Last-minute shoppers who aren't sure what gifts to buy finicky friends and family members need to look no further than the January issue of Consumer Reports. The issue, on newsstands December 1 and online at www.ConsumerReports.org, features a list of electronics gifts including flat-panel TVs, computers and digital cameras that are sure to please this holiday season.
Despite a generally gloomy sales outlook this holiday season, electronics items are expected to hold their own according to a recent Consumer Reports Holiday Shopping Poll. Fifty-one percent of poll respondents plan on giving recipients items such as video games or accessories, digital cameras, headphones, or other gadgets. Electronics gear also ranks among the most desirable gifts for both men and women with 15 percent of people putting gadgets at the top of their wish list.
"It's a great time to purchase electronics items because this year is all about value," said Paul Reynolds, Consumer Reports electronics editor. "The retailers started their sales as early as October and they will continue to slash prices through the season."
Flat-panel TVs – Prices are Right
Consumer Reports notes that LCD and plasma TV prices continue to head downward, making for enticing deals. Plus, some new models are trimmer, as thin as an inch in depth, and most LCD and plasma sets that are 40 inches or larger have 1080p resolution, which can show off all the detail in high-def images.
Many LCD sets have 120Hz or 240Hz technology which can reduce or eliminate motion blur, and some use full-array LED backlights with local dimming, which can improve black levels. Consumer Reports highlighted recommended TVs that are notable values. Among the sets that stand out:
- The 37-inch Panasonic Viera TC-L37S1 ($750) offers excellent picture quality and a wider viewing angle than many LCD TVs.
- The very good Insignia Advanced Series NS-L42X-10A ($750) is a low-priced set with 120Hz technology.
- The 55-inch Toshiba Regza 55ZV650U ($1,900) has excellent picture quality, good sound, and a wider viewing angle than many other models.
Although LCD models account for 90 percent of TV sales, the best plasma TVs display deep blacks and unlike LCDs they have a virtually unlimited viewing angle. Plasma TVs can also display fast motion without blurring, and many are now as energy-efficient as LCDs.
- The Panasonic Viera TC-P42S1 ($800), a low-priced 1080p set, offers excellent picture quality and good sound.
- The Samsung PN58B650 ($2,140) has excellent picture quality, an unlimited viewing angle, good sound, a great menu and has Internet access capability.
- LG's 60-inch 60PS60 ($2,000) has excellent HD picture quality, very good sound, and Internet access.
Netbooks: high tech on the cheap
Inexpensive and portable, netbooks are downsized laptops with a 10- to 12-inch screen that weigh 2 to 3.5 pounds and cost $300 to $550. Consumer Reports recommends the Acer Aspire One AOD250-1341 ($348). It comes in a funky purple color option and weighs only 2.7 pounds. The Toshiba Mini NB205-N325BL ($400) features a touchpad that is larger than that on most netbooks.
Laptops offer more features for a bit more cash. Consumer Reports recommends the Sony VGN-SR520G/B ($900), a 13-inch laptop that weighs just four pounds, and the Apple MacBook MC207LL/A ($1,000), which sports a new LED display. For 15-inch models, consider the Dell Inspiron I1545-4203JBK ($500) for its very good performance and battery life of 3 3/4 hours.
Someone looking for more power should consider a desktop. Consumer Reports recommends the Apple iMac 21.5-inch MB950LL/A ($1,200), the Dell Studio XPS SX8000-2361 ($1,020) and the compact and inexpensive Dell Inspiron 537s ($485).
Point-and-shoot cameras beefing up
Digital camera makers are improving the capabilities of many point-and-shoots and many of the 27 models Consumer Reports recommends include at least 12 megapixels. Consumer Reports' list of recommended models includes the subcompact Kodak EasyShare C160, which costs just $90.
The Canon PowerShot SD980 IS ELPH ($330) subcompact has a nifty "active display" feature that scrolls through images when the user shakes the camera. Plus it has a 5x zoom, a touch-screen LCD and scroll wheel.
Casio's Exilim EX-H10 ($300) is a superzoom that looks like a slightly oversized subcompact. It weighs just one-third the weight of the heaviest superzooms yet its battery life is two to three times as long as that of most. Plus video capabilities turn on with just a press of a button.
Trendy pocket-sized camcorders
Pocket camcorders are small, simple, and lightweight and cheaper than full-sized camcorders. Although their video quality is not as good as that on a middling full-sized standard-definition camcorder, pocket camcorders are most useful for recording casual videos to upload to sites like YouTube and Facebook. Consumer Reports recommends three pocket camcorders starting at $150:
- For double-duty electronics, the Apple iPod Nano (8GB, $150) is the first iPod with video recording capability.
- Kodak's Zi8 ($180) HD-resolution pocket camcorder stores video on SD or high-capacity SD memory cards.
- Pure Digital Flip Video Ultra HD ($200) is an HD pocket camcorder that is easy to use and has decent audio in moderately loud environments.
Consumer Reports also recommends five full-sized standard-definition models, including the Canon DC410 ($275) and the Sony DCR-SX41. For high-definition video full-sized camcorders, Consumer Reports recommends four models including the Canon Vixia HV40 ($800) and the Sony HDR-XR500V ($1,200).
Blu-ray players for all-in-one use
Blu-ray players are a great gift option, since they can also handle regular DVDs and CDs in addition to high-definition disks. Many models offer BD-Live, which enables them to access online content such as video games and outtakes when playing BD-Live-enabled discs and some players can also stream movies from online providers. The LG BD390 ($300) costs more than many other models, but features excellent performance and BD-Live. It also has built-in Wi-Fi.
Digital picture frames are easy to use, and offer a constantly changing slideshow at an affordable price. Consumer Reports recommends the Kodak EasyShare P825 ($120), a basic 8-inch frame that's easy to use with just a few control buttons on top. It has 512MB of internal memory but does not support the playback of video or audio. Mustek PF-A6L ($170) has a cool scan and display feature that allows the user to hand-feed hard-copy prints individually.
[SOURCE: Consumer Reports]