Futuristic Father's Day: Gadgets for Dad

Wondering what to get Dad for Father's Day? FOXNews.com has assembled a list of the latest, and some of the greatest techie items to satisfy even the most jaded man out there.

For the Music Man

MP3 players, in their infancy five years ago, now dominate the market for portable music players and get smaller and more capacious all the time. Here are some of the best:

The Apple iPod Shuffle: There may be no simpler gadget for a man to wear while working out or commuting to the office than this stick-of-gum-sized player.

The tiny, flash-memory-based Shuffle weighs so little — three-quarters of an ounce — that the wearer forgets it's there. The 512 MB version, which holds about 125 songs, costs $99, and the 1 GB version goes for $149. Some banks are giving them away with new accounts, so you might even be able to get one for free.

The Sony E500 Series Network Walkmen: Long regarded as Apple's only rival for both gadget design and quality, Sony has finally jumped on the MP3 bandwagon after years of resisting the bootlegging-friendly format.

Four of its flash-memory-based players — the NW-E405, NW-E407, NW-E505 and NW-E507 — come in sleek, futuristic packages and, unlike the iPod Shuffle, have bright display screens and navigable menus.

The NW-E405, in blue, holds 512MB of music and costs $129; the 1 GB, black NW-E407 is $179.

Their siblings, the blue or pink 512MB NW-E505 and the black 1 GB NW-E507, add FM tuners for $20 more apiece.

The Apple iPod Mini: Apple's intermediate iPod line, with relatively small hard drives, comes in four tasteful pastel colors — light blue, light green, silver and pink — and that, frankly, may be a bit too "Queer Eye" for most straight guys.

But computer customizer Colorware (search) has duded up the Mini in several macho shades, including "Jet Black," "Ferrari Red" and "Lamborghini Yellow," putting the testosterone back in technology.

You'll have to pay a bit extra ($265 and $315 for the 4GB and 6 GB sizes respectively, or $249 for the 4GB at J&R Music World's Web site) for the non-foofy tints, but you'll be the envy of all the other he-men at the gym.

The Creative Zen Micro: This product beats the iPod Mini in both capability and price. It's got an FM tuner, and its 4 GB, 5 GB and 6 GB models are about $20 less than comparable iPod Minis. The rounded device comes in 10 different colors ranging from jet-black to baby-blue to yellow, and weighs only a tad more than the iPod Mini.

But MP3 players aren't the only new audio devices competing for your dollar. Radio has come back, albeit in a different form.

Sirius and XM Satellite Radio: Both major satellite radio providers, Sirius and XM Satellite Radio, are battling to expand their customers beyond long-haul truckers and bar owners, and their introduction of portable satellite radio players is part of their strategy for snaring the Average Joe.

XM's well-designed, but expensive, Delphi XM MyFi and Sirius' cheaper but less capable XACT XTR1 are both pocket-sized receivers meant to be worn like a Walkman or iPod and listened to through headphones.

The $299 Delphi XM MyFi comes with a jillion accessories — a home stereo kit, a car audio kit and a remote control among them — that pretty much ensure it's the only XM receiver you'll ever need.

Best of all, it has an internal hard drive that, TiVo-like, captures up to five hours of radio content for off-line listening.

Sirius' XACT XTR1 has far fewer accessories — basically just headphones and a remote control — but for someone who only wants a portable satellite radio receiver, the $99 unit may be a better bet.

Home and car kits are an extra $49 each, meaning that even with both, you'd still be $100 ahead of the Delphi XM MyFi buyer. For another $160, there's a full-featured boom box that the XACT XTR1 plugs into.

Don't forget, however, that you've still got to pay the satellite radio subscription fee — $12.95 per month, $142.45 for one year and $271.95 for two years for both XM and Sirius.

XM has various other yearly packages going up to $599.40 for five years, while Sirius offers, until June 30, a $500 one-time payment for the lifetime of your radio receiver.

Also bear in mind that while both Sirius and XM offer mostly commercial-free, uncensored, eclectic programming, you'll have a hard time picking up the signal in some densely-built buildings, as well as on some city streets surrounded by skyscrapers.

For the Couch Potato

Television buyers have so many options to choose from today, it's hard to know where to begin.

There are plasma TVs, LCD TVs, DLP TVs, projection TVs and the regular old cathode-ray tubes.

To make things even more confusing, Congress is trying to force consumers to switch to all-digital television by the end of 2006. That's 18 months away. Between you and me, it won't happen that soon.

Here's a summary of some of your boob-tube choices:

Plasma screens: These TVs are stunning, power-hungry and come without tuners, but their prices are dropping all the time, with some coming close to only $1,500 for a 42-inch model. (There's also an 84-inch one for a mere $40,000.)

LCD screens: LCD screens come in a greater range of sizes, from 13 inches to 65 inches, but prices go up dramatically with size. They run cooler than plasma screens and generally come with built-in tuners, but their colors are not as vivid and the picture's not visible from odd viewing angles.

DLP, LCD rear-projection and LCoS: These are three competing kinds of projection TVs, grandchildren of that huge, dim analog projection TV that your Uncle Ed watched the 1983 Super Bowl on. They are less expensive relative to screen size than LCD or plasma screens, but aren't as bright or sharp. In five years, two or all three of these formats will no longer be around.

Cathode-ray tubes: Believe it or not, some regular tube TVs can display true HDTV (high-definition television). They don't get as big as plasma or LCD screens, but the tried-and-true format is matched only by plasma for color fidelity and brightness.

A widescreen 40-inch HDTV-ready model will run about $3,000; for the less ambitious, a non-HDTV, curved 4:3 ratio 36-inch screen — which is still mighty impressive — will cost about $1,000.

But no entertainment system today is complete without a TiVo or other digital video recorder.

TiVo: The TiVo, which records TV shows digitally on an internal hard drive, is hardly a new device, and the company's been having trouble attracting new customers as cable companies roll out their own DVR boxes.

But TiVo's software is still easiest to use, and its larger-capacity boxes can record much more than cable-company DVRs.

Two caveats: Except for the co-branded DirecTiVo, TiVos do not yet record HDTV, something that most cable-company boxes do. And there's that $12.95 monthly subscription fee, which can also be met by paying a $300 one-time fee for the lifetime of the unit.

New TiVo enhancements include networking with home PCs for music and photo playback, and an optional service that allows saved shows to be transferred to Windows-based laptops or PDAs for viewing.

The company also sells combination TiVo/DVD recorders co-branded with electronics manufacturers, which leads us to our next item, DVD recorders.

A couple of years ago, the PC-based DVD burner began migrating to the living room, and since then, prices have dropped dramatically, with most units now going for between $150 and $300.

But this basic device has spawned two more interesting descendants: the combo DVR/DVD recorder mentioned above, and a two-slot unit that records and plays both DVDs and VHS tapes.

TiVo's DVR/DVD recorders, co-branded with Pioneer and Humax (search), get top marks for usability, thanks to TiVo's half-decade lead in user-interface development. Sony and Panasonic make rival units, which are technically impressive but seem to lack in terms of ease of use.

The TiVo-based units sell for $400 to $500, depending on the size of the hard drive; rival units, most of which have bigger drives, cost between $500 and $700.

The combo VCR/DVD recorder: This combo is a logical step forward from the well-established combo VCR/DVD player, and all dozen or so models on the market are good for transferring old VHS tapes on DVD — finally, more room in the media cabinet! But they're so new that the kinks are still being worked out.

GoVideo (search), which was first in the market with these devices last year, has good DVD-recording and tape-transfer software, but its inexpensive ($250 to $350) machines' DVD recordings aren't as sharp as those of their more expensive ($350 to $500) rivals from Panasonic and Sony — which aren't as easy to use.

Our advice: Wait 'til next year, when machines in this category will be both better and cheaper.

For the Young at Heart

Despite the popular image of the typical gamer as a 14-year-old boy with zits and braces, the average age of the video-game buyer is about 29, and the industry is targeting many of its latest products at the over-25 demographic. Such as ...

The PlayStation Portable and the Nintendo DS: Japanese video-game rivals Sony and Nintendo are going head-to-head to capture players who've outgrown the GameBoy.

The clamshell-format Nintendo DS ($149), released in December, has two 3-inch color screens — the "up" one a display only, the "down" one a touch screen — while the lozenge-shaped PlayStation Portable ($249), released in March, has just one huge screen 4.3 inches across.

Both units feature Wi-Fi wireless networking for multiplayer games, but the PSP justifies its higher price by also playing MP3s and, in a brilliant move by Sony, full-length movies sold on Sony's proprietary UMD disks (search).

In terms of compatibility, the Nintendo DS has the leg up: it can play games designed for the GameBoy Advance, while PlayStation 2 owners will have to shell out all over again for UMD-formatted games for the PSP.

As for home game consoles, all three players from Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo will be replaced in the next year by new, much more powerful models — the Microsoft XBox 360, coming in November, and the Sony PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's Project Revolution, due in early 2006.

Hardcore gamers will want to wait; newbies wondering what all the fuss about "Grand Theft Auto" is will be able to pick up some cheap second-hand consoles pretty soon.