This season's niftiest consumer electronics products

Spending on consumer electronics will account for one-third of all holiday gift-shopping this year, according to the Consumer Electronics Assn. — but finding the right gift for the gadget-hound on your list won’t be easy, or cheap. While overall electronics prices are falling in some categories, like TVs, items on the cutting edge tend to carry a premium pricetag. They’re also often hard to get since they may not be carried by big-box stores and thus not be on the radar of most shoppers. To help out, Variety has put together its annual list of items that are bound to please even the most discriminating techie.

HIGHLIGHTS

3D TV
Panasonic PVT30 series ($2,150-$3,500)
Panasonic’s plasmas have upped their game each year, but the flagship PVT30 series sets a new high. The 3D effects are crisp, popping off the screen (though the set is still hampered by a lack of pervasive quality 3D content). For non-3D viewing, the set is even more impressive. It works well in brightly lit rooms, comes with a full suite of Internet apps and delivers incredibly deep blacks. It’s far from the cheapest set (or plasma) on the market, but if pristine picture quality is critical, this is your best choice.

Camera
Nikon J1 ($649)
Nikon’s new line of mirrorless compact shooters is one of the company’s biggest gambles in years, but it’s a winning bet. The J1 is the entry-level model, but is more than enough camera for most people and a lot more affordable than its cousin, the V1 (which starts at $899). The images are spectacular — as good or better than a Micro Four Thirds camera — and the fast burst mode shoots quality images at an eye-popping pace. The 1080p video option is similarly clear. Dedicated photographers who like to tweak every aspect of their shots might find some shortcomings, but hobbyists and people looking to step up from point-and-shoots will be awestruck.

Smart Phone
iPhone 4S ($200-$400, with contract)
Given the long wait for the latest iteration of the iPhone, many people were initially upset when the 4S was announced. The name didn’t sound like a next generation product, just a small upgrade to an aging product. But it turns out the 4S is next gen, just without the shiny new packaging. The onboard camera threatens to make point-and-shoots obsolete, and the inclusion of Siri, a voice activated “digital assistant” (not without some early glitches) points the way for a new generation of products from the company. Back that up with the enormous selection in the app store and it’s a winner.

Wireless music system
Sonos Play3 ($200)
This streaming audio system, the younger cousin of last year’s S5, brings all of the major online music streaming services into your home with a rich, crystal-clear sound. Also compatible with your iTunes collection and the ability to listen to any streaming radio station in the world, it’s the ultimate music machine for fans, and in a compact form. The Bose and Polk names might be better known, but Sonos holds its own against those heavyweights.

Data storage
ioSafe Rugged Portable ($200-$400)
If you’re on location in some remote area, it’s not just enough to back up your work daily, you need something rugged to back it up with. IoSafe’s portable hard drive is so sturdy, you can drop it from a tree, run it over with a car or submerse it in water, and your data will remain safe. (We know. We’ve tried!) If you do somehow manage to damage it, it comes with a one-year recovery-services guarantee. It’s not the sexiest tech gift you could give, but it’s practical — and stress-testing the thing is a heck of a lot of fun.

Laptop
Asus UX Series ($1,100-$1,500)
Asus’ entry in the new Ultrabook laptop category is incredibly thin (roughly the size of a first generation iPad), light (3 lbs) and powerful. Powered by a second-gen Intel Core chip, it’s also lightning fast (the “resume” time from sleep mode is a mere two seconds). It is, admittedly, expensive, but it’s also loaded with some of the most advanced computer components on the market — and it will never cause back strain when you carry it around through the course of the day.

iPad accessories

Since the Amazon Kindle Fire was not available for testing prior to publication, the iPad 2 is our default must-have tablet. By now, though, you’ve probably heard the praises of that device sung from every corner. Instead, here are a couple of accessories that make Apple’s red-hot gadget even handier:

Logitech Fold-Up Keyboard
($129)
The dream for many business travelers has long been to abandon their laptops and work solely on their iPads. Unfortunately, the onscreen keyboard for the device does not lend itself to long typing sessions. Logitech’s peripheral acts as a carrying case and expands into a full-sized keyboard that’s comfortable and practical. It’s pricey, but good for people looking to lighten their load while on the road.

Hauppauge Broadway
($200)
The dedicated mobile TV may still be struggling to find a market, but this device makes it a snap to watch live programing on virtually any mobile device. Broadway streams TV from your cable or satellite system to you anywhere in the world, as long as you’ve got an internet connection. Set-up is incredibly simple, and the image quality is impressive.

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