Winter brings flurry of high tech toys

Plenty of gadgets to keep consumers happy

For those who like their holidays laden with the latest in consumer electronic technology, the most recent holiday shopping season was a good one.

For those who would prefer to pay much less for year-old gadgets that still are in stock, have most of their bugs worked out and have some software cooked up to play on them, 2007 will be even better.

Indeed, 2006 was a big year for next-gen vidgame consoles, with both Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Nintendo’s Wii making late-year introductions.

With Sony, Nintendo and Xbox 3 maker Microsoft out of the product-launch mindset and fighting for marketshare now, there will be discounts — the cost of the pricey PS3, for example, will dip well below $500 this holiday season. And after suffering from a surfeit of titles at launch, consoles like the PS3 now boasts such top sellers as “Call of Duty: 4” and “Assassin’s Creed.”

Similarly, last year saw the introduction of the two competing high-def DVD formats, which both entered the market with a limited number of expensive — and sometimes buggy — consoles, as well as a finite number of HD movie titles available for them.

This year, Toshiba’s entry-level but refined HD A3 HD DVD player goes for around $170, while Blu-ray players are dipping well below the $400 mark.

The fourth quarter of the year will also seen a flurry of day-and-date releases of new pics on both formats, with blockbusters including “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” “Ratatouille” “The Simpsons Movie” and “Spider-Man 3” making their way to Blu-ray, and “Transformers,” “The Bourne Ultimatum” and “Shrek 3” going to HD DVD. Titles including “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” and “Hairspray” will be available in both flavors.

The mobile side of the gadgetry spectrum will also benefit from the fact that the splashy, pricey introductions are out of the way. Specifically, Apple’s multifunctional iPhone — which sparked consumer zealotry over the summer with a finite number of 8GB units priced at $600 — is now available in ample numbers at a more reasonable $399.

Meanwhile, new, improved 4GB and 8GB versions of Apple’s credit-card-sized iPod Nano multimedia players are now available in stores and priced at $149 and $199, respectively.

While established gadgets will likely dominate holiday sales, there will be some upstarts in 2007. For example, the brand name Aiptek will probably become more familiar to everyone, with the importer of Sino-manufactured electronics offering pocket-sized HD digital camcorders for as little as $100 — “a miracle of Silicon Valley and Chinese labor,” as consumer electronics analyst Richard Doherty describes it.

Meanwhile, home theater mavens who would prefer not to hang speakers all over their living rooms will appreciate new digital sound projectors from Yamaha that confine the noise-making to a single box — digital signal processors embedded in the unit precisely beam the audio waves around the room to create a realistic 5.1-channel sound field (with an entry-level price tag of $1,000, the technology doesn’t come cheaply, however).

And while flat-panel LCDs and plasma TVs have matured in recent years to the point of being not-so-special-anymore, new niftier tube tech is emerging, with LED TVs from manufacturers including Samsung and Mitsubishi providing richer color reproduction, longer product life and environmental consciousness (they don’t use fluorescent backlighting so there’s no mercury involved).

“They’re so spectacular that they’ll make last year’s TVs look antiquated,” Doherty notes.

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