Jittery manufacturers can be a boon for consumers. Mark-downs are likely, so expect big-screen HDTVs on many gift lists this holiday season. But there are some smaller gadgets that the people on your list will be hoping to see all tied up with red ribbon. Here's the word from the street.
Yes, we still need big honking laptop computers. But more popular this season will be the lightweight — and lower-priced — "netbooks." Prices start at $350. Acer and Asus has some of the snappiest models, but almost every manufacturer has an offering now in this category. Apple is still the holdout, but give Steve Jobs another year or so: He has hinted that he's watching how the category develops.
In February, the U.S. will shut off the old analog television signals — an event that will likely nudge more consumers to go digital. (Check out our full list of value televisions here.) One big-value seller: the sets from Vizio. The Vizio VO32L, for example, isn't packed with unnecessary features or luxury options; it's just a great, 720p high-definition television with an affordable $649 price tag.
Wii Fun and Games
The Wii is still expected to be the game console in hottest demand this holiday season; last year, stores were short on supply. (We advise buying ahead of the final mad holiday dash to the cash register.) Online sites have even emerged to help you find available players, including Nintendo Shopper. "Wii Fit" will continue to be a big seller, but music games should enjoy some popularity as well. "Guitar Hero World Tour," slated to debut on Oct. 26, will cost you $189.99 with a drum kit and other peripherals; pare down to just the game for the PS2 or Wii and you're out a mere $49.99. "Rock Band 2" ($59.99) came out in September and is getting strong marks. "Wii Music" ($50) has received more tentative reviews but may prove a worthwhile addition to the Wii collection of casual-gaming treats.
Global Positioning System Devices
Forget about that stack of dog-eared maps in your glovebox. GPS devices were a big seller last holiday season, and anyone who didn't get one last year will want one this year. There's a big range of prices and capabilities. Of notable interest is the Garmin 760 ($340.50). But for the cash-strapped the more modest — in price and abilities — TomTom 3-to-5-inch Portable Navigator ($180) would do just fine.
All Things Apple
Go ahead — count how many Apple devices you already have in your home. If the ratio is less than one device per person, figure that you'll be stopping in an Apple store during this holiday season for music devices, phones and computers. If you're stuck for stocking stuffers, there are always those little iPod "socks."
If moving pictures are more your speed, you can have your pick of camcorders, from upscale and precious to the stocking-stuffer category. On the high end, the Canon VIXIA HF100 flash-memory high-definition camcorder has received good marks. If you're counting dollars, you can't go wrong with a FlipCam, a big seller last year. And with good reason: The Flip Video Mino delivers remarkably good footage for a camera you can literally drop into a shirt pocket. Best of all are the designs: They're cuter than an iPod ($179.99).
XM and Sirius Radio
Even if you have GPS, you're not done pimping out your car yet. The Pioneer GEX-INNO2BK Portable XM Satellite Radio with MP3 capability ($139.99) can pivot between playing MP3 songs and XM radio. It's also portable, so you don't have to worry about leaving it alone at night.
It wouldn't be a holiday without adding a camera to your shopping lists. Digital cameras have improved dramatically in the past few years. Want something you can stuff into a pocket? The Canon Powershot SD1100 IS ($159) comes in five colors. For serious shutterflies, there's the Canon EOS 50D. Your budget won't thank you though; it has a price tag of $1,399.99.
Digital Picture Frames
Once you have all those pictures, you need a place to show them off. Digital picture frames let you run through a collection of snaps, and there are plenty of options. Take a peek at lesser-known maker ViewSonic's DPX804WH ($159), which has a topnotch display, or, at the higher end, Kodak's EasyShare series (such as the W820 at $219.95), which connects neatly with your wi-fi network.
Blu-ray digital-storage systems were also hot at the end of last year, though sales of standalone Blu-ray players have cooled somewhat since last January. To get the best value for your money, buy a Sony Playstation 3 ($399.99), which can play your Blu-ray discs. Of course, just about any consumer electronics maker would be happy to sell you a standalone version.