Hot tech gifts for the holidays

Surprise, surprise: iPods and Xboxes are expected to be top sellers this shopping season. Photos: Hot holiday picks

Tech Culture
Move over Aibo--the hottest tech product this holiday season is spelled N-A-N-O.

Portable music devices like Apple Computer's iPod Nano are expected to top this year's holiday shopping lists, which market watchers say will fall into two main categories: very portable or extremely stationary.

Wish lists for gadgeteers on the go are likely to feature gizmos including MP3 players, Sony's PlayStation Portable and handsets from Motorola and Samsung. For homebodies, Microsoft's just-released Xbox 360 and high-definition televisions in either the plasma or LCD variety are expected to be hot sellers.

Holiday gifts

"There are three or four product classes out there that we've seen that are strong candidates for this holiday," said Steve Baker, an analyst with The NPD Group, which tracks retail sales of electronics. The shopping season generally gets underway big-time the day after Thanksgiving--the biggest shopping day of the year, which is also known as Black Friday.

So which tech items are most likely to come wrapped in a bow this season? See if your list matches ours.

Making a list, "iPod"-ing it twice
Apple's iPod is writing another chapter in its holiday sales success story.

"There is no question that the iPod is going to drive a huge amount of volume," Baker said. "It's priced right for gift giving. You just plug it in and use it, which is not always the case with other consumer electronic devices."

From the pencil-thin Nano (click here to read CNET's review) to the video version (click here to read CNET's review) that can carry last week's episode of "Desperate Housewives" alongside the latest hit from Destiny's Child, the iPod continues to be the most sought-after stocking stuffer and company holiday gift (note to boss: hint, hint), analysts concur. Models start at $199 for the 2GB version that holds about 500 songs.

X marks the spot
Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few weeks, you've heard about Microsoft's Xbox 360, the first of the next-generation game consoles to reach shelves. The new box is expected to be a big hit for its power, as well as its improved controls and graphics. Models range in price from $299 for the "core" model to $399 for the premium version.

Tuning in to TV choices
Flat-screen TVs topped holiday wish lists last year, and this year will see a repeat of the trend.

According to a survey of 3,780 shoppers by mall developer The Macerich Company, 14 percent of all holiday shoppers plan to purchase a plasma TV as a gift this year. But consumers won't

have an easy choice to make: There are now more than 50 plasma TV brands--and in excess of 60 LCD TV brands now on the market. While generally more expensive, LCD technology is thought to produce a higher-quality picture than plasma.

As analysts had predicted, prices have dropped dramatically on some high-end television models. Case in point: a 42-inch Maxent enhanced-definition plasma TV that BestBuy will sell for $999 starting the day after Thanksgiving.

I want my PSP
Sony's PlayStation Portable game console, which made its U.S. debut in March, is facing its first official holiday shopping season. Since it first hit the market, more than 2 million units have been sold in the U.S., according to Sony. The device (click here to read CNET's review) is sold primarily as a portable game machine, but users can also play movies and music, display digital photos and browse the Internet through its built-in wireless networking.

Phone fashion meets function Stylish multifunction phones from Nokia, Motorola and Samsung are part of an anticipated Black Friday electronics cavalcade.

Retail giant Wal-Mart is expected to sell Motorola's Razr this Thanksgiving shopping season for $88.73, according to Web site Black Friday 2005, which posts information about retail deals. Currently, the phone typically sells for $199 at various retailers. It will likely be offered through a bundle with service from Cingular.

Portable PCs for less
Retailers will celebrate this Thanksgiving season by attempting to crush competitors with low-price desktops and notebooks.

tech toys for kids

Wal-Mart newspaper inserts in mailboxes this week feature a Hewlett-Packard $398 laptop with a 2800+ Sempron processor from Advanced Micro Devices, 256MB of memory, a 40GB hard drive, a CD-RW/DVD drive and a 15-inch screen. Wal-Mart is also selling a $398 desktop with a 3000+ Sempron, 512MB of memory, a 40GB drive and a 15-inch LCD monitor.

Best Buy is countering Wal-Mart's offer by selling a Toshiba L25-S1192 laptop with an Intel Celeron M 370 processor with 256MB of memory, 40GB hard disk drive and wireless capabilities for $379.99.

CompUSA may beat them all with an offer for a Compaq Presario notebook featuring an AMD Sempron Processor 2800+ 256L2 cache 40GB hard drive for $299. Originally offered for $729.99, the discount takes effect after manufacturer and retailer rebates, as well as a 12-month subscription to AOL.

Demand for laptops is reaching record levels. IDC predicts that 12-inch ultraportables and 14-inch and 15-inch wide-screen displays will fuel 62.5 million in notebook shipments this year. That number, IDC forecasts, will climb to 114.6 million in 2009. (Click here to read CNET's portable-PC roundup.)

Digital cameras still snappy
Digital photography remains a big draw this year, according to analysts, despite recent figures that show the rate of digital-camera sales growth slowing.

"They are more user-friendly now," said Best Buy representative Drew Loftus. And they are more powerful for less money.

Starting on Black Friday, Sears will drop the price of an Argus 5-megapixel CMOS digital camera from its original retail price of $119.99 to $79.99, according to print advertisements posted on Black Friday 2005.

CompUSA is also expected to sell a Kodak C360 5-megapixel digital camera with 3x zoom for $129.99, which is nearly 50 percent off its regular price of $249.99.

"The thing to remember is that these inexpensive deals are the blowout stuff and are not designed to be profitable for the retailer or the manufacturer but to build awareness and get people in the stores," NPD analyst Baker said. (Click here to read CNET's digital-camera roundup.)

A DVR with that flat panel?
Consumers this year are also expected to purchase more digital video recorders--with or without the help of their cable or network providers.

Nearly 8 percent of U.S. homes use DVRs, which rely on a hard drive to store large amounts of content. That number is expected to grow to 39 percent by 2010, according to David Poltrack, head of ratings research for CBS, one of several media conglomerates keeping tabs on DVR sales.

TiVo is still the best-known of the bunch, but it has been experiencing a wave of competition as of late. DirecTV's TiVo replacement DVR is on the market, and Scientific-Atlanta plans to release its own combined DVR-DVD recorder by the end of this year.

Shock jock hawks satellite radio
Commercial-free, reception-anywhere and bawdy radio personality Howard Stern are expected to make satellite radio a top gift for 2005, according to holiday sales analysts.

The combination of Stern and new contracts with Major League Baseball are expected to help the U.S. digital satellite radio market grow from an installed base of 12 million units in 2005 to 55 million units in 2010, JupiterResearch predicted on Tuesday.

Devices cost anywhere from $50 and up and subscriptions for music, news, talk and sport channels start at $10 a month.

And if you still can't find that perfect gift, CNET is sponsoring a Black Friday 24-hour Holiday Helpdesk to help you get the best gadget gifts for the holidays.

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