remote for his home theatre system, and that's only about half of the active remotes that he has. The obvious answer is to get a universal remote. There are a lot of them out there, and most of them have some drawbacks. offers reviews of most of the major lines, splitting them into Budget, LCD, PC Programmable and High End Remotes. The line that most people are used to seeing is the One-For-All remotes. The company dominates the market and generally offers a good product. A major drawback for their top of the line Kameleon series is depressingly short battery life and lack of customizability. A better choice might be a PC programmable remote like the Logitech Harmony series. These can be programmed for your equipment by connecting the remote to your computer using a USB cable and entering the model number of the components in your system. While online the Remote Control Programming Wizard helps you to set up macros that literally allows one touch operation of your equipment. Instead of using three remotes to do several actions to watch a DVD, my brother would literally have to press one button, labelled Watch DVD to do all the procedures required to play a DVD. Some of the higher end models in the Harmony series even include recharging stations.

Home Theater Seating: So you've got your TV, high end remote, DVD player/recorder, game console, and perfect audio setup and you still have money that you need to spend on your TV watching needs? offers a large variety of home theater seating available, both refurbished seats salvaged from theaters and new seating from a number of manufacturers. And if money isn't an object, you might consider something like this.

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