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CNET Tech Review: Black Friday buying guide

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CNET Tech Review: Black Friday buying guide

24:18 /

This week on the CNET Tech Review: Before you head to the stores, check out our top gift picks in your favorite categories.

-This week on a special CNET Tech Review, need some help deciding on the right tech gifts for your friends and family, or even for yourself? Well, get ready to feast your eyes on our favorite gift options for the holiday season. The CNET Tech Review Black Friday Buyers' Guide starts right now. Hi, everyone. I'm Molly Wood and welcome to the CNET Tech Review where we collect our hottest videos of the week and tell you what's good and what's bad in the world of tech and offer some unique tech wisdom in the form of the Bottom Line--at least, that's what we usually do on the Tech Review, but this is our Black Friday Special so it's all good all the time. This week, we're wrapping up our top picks from the CNET Holiday Gift Guide and showing them off under the Product Spotlight. So let's get right to it, on with The Good. Our first Product Spotlight showcases what happens to be the most expensive item on our list. 3D TV was a hot topic this year but not everyone is sold on the concept just yet. That didn't stop Panasonic's 3D VIERA line from topping our year-end TV list, though. Here's David Katzmaier to tell you all about it. -Hi, I'm David Katzmaier from CNET.com and this is the Panasonic TCP-VT20/25 series. This is our holiday pick as the top overall TV for 2010. This is Panasonic's flagship TV for the year and it's also 3D television. We'll get to all that in a little bit but first it's worth taking a look at the styling of the set. Panasonic went very conservative. Around the edge of the TV, you'll find a standard glossy black, although it's actually a little bit bronze colored and there's a swivel stand here and some chrome accents but, otherwise, it's not really more remarkable than a lot of the other TVs out there. Turn to the side, you can see it's definitely not an LED TV. This is a plasma and it's about 3-1/2 inches thick, but of course, still plenty thin for most people. It's definitely a flat panel. As I mentioned, one of the principal capabilities of this set is 3D. It comes with one pair of 3D glasses. Additional pairs run $100 to $150 a piece and, of course, you need one for each family member but once your family's equipped with those glasses and you put in some 3D content, this TV does a pretty darn good job of displaying it. The 3D is very impressive looking. This also has fewer artifacts than a lot of the other 3D TVs on the market and, of course, it's excellent performance with 2D. It also translates pretty well over into 3D. The downside, the Panasonic lacks the 2D to 3D conversion found on a lot of the other 3D TVs on the market but I really don't think that's that big of a deal. If you wanna turn your 2D into 3D, we found some issues doing that with some processing out there so we don't really miss it. Beside the 3D, other features on this TV include the internet capability offered by VIERA Cast. You can use that service to access Netflix videos as well as Amazon Video-on-Demand, Twitter, even Skype if you buy an optional speakerphone attachment. It doesn't have quite as many content options or quite as much customization as a lot of the other competitors but it's still pretty good for your basic streaming services. Panasonic also threw in a good selection of picture controls, although, again, there's not as many options as found on an LG or a Samsung or those competitors but it does offer the capability to play around with things like gamma and color temperature. We also appreciated the THX mode on this TV, it was excellent. Again, you can kinda put it in THX mode and forget it for a lot of your critical viewing for movies and such. Speaking of critical viewing, we really did think this was the best overall performing TV this year. Its real strength is black level performance. Now, Panasonic in the past has had some issues with the black level actually getting a little bit lighter over the lifespan of the TV. We tested this one over the course of 2010 and it does actually get lighter but not to near the same extent as the others and, again, when it levels off, it's still really the best on the market in terms of achieving those nice, deep blacks so we really don't think the black level fade is anything to worry about on this TV. THX mode does offer excellent color accuracy. You get great skin tones and excellent primary and secondary colors. The TV also has very good video processing. It handles 1080p 24 correctly, although we did see some slight artifacts in that mode, so purists might wanna keep it at the 1080p 60 mode. You do have that choice. As we mentioned, 3D performance is another strength on this TV. Its cross-talk was among the best we've seen which means that it doesn't have very many ghostly outlines that are seen on some of the other competitors around 3D objects. Also, that black level and color accuracy translates very nicely into 3D, although it's not quite as accurate as some of the Samsung models we saw. Connectivity on the Panasonic is very good. You got four total HDMI inputs, three on the back and one on the side, two component video inputs, a PC input, two USB ports and even an SD card slot in addition to this LAN port for the wired Ethernet connection. Overall, the Panasonic VT20/25 series, while pretty darn expensive, is the best overall performer we tested in 2010 and that's why it's our pick as the best TV for holiday shopping this year. -Maybe it's best to just think of 3D as an added bonus rather than the main reason to buy a new TV? But if you think it's time to dive into the 3D world, the Panasonic VIERA is tough to beat. But maybe you're happy with the TV you already have so how about this gift idea to help you get more out of it, the Sony PlayStation 3 Slim. Much more than just a gaming console, the PS3 could easily become the center of your home theater experience. -Brian Tong here with CNET.com and we're shining the Product Spotlight right on the Sony PlayStation 3 Slim. Now, the PS3 claims it only does everything so we wanna dig in and see if that holds true. Now, cosmetically, this is a lot sleeker console from its predecessor. Gone is the shiny black piano finish, which I miss a lot, and it's replaced by this duller textured surface and a metal accent on the front. We like how they trimmed off the fat but it's lost some of its sex appeal at the same time. Under the hood, this current PS3 Slim is a beast. The standard $299 model is loaded with a 160-gig hard drive, it's bringing a Blu-ray drive for movies and gaming, you'll have built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth support for accessories, and the two USB ports in the front. You'll also have easier access to the hard drive that's user upgradeable without voiding the warranty. On the back, you'll see the same connections as before. There's an Ethernet port, HDMI video port, digital audio out, and Sony's AV cable connection for component or composite. Now, the PS3 flexes its technical muscle with exclusive titles like the action adventure treasure hunting exploits of Nathan Drake in Uncharted 2 or the over-the-top blood-soaked battles in God of War 3. Playing online games through the PlayStation Network is absolutely free and that's a price that you can't beat. Sony is also getting into the motion gaming market with their PlayStation Move controllers and games. The tech is more accurate than Nintendo's Wii but it remains to be seen how this will translate to more hardcore titles. Now, if you're not looking for a gaming system, it's still an excellent multimedia system. It's one of our top-rated Blu-ray players here at CNET. It upscales standard DVDs. You can purchase movies or rent them through the PlayStation Store and it's currently the first device to support Netflix with 1080p streaming and 5.1 surround sound. Now, there are things the PS3 Slim doesn't have. There's no IR port to use universal remotes with it. You won't be able to play your old PS2 games on the console because they've removed the backwards compatibility, and Sony has broken the hearts of hackers by removing the ability to install another operating system like Linux on its box, but for $299, this is the best value in home entertainment that's also prepared for the future with software updates and a built-in Blu-ray player that separates it from any other console. I'm Brian Tong for CNET.com with your Product Spotlight on the Sony PS3 Slim. -Blu-ray, Netflix, movie rentals, and tons of gaming titles? The only reason you need to get off the couch is for PlayStation Move games, or maybe they go for a walk once in a while. Alright, the PS3 wasn't the only one of our top picks that slims down this year. The new streamlined 11-inch Apple MacBook Air blurs the line between laptop and netbook and it looks good doing it, too. -I'm Dan Ackerman and as Apple's new 11-inch MacBook Air is one of the snazziest, most popular laptops for the holiday season, we're gonna shine it under the harsh glare of the Product Spotlight. Now, 11-inch laptops have really become very popular in the latter half of 2010. Originally, they were all sorts of 10-inch Intel Atom netbooks, kind of low-power, low-cost systems but now you have 11-inch laptops with dual core ultra-low voltage CPUs that are nearly as powerful or nearly as full featured as regular 14-, 15-inch or even larger laptops. Apple's 11-inch MacBook Air is the latest version of that super thin series from Apple. If you remember the original MacBook Air, it was not rightful itself for only having one USB port. The new version actually doubles that to two. You're still missing basics like an SD card slot on the 11-inch version. There's actually an SD card slot on the 13-inch version of the MacBook Air now. In the 11-inch MacBook Air, you get an Intel Core 2 Duo CPU and Nvidia's basic 320 graphics that's actually very similar to what you'd find in the basic $999 white MacBook, although this is a low voltage version of that processor. What you do get, however, is pretty decent graphics for not truly discrete graphics and enough processing power to do basic tasks like word processing, web surfing, and streaming video, and pretty much what you'd wanna do with your laptop 99% of the time. One of the most interesting things about this new MacBook Air is this is the first MacBook with a 16 X 9 display which is pretty much what you'd find in any other type of laptop. It's a 1366 X 768 display. Actually the 13-inch MacBook Air along with the other MacBooks still has 16 X 10 displays. If this looks very familiar, that's because it's got the same flat key widely spaced keyboard that you see on other MacBooks along with the same large, multitouch trackpad. It's almost as big as the ones on the 13-inch MacBooks and, of course, it's got all those cool multitouch features like using the four-finger swipe here to get to all your windows. Pretty much no PC laptop has a touchpad that is as intuitive and works as smoothly with multitouch gestures. Of course, one of the reasons you really wanna get a MacBook Air is because they're so slim and so sleek. This guy is about 0.68 inches thick in the back, about 0.11 inches in the front and when you open it up, it wakes up from the sleep state very quickly. In fact, it even turns on from a full stop almost as fast. If you're thinking that this new smaller screen size makes it look a little bit like an iPad just with a keyboard attached, well that actually makes sense. Apple is taking some of that iOS development and moving it into the MacBook line. In the case of the new MacBook Airs, you can actually close the lid, it will go into a super low power standby state and you can leave it for up 30 days without fully draining the battery. I'm Dan Ackerman and that's the new 11-inch MacBook Air. -It's really hard to grasp just how thin the MacBook Air is until you see it in person, and in fact, we recommend checking out most products in the store before you buy them even if you plan on purchasing online. Alright, our next category, digital cameras. I like the idea of a camera as a gift because you can open up the box and just start using your present to capture memories of the event, after you've charged the batteries, of course. Here's Josh Goldman with our favorite snapshot shooter of the year. -Hi, I'm Josh Goldman, senior editor for CNET Reviews and this is a look at the Sony CyberShot DSC-W350. It's our top digital camera gift pick for the holidays. While there are certainly a lot of cameras we could have gone with, we think the W350 strikes an excellent balance of design, features, shooting performance, and photo quality for its price. This 14-megapixel ultracompact features a nice 26-mm equivalent wide angle f2.7 lens, 4X zoom with optical image stabilization, and a bright 2.7-inch LCD, all packed into a body that's no bigger than a deck of cards, and it's available in four colors--silver, black, blue, and pink. The W350's controls and shooting options are basic and uncomplicated. On top is the power button and shutter release with the rest of the controls here on the back. Everything's pretty straightforward so just about anyone can start shooting with it right out of the box. A switch here on the right lets you choose your shooting modes. For still photos, there's Sony's reliable Intelligent Auto, Program Auto for those that want a little more control, and several scene modes including one tuned for upper extremities underwater with an optional housing. There's an Easy Mode, too, that locks down all but a couple settings and enlarges onscreen text making it perfect for newbies. If you like to take panoramas, the W350 makes it easy with a sweep panorama. Just press the shutter release and sweep the camera and the W350 will create a panorama shot in the camera. Of course, there's a movie mode on the camera, too, that can record at 720p HD quality and you have use of the optical zoom lens while recording. There's even software embedded in the camera's memory that helps you share your photos and videos online when the camera's connected to a computer. Photo quality, overall, is very good, up to ISO 400 but photos were usable even at ISO 800 and, to some degree, ISO 1600, so this camera is able to take decent photos in less than ideal lighting, and, while its shooting performance can be a little slow shot to shot, it has a low shutter lag so you'll have a better chance of actually getting the shot you want. Being so small, it's rechargeable battery is tiny and doesn't last long, so you might wanna pick up an extra battery, plus no memory cards are included but it does take both Sony's Memory Stick PRO Duo cards as well as more standard SD cards. All of this adds up to make the W350 a great pick for a pocket camera. The W350 is very much a point-and-shoot, though, so if you've got someone on your list that's looking for special features or manual or semi-manual controls, check out the other digital camera holiday gift recommendations. I'm Josh Goldman and that's a closer look at the Sony CyberShot W350. -Now, this camera is available in other colors than pink but, personally, I say go for it. So cute. Alright, still haven't found what you're looking for? We're not done yet. We have a couple more gift ideas coming up right after the break. See you in a bit when the CNET Tech Review continues. Welcome back to the CNET Tech Review, our weekly video digest of all things good and bad we've seen here at CNET TV, and this week, our holiday tech buying guide. Continuing on in The Good, these days, tablets are e-readers and e-readers are tablets, but Amazon's Kindle is holding firm. It's for books. Here's why we still like that. The Kindle is the e-reader that launched the category, but will it get buried in an avalanche of tablets? Hi, I'm Molly Wood from CNET and I'm putting the Product Spotlight on the Amazon Kindle 3. These days, the Kindle is starting to feel like the last man standing in the e-reader department. Barnes & Noble revamped its Nook to add a color LCD screen, newspaper and magazine subscriptions, and the Android operating system. People are using their iPads as readers in bigger numbers than ever expected, and a new generation of tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab are similarly sized but offer a lot more features, so can the Kindle still compete? Well, in a word, yes. There's a lot to be said for a gadget that does one thing and does it well and the Kindle 3 is still the best at what it does. The latest version of the Kindle improved the already good 6-inch e-ink display which looks incredibly like text on a page. It's also easier on your eyes than a backlit LCD, at least for many people, and it's certainly the only thing that's readable in direct sunlight, so the Kindle still wins for best beach book. This third generation is also smaller and lighter than the previous models. It's probably lighter than a paperback, in fact. It's so "holdable." Amazon also improved the speed of the page turns with this model and it made the page turn buttons a lot smaller and less intrusive, giving the whole thing a much more sleek appearance. The Kindle 3 also has a better browser, although it's still rudimentary at best. It has Wikipedia access and a new built-in PDF reader that supports password protected PDFs, and Amazon has added the ability to share books if the publisher will allow it. You can lend someone a book from your shelf for up to 14 days and that was a big feature on the Nook and it's a great thing for the Kindle to have. Plus, you're not gonna find this battery life on a tablet, any tablet. With the wireless turned off, you get up to a month of battery time. The Kindle still has built-in 3G. Amazon calls is the Whispernet for downloading books on the fly but they've also built-in Wi-Fi now and you can buy a cheaper Wi-Fi-only version of the Kindle if you think you'll mainly shop for books at home or at public hotspots. Now, the Wi-Fi-only model's nice because Wi-Fi is often faster than cellular access, but also, because that model is extremely affordable. It's just $140 and the Wi-Fi plus 3G model is $190. Those are good prices but, as the e-reader wars keep on raging, you can expect even those to get lower over time. And Amazon's book selection? Still the best in the game. There are almost 700,000 titles available, and even though you'll still find some books that are dead tree only, almost all the new books and bestsellers are right there in the Kindle Store, and your purchases are portable because Amazon has made the Kindle software available on almost every other platform. You can download it for free on Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7, and on and on and on. Now, you can argue that the standalone e-reader is a dying breed, but we think there's still a place for a single purpose device like the Kindle as long as it's affordable, portable, and flexible, and the Kindle 3 still pretty much meets all those requirements if you're a digital-era bookworm. To read our full review of the Amazon Kindle 3, go to CNET.com and search for Kindle. For CNET.com, I'm Molly Wood. And let's be honest, $140 for a Wi-Fi-only Kindle is a very doable gift idea, but if you're the type to splurge and you want a more do-it-all experience, well, there's still that old standby, the iPad. -If there's one new tech product that defined our year, it's this--the Apple iPad. I'm Donald Bell here to shine the Product Spotlight on this game-changing tablet. The iPad debuted in April of 2010 and immediately reset everyone's idea of what a tablet should be. There are two main models of the iPad, one that connects to the internet using a combo of Wi-Fi and 3G from AT&T, and one that relies just on Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi models are priced at $499 for 16 gigabytes, $599 for 32, and $699 for 64. Models with 3G are available in the same capacities but are priced at $130 higher. Out of the box, you get the iPad, a wall adaptor, and a USB cable. Headphones, cases, docks are all sold separately and are all worthwhile investments. Looking at the iPad itself, the design is constructed entirely of glass and aluminum, giving it a feel that's closer to a MacBook than to an iPhone. It's 7.5 inches wide, 9.5 inches tall, and just a half an inch thick with a diagonal screen size of 9.7 inches. On the bottom, you have a dock connector and a speaker along with the Home button. The side has volume buttons and a mute switch, and up top you have the headphone jack, a little pinhole microphone, and the screen lock button. Compared to a smartphone or a dedicated e-book reader, it's not the lightest thing at 1.5 pounds, but it's lighter and more convenient than a laptop and that, oddly enough, gets right to the heart of what makes the iPad great. It holds its own between the smartphone and a laptop without making you think why am I bothering with this when I could just be using a smartphone or a laptop. It sounds obvious but it's something that the competition hasn't been able to reproduce. They go smaller or bigger, but we just keep coming back to the iPad, so getting past the design, what's the iPad actually good for? Starting with the stock apps, you get e-mail, a web browser, YouTube, maps, videos, music, calendar, notes, contacts, and photos, all of which have been optimized for the iPad's large screen. You'll find similar apps on competing products but you won't find these. Here you have links to the iTunes Store and the iOS App Store. In a way, you can boil down the success of the iPhone, the iPad, and the iPod Touch to these two killer apps. With iTunes, you get direct access to the world's largest and most popular digital music store along with movies and TV shows that you can either buy or rent, and a great selection of podcasts, audio books, and free educational content. All of this content downloads directly to your device with no need to connect to a computer. More importantly, you have the App Store which gives you access to hundreds of thousands of third-party applications and games that can mold the iPad into tons of different uses. If you wanna use the iPad as an e-book reader, you can download Apple's own iBooks app or the Amazon Kindle Reader, the Barnes & Noble Nook Reader, or even an app for comic books, and that's just one example, but Apple really does have an app for just about every interest and that's a big part of the iPad's appeal. Now, there have been a few changes to the iPad since we first showed it off in April of 2010. After the update to iOS 4.2, the iPad now shares most of the features found on the iPhone 4 including folders, multitasking, TV show rentals, printer support, and a new wireless streaming feature called AirPlay. If you like staying organized, the Folder features lets you group apps together under a custom label. The multitasking capability allows you to run multiple apps at the same time and quickly jump back and forth between the currently running apps. It's great for productivity but it's also fun just to listen to Pandora Radio while reading an e-book. TV show rentals, which came to the iPhone and the iPod Touch in September, are now finally on the iPad, offering tons of popular shows for as little as 99 cents per episode. If you have an AirPrint compatible printer, you can now print e-mail, photos, web pages, and iWorks documents wirelessly from your iPad and if you own one of Apple's $99 Apple TVs or you're thinking about getting one, the iPad's new AirPlay feature lets you send your videos, photos, and music straight to your TV over your home network. Add it all up and you have an awesome product that just keeps getting better. It's also one of those few tech products that we feel good about recommending across the board, whether you're a gadget fanatic or someone who typically shies away from computers. It's worth giving the iPad a try. So that's the iPad from Apple, it's CNET's top pick for tablets and it's also one of the most talked about gadgets of the year and more than anything, it's a lot of fun. So for CNET.com, I'm Donald Bell. -So I guess it wouldn't be a Tech Review without our final segment so for old times' sake, let's take a look at this week's Bottom Line. The Bottom Line this week, time to start shopping, but before you run out the door, don't forget to check out the CNET Holiday Gift Guide at holiday.cnet.com. While you're there, you can find more gift ideas in a dozen different categories, or use the Gift Finder to narrow down the choices to just the right one. Alright, folks, it's time for me to go but we'll be back next week with an all-new CNET Tech Review and until then, there are tons of great videos available everyday at CNETtv.com. Thank you for watching and happy shopping.
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