Today's "nattering nabobs of negativism," to borrow Bill Safire's brilliant alliteration, are all over us, saying we shouldn't buy anything this year but instead hoard our pennies and burrow in for the long winter ahead. Don't you know there's a recession?
I'm not one to advocate being a spendthrift, but there are compelling reasons to rev up the debit card and go out on Black Friday (or any other day) and do some prudent tech buying this year. Herewith, some ideas and advice:
• Go digital. If you don't have a digital TV, this is about as good a time to get one as any. Over-the-air television switches to digital on Feb. 9, and though you can get a converter that will enable you to continue using both your analog sets and your "rabbit ears," costs for flat-panel TVs are low enough to make them attractive.
The difference, of course, is stunning. My 720p flat screen is far better than anything I have ever seen with a tube, and the newer 1080p models are better still. You can find very good bargains on just about any size or style, and I suspect those bargains will be even better as Dec. 25 nears.
My personal brand favorites are Sony, LG and Samsung. I have seen several models from each of these makers, and they are superb. Vizio is another good option, and it's found at the warehouse clubs. Westinghouse is a "resurrected" brand name whose products are worth checking out; I have had a Westinghouse LCD display for about a year, and it's great. Add a tuner, and it would be a great TV, I suspect.
Where to buy? It might be tempting to avoid Circuit City, which is in bankruptcy, but if you stick to the name brands, you should be all right: The manufacturers will stand behind their products. Extended warranties may or may not be a good idea - consumer magazines generally oppose them, but for the excessively skittish, they might offer peace of mind.
One time when an extended warranty is well worth the expense, in my view, is when and if you buy a rear-projection LCD display. A what? It's a flat panel front with a projector in the back. You lose a little in the chic department, and rear-projection sets can't be mounted on the wall, but the plus is being able to get a larger screen size for the money - and often a brighter picture. Spend the $200 or so for a replacement warranty on the projector bulb. You'll be glad you did.
• Blu-ray, baby, Blu-ray. One good guess about the coming months is that many of us will be "cocooning" more and more, which is marketing babble for just staying home instead of going out to the movies. Savings include the cost of baby-sitting, parking perhaps and high ticket prices for stuff not worth $10 a throw.
Once you get that higher-end TV, acquiring a Blu-ray player not only will give you access to incredible discs (which can be rented at Blockbuster or via Netflix) but the players also will upscale your existing DVDs to enhance the picture. It won't be super-super-hi-def, but it'll be nicer than what you saw before, or so it's claimed.
I have been using a Sony PlayStation 3 ($399) as a Blu-ray player, with the upside that it's a gaming system for those who want one. The picture quality is stupendous, and there's an HDMI connection to your flat-screen set for optimal picture and sound.
Other Blu-ray players can be found for about $250 in warehouse stores, both from Sony and Phillips, among other makers. To me, buying just a DVD player, unless it's for a child's room, isn't a smart move: The cost is far lower, yes, but your options are fewer. (The only possible exception is the new breed of DVD recorders, which will let you record TV onto discs. It's not Blu-ray, but these devices seem, finally, to have given the death blow to the DVD/VCR combo machines.)
If the thought of another disc standard is too much for you, and if you have a computer with broadband Internet and Wi-Fi, grab an Apple TV ($329 with a 160 GB hard disk). You can rent or buy HD movies from Apple's iTunes store, stream them to the unit and play them (again with an HDMI hookup or composite cables) on your flat-panel display. Supereasy, supercool and great quality.
Frankly, I don't miss the multiplex. At all.
• Music on the go and at home. Apple's iPod family (and the related iPhone) own this category, but don't count out Microsoft's Zune, just deeply discounted by the folks in Redmond, Wash., and the Slacker player discussed here recently.
In portable players, just get the largest capacity you can afford. You'll pack in more music and regret less, I promise.
• E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.