SAN FRANCISCO – What's hot this holiday season in consumer electronics are big-screen televisions, new video gaming consoles, digital cameras and notebook PCs.
What's not so hot this year includes DVD players and recorders, desktop computers and home stereo systems and accessories, analysts said.
With some 33 percent of shoppers picking up consumer electronics or computer-related accessories over the first weekend of the holiday sales season, according to the National Retail Federation, gadgets are a big chunk of profits for companies such as Sony Corp. (SNE), Samsung Electronics Co. and Apple Computer Inc. (AAPL).
Falling prices for big-screen TVs, including rear-projection systems in addition to LCD and plasma TVs, should entice consumers, and lower prices for digital cameras with higher resolution are also fueling appeal this holiday season, the most important cycle for the retail industry.
"No. 1 are big-screen televisions," said analyst Stephen Baker of market research firm NPD Group. "They're not horribly complicated and they're not terribly expensive. You can get them now and don't have to wait for prices to fall."
For example, a 32-inch LCD TV can be had for about $700, a 37-inch unit for about $1,000, and for a 40-inch or 42-inch LCD TV, the price is about $1,300, Baker said.
In the not-so-hot department, analysts named desktop personal computers, as consumers gravitate to notebook PCs that are nearly as powerful as desktops and where prices continue to fall. They also pointed to DVD players and recorders, where the industry has yet to settle on a standard for high-definition DVDs, as another slower sales category.
Even so, analysts said it would be difficult to point to one segment as a complete disappointment in terms of sales.
"You've got to look really hard to find the needle in the haystack of products that just aren't doing well," said Roger Kay of Endpoint Technologies Associates.
While some thought sales of digital cameras might have been moderate in 2006, sales have actually been strong throughout the year, Baker said, as cameras with more megapixels and more features became available at lower prices.
Much of that camera growth is coming from people upgrading their digital cameras, which is boosting the number of digital cameras per household.
"Another interesting trend we're seeing, which we had anticipated, thankfully, is customers are trading up in digital cameras," said Carter Cast, chief executive of Walmart.com, the online store for No. 1 retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) "They're trading up for greater resolution and higher zoom."
He said Walmart.com has done very well with an Eastman Kodak Co. (EK) 6.1-megapixel camera with a printer dock included for under $200. He also said they're doing well with a Canon Electronics Inc. (CAJ) 7-megapixel digital Elph with a printer bundle for $288.
Next-generation video game consoles new to the market, such as Sony's PlayStation 3 and the Nintendo Co. Ltd. Wii are also on the top of shoppers' must-have list this season. Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) Xbox 360 gaming consoles also remains very popular.
"The Xbox 360 is on everybody's list," said Kay of Endpoint Technologies. "And the PS3 and the Wii, of course, if you can get them anywhere. Those are hot."
Another popular category this season is GPS units, which can provide drivers with directions, analysts and Cast said, noting that this is the first holiday that consumers have really zeroed in on them.
"This is really the first holiday that people have focused on them," Baker said, referring to GPS units. "Over Black Friday, you could find some for under $200."