It's the Christmas holiday season in America, and that means the annual year-end frenzy of gift shopping. Of that multi-billion dollar holiday gift pie, perhaps the largest slice is electronic gadgets. Everything from digital cameras and hi-tech mobile phones to video games, gaming systems, digital music players and home entertainment centers are flying off the shelves this year, and at competitive prices.
One unit that is the object of much consumer craving this year is the HP MediaSmart television. With its nearly meter-and-a-half-wide screen, the HP MediaSmart looks like a flat-panel television set. But it also allows you to control all the network media in your home.
"If you have movies stored on a laptop, and you have music stored on a desktop, you'd be able to access all of that from your TV through the remote," says N'Gai Croal, a technology editor for Newsweek Magazine.
HP MediaSmart television is an example of the trend toward "agglomeration" in today's electronics design, where devices like TVs, music players and personal computers, once bought and operated separately, are combined into one unit for ease of use. "I look at this stuff and ask 'Is this something my mom could use?'" says Croal. "If it is, that's when I start looking at these products a little more seriously."
Anyone's mom would enjoy the new Kodak EasyShare. It's a high-resolution digital camera small enough to fit into a handbag, yet capable of snapping digital photographs good enough to display on large, high definition TVs.
"There are even some people who run screen savers on their high-def TV when they are not using them, because their images look so beautiful," says Croal, adding that the Kodak EasyShare sells for under $300. "If you think back to the cameras they were selling two or three years ago, you wouldn't have all those features. It shows how people are finding ways to deliver more incredible features in the same size package for less money."
Interactive computer games are big again in 2007. Nintendo's "Wii" series is so popular that Best Buy has only a display model for buyers to ogle. Wiis features a handheld device that sends a signal to the "virtual" you on the game screen that mirrors your movements.
Nintendo will soon introduce its new "Wii Fit" product to the American market. (It's already for sale in Japan.) It comes with a balance board that looks similar to a bathroom scale that measures shifts in position and weight.
Croal says playing with the Wii Fit is actually good for you. "People can use it for workout activities: for yoga, for push-ups, for sit-ups and for balance activities. And it's all integrated it into a game."
One Wii Fit game is virtual football match. The player tends a goal, and "head-butts," and must avoid being stunned by shoes as they fly off the feet of opposing players trying to make goals.
Another Wii Fit game is based on downhill skiing, where the player must crouch down to gather speed and stand up straight quickly when coming to the edge of a jump.
But for Croal — and hundreds of thousands of others, to judge from the sales — the best new game is Rock Band by Electronic Arts Inc. The kit allows you to put together a virtual band, play in it, and tour while learning to play lead and bass guitar, drums and sing superstar vocals.
"To get the most fans and unlock the best cities tour (and therefore garner the most points), one must play well with one's fellow band mates," explains Croal. "You have to help each other out if one of you is not doing so well. And if you are doing well, you want to do well together."
These band mates can be right next to you in your living room or they could be online across the street or around the world. "So it's a lot of fun," says Croal. "Over Thanksgiving I went home to spend time with my family and the whole time I was out there I was either eating, sleeping or playing Rock Band."
It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it!