Tech the Halls: The Consumer-Electronics Gift Guide

Forget that sweater with those loopy, over-served snowmen on it, and don't even think about wrapping up that garden gnome you purchased online at 3 a.m. and giving it to that special someone.

What those on your gift list really want is a little slice of tech heaven. Yes, even Grandpa.

U.S. consumers are set to open their wallets to the tune of $33 billion during this holiday season, defined as Thanksgiving to Christmas, according to Forrester Research.

A chunk of that pie will be devoted to technology treasures. In fact, 80 percent of consumers plan to purchase at least one consumer-electronics product this year, according to a survey by market-research firm Cahner's In-Stat.

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While mobile phones, iPods, cameras, video cameras, video games and grandiose flat-screen TVs are bound to get ink on many a wish list, a few less-publicized goodies will also get those bells a-ringin' when they're opened up this year.

So consider this article a tech-gift cheat-sheet sure to garner some good cheer. And if one of those lucky recipients gets a little too friendly under the mistletoe, don't say we didn't warn you.

Games People Play

Know someone whose idea of a great time involves a game cartridge, two remote controls and a big screen?

There's always Nintendo's $250 Wii, the crazy-popular interactive videogame console — that is, if you can find it in stores.

But if you want to really step it up a notch, and you're flush with that bonus this year, then order up the Chicago Gaming Company Arcade Legends 2 upright gaming console.

For about $2,799, your loved one can recall his delinquent youth spent in a dark video arcade. The full-sized, upright home arcade game console packs more than 50 game titles, including "Asteroids," "Centipede," "Defender," "Missile Command," "Space Invaders" and "Tempest."

Bonus: This time around, quarters aren't necessary.

The Boob Tube

Is "Ostentatious" her middle name? Get the love of your life the Panasonic Viera TH-103PZ600 103-inch plasma HDTV.

Oh yeah, it will set you back a cool $70,000 (details, details), so make sure it's really a match made in heaven before she cuts the ribbon.

Equal to four 50-inch plasma screens put together, the Viera (available at select electronics retailers) isn't billed as the world's biggest plasma TV for nothing.

Heck, if you can't give it — and few can — you can always ask that cute fat man in the red suit for it.

If screen size doesn't really matter as much, Samsung's HP-S4273 HDTV 42-inch plasma television makes a nice statement for about $1,200 and has garnered great online reviews, even though Samsung seems to have discontinued the model.

Also perfect for the home media room is Sony's HESV1000 Home Entertainment Server, which is the size of a small filing cabinet.

The $3,499 price tag gets you a full 200-disc Blu-ray Disc and DVD/CD changer plus a 500 GB hard disc drive that can store up to 137 hours of video, 40,000 songs or 20,000 digital photos.

Talking Pictures

So where would one come up with all that content to store on such a server anyway?

Precious moments like Aunty Claire drinking too much eggnog, and Cousin Waldo insulting the neighbors? Ah, memories.

Thank goodness all these festive times can be recorded on super-efficient devices.

Sony's 15-ounce HDR-CX7, which debuted in May, is billed by the company as the world's lightest and smallest camcorder. It lists for $1,200, but as with many electronic gadgets, actual retail prices may be much less.

There's also the Casio Exilim Z1080 camera with video capture, listing at $250, which could put a smile on the face of that social-networking happy co-ed on your list: It has a feature tagged the YouTube Capture Mode.

And for that digital camera picture-taker in your life, the one who is always handing off his camera to someone closer to the action in order to get the shot, you might want to pick up the $25 XShot.

It's a telescopic rod that attaches to the camera, and it'll get the job done much less annoyingly then the pass-around.

On that same idea, too, is the Gorillapod, also $25, which firmly secures your compact digital camera to just about anything — anywhere and everywhere.

Mobile Phones, Mobile Devices

Many of your loved ones have probably been hinting for this one, if they didn't already wait in line to get one themselves.

"The iPhone is still a wildly popular product," says Stephanie Ethier, senior analyst at Cahners In-Stat. "It will still be a hot seller, particularly with its price drop, and for those consumers who are already tied to an AT&T contract and can upgrade easily."

For alternatives to the iPhone for folks tied to a competing cellular phone contract or music lovers, or who don't want to spend $400, check out Microsoft's revamped Zune MP3 player line ($150-$250) or the iPod Touch ($300-$400).

Another cool mobile gadget is the T-Mobile Shadow, manufactured by Taiwanese cell-phone pioneer HTC.

Weighing in at 5.3 ounces and sporting Windows Mobile 6, Wi-Fi, a video camera and high-speed GPRS and EDGE networking as well as the standard music player, text messaging and instant messaging, the device's $150 price tag, with reasonably priced 2-year service contract, is a good fit for the budget-conscious.

Getting There Is Half the Fun

Got a direction-challenged buddy or someone dear who spends a lot of time in his car and doesn't really like to take the path less traveled?

Check out a GPS or navigation system gift, like the $450 Magellan Maestro 4040, the $750 Garmin Nüvi 660 or one from TomTom's line.

Market watchers say that while many mobile phones already have a built-in navigation function, the dedicated-device market is seeing price drops and sleeker designs, both of which could make a GPS navigator a good present this season.

OK, so that techno-junkie on your list already has every gadget in Best Buy?

There's always accessories. No self-respecting true techie carries her laptop around in an outdated bag. So fork over $79 for the black quilted Mina by Abbi laptop bag, which sports sequins and carries a 15 x 11-inch laptop.

Or maybe you can put her in touch with her outdoorsy side with the Tech4O TraiLeader Watch, $140. It tracks speed, distance, and altitude climbed, has a stopwatch and step counter, and informs the wearer what type of weather is headed her way.

Speaking of forecast, to the chagrin of ugly sweaters and fruitcakes everywhere, if market research and consumer habits are right, it looks like it will be happy shopping — or clicking as the case may be — for electronics this year.

Consumer electronics have become this season's most-wanted gift, to the chagrin of ugly sweaters and fruitcakes everywhere.