Blu-ray: Now that the format war with HD DVD is won, and now that players can be found for $100 or less, it's time for the masses to have the option of high-definition disks. Spending less than a Benjamin will only get stripped down models that don't connect to the Internet for extra features, such as streaming Blockbuster videos. But they play Blu-ray disks in full 1080p glory and can convert standard DVDs for a better picture on a hi-def set. Retailer P. C. Richard has sold the LG BD270 (pictured) for $99. Wal-Mart and others have sold similar models for as little as $80.
Extra English: For only $20, the Wii Motion Plus brings added finesse to the Nintendo game console. After plugging it into the Wii's wireless remote, the Motion Plus's sensors can detect the mere flick of a wrist to add new movement in games that support it. They include Tiger Woods PGA Tour, Grand Slam Tennis, and Wii Sports Resort, which can be had with the Motion Plus in a $50 package deal. The module includes ports for plugging in a Nunchuk and other controllers, though a few require the Motion Plus to be removed.
Wireless photos: Getting photos off a camera remains a challenge for most consumers because of the complex technology or simple lethargy. Eye-Fi cards effortlessly copy photos wirelessly from cameras to PC and even websites, if wanted. Users have complete control over which photos get uploaded and to where. The cards start at $50, but the best deal for most users is $70 for the Eye-Fi Home Video, which holds 4 GB of data and can also upload videos. Google for now is even giving one away for free for a $50 subscription to its Picasa photo storage.
[Check out the mobile tech that stole the decade.]
Internet video: The little Roku box makes it magically simple to stream Internet video to a TV across a home network. The box truly shines for Netflix subscribers, who can stream thousands of movies and TV shows for no added cost. But Roku has enough "channels" now to appeal to anyone. It can stream Amazon pay-per-view movies, Major League Baseball games, and free podcasts from Mediafly and others. Users can also see photos from Flickr and Facebook. The SD model costs $80, or you can spring for the $100 model that streams a sharper image for high-def sets.
Peace of mind: Do someone less savvy a favor. Buy them a year's online backup from Carbonite and then take a few minutes to set it up for them. Once downloaded and installed, a small piece of software works quietly in the background to upload precious photos, videos, and documents to a password-protected website. Users can access the files from anywhere there is a Web browser, including from a new computer after the old one is fried. Until year's end, the coupon "CUST50" buys a year for $25 or three for $65. Buying for a long-distance friend? Guide them to free LogMeIn Express, which can give you access to their PC across the Web for setting them up.
Instant prints: And we mean instant. And users can take handheld, battery-powered printers sold by Polaroid and Dell to parties or reunions or on cruises. Dell's Wasabi is the latest to the market and is nearly identical to Polaroid's Pogo. They use a camera phone's Bluetooth connection or plug into a still camera (or PC) with a USB cable. Within a minute or so, they produce a decent, 2-by-3-inch print through a thermal process that is inkless. The prints are said to be scratch and water resistant. The printers can be found in a variety of colors for about $50.
Portable music: A great MP3 player doesn't have to cost $150 or come without an LCD screen. For something outside the Apple iPod juggernaut, consider the Sansa Fuze from SanDisk. It's easy to use, has a bright screen, and can pick up FM radio stations and play videos. For $50 or less, it comes with 2 GB for holding songs, photos, and clips. Even better is the memory slot for adding more memory. The battery charges through the included USB cable and lasts for about 20 hours of listening and about four hours of video watching.
Sharp photos: A great digital camera can be had for about $100 in the Canon PowerShot A480. It doesn't have a lot of manual settings but has a dozen scene modes like Fireworks, Slow Shutter, Portrait, Beach, or Kids & Pets. It also has a 3.3x zoom and video mode. The 2.5-inch LCD is bright, and menus are simple to maneuver. The camera comes in several colors and is small enough to fit comfortably in a pocket. It uses convenient AA batteries. No speedster, as it can take a couple of seconds to turn on, the shutter lag is tolerable. Oh, yeah, it also takes great photos.
Young techs: Many kids have endured clumsy, complex science and electronics kits through the years. Snap Circuits is the modern and elegant version, with modules that snap together to make all sorts of fun, from radios to doorbells to launching a flying rotor. Color-coded parts and simple manuals mean children can put things together on their own. Parts pull apart just as easily for other projects. The kits start at about $30. More sophisticated sets include LED readouts, meters, and motors that can keep the challenges growing with the kids. This is one electronics toy that parents are happy to see used for hours.
[See the biggest technology flops of the decade.]
Rocking truck: Sometimes kids want a sturdy toy truck to push around, and sometimes they want something more interactive. They get both in the Matchbox Rocky the Robot Truck that sings, dances, and stands to dump a load. The body and wheels are made of durable plastic that's ready for a heavy load or a hard push from an excited toddler. The truck will sit quietly until someone comes near and makes noise. Then it comes to life with banter, jokes or singing. The popular toy is hard to find at its $60 list price, but Amazon resellers have it for about $80.