- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tick tock, the clock is running down to Dec. 25 and you-know-what. If it’s Kwanzaa you’re celebrating, you essentially have the same amount of time - almost no retailers will be open Christmas Day. Are you observing Hanukkah? Well, friend, you’re late already - it started two days ago.

So what to do? Yes, you can give gift cards aplenty. However, if you’re a traditionalist and want to put either hardware or the promise of same under the tree, here are some last-minute ideas.

• High-def your holiday - Start with a flat-panel TV, LCD or plasma. Your best-bet suppliers are the big-box stores such as Costco and Best Buy as well as Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club. I’ve seen some impressive values at Costco and Wal-Mart, though in the latter, I’d go for the highest-end set I could buy. To repeat earlier advice, stick with Samsung, Sony, LG and Toshiba; Panasonic’s a good buy. too, as is Vizio. Try to get a 1080p display if you possibly can. Even if the difference often is imperceptible, as some argue, it’s worth it to get the best you can.

(If your favorite retailer is out of stock, ask for something that can be exchanged for a set when they come in.)

If you have the TV already, get a Blu-ray player. Here, I’d stick with Sony: It seems to have the market sewn up in many respects, and a good Sony player should run about $225, unless you want to go whole hog and get the $399 Sony PlayStation 3, which gives you gaming and other stuff along with the movies.

Make sure your Blu-ray player has some way to access the Internet, preferably wirelessly, so you can take advantage of the online connectivity extras some Blu-ray discs make available under the BD-Live moniker.

I’m told that several fairly recent pictures, such as “Hancock,” “Pineapple Express,” “House Bunny” and “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” are among the hotter holiday Blu-ray titles, but I’m betting that Disney’s special “Sleeping Beauty” DVD and “Prince Caspian” also will draw attention. I don’t know how else to say it: Once you see a movie in Blu-ray, it’s difficult to go back to standard-definition fare.

Then again, the overall vivid pictures, stunning sound and breathtaking beauty of HD programming sold me long ago. Now prices are reasonable enough that many of us can glom onto what’s going to become the over-the-air standard early next year and a delight for all. (If you don’t believe me, just watch a Discovery Channel or National Geographic program in HD. You’ll get it instantly.)

• Point and shoot this year, and next - A bunch of point-and-shoot digital cameras are available at the $200 or so price point that commend themselves as nice presents. I’m a fan of Fujifilm, Olympus and, as mentioned a fortnight ago, Nikon as camera brands. You can find several of these, again, in the big-box places.

Take a look at Eastman Kodak, too. It has some innovative products, including the Z1485is, a $300-ish 14.1- megapixel point-and-shoot that’s just breathtaking. The price might be a bit high for some, but if you’re feeling flush, grab it.

• Give ‘em a MacBook - Yes, it’ll cost you at least $999, and, more likely, $1,299, for a 13-inch MacBook, but you won’t find a better portable, in my view. The $1,299 one and its faster and better-equipped $1,599 brother, are environmentally friendly, have LED-illuminated screens (i.e., very sharp pictures and great brightness) and a host of other nice features. The machines perform beautifully and, if you really, really must, function very nicely as Windows-based systems.

The $999 MacBook, available in white only, is a great value for an Intel-based Mac portable. I recommend it highly on price alone.

• How about a set of cans? That’s trade lingo for headphones, and here, I’m thinking of Pioneer’s SE-MJ3’s. The name isn’t poetic, but the sound is just splendid - especially at $49 retail. These aren’t “noise-canceling” headphones, per se, but they do a great job of blocking out distractions for me while I work in a cubicle farm by day. (Then again, I just missed a call, so maybe they are noise blockers after all.)

For iPhone users, there’s one and only one choice: Ultimate Ears’ SUPER.Fi range of “vi” headsets. There’s the $150 SUPER.Fi 4 vi, which is great, and the $190 SUPER.Fi 5 vi, which sounds even better. The Ultimate Ears’ headsets really are noise-canceling - they were nothing short of an absolute blessing when I was flying to and from Manila in October,.

Whatever the holidays bring you, I pray that joy, peace and happiness are included in your gift basket this year.

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