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Plugged-In Plunder

Wire your gift list to the 21st century with these high-tech holiday ideas
Steve Morgenstern
From the Print Edition:
Rudy Giuliani, Nov/Dec 01

Forget those old-fashioned gift ideas -- we want presents from the present, electronic wonders that light up the holidays with the cheery glow of an LCD display. Here are 10 of our top picks from the happy kingdom of gear, gadgets and gizmos.

Vialta Beamer BM-80 Video Station

Those who follow consumer gadgets with more than a passing interest know the video phone as the Little Product That Couldn't. Born of '60s Worlds Fair optimism, several video phone incarnations from various manufacturers came to market, only to meet with apathy or outright ridicule (remember Debbie Reynolds' slapstick device abuse in Albert Brooks's film Mother?). But maybe, just maybe, this time it will be different. One thing's for certain -- Vialta has learned well from the mistakes of its predecessors.

Instead of connecting to your TV display as in previous attempts, the Beamer has its own 3.5-inch color LCD display -- not huge, but big enough -- mounted on a sleek, clear pedestal that Jane Jetson would be happy to have in her home. Equally important, the Beamer doesn't try to replace your existing phone. You plug the Beamer into your regular phone jack and your phone into the Beamer -- so much for installation. Controls are nice and easy. Turn video on and off, adjust quality (trading off between picture resolution and smooth movement), and decide whether you want to see yourself during the call, the person you're calling, or both, in a picture-in-picture window. Basically, that's it.

How's the picture? Not TV quality, that's for sure, but it's good enough to be a fun addition to your regular phone conversation and, at $500 for a pair (or $299 apiece), getting a glimpse of your college kid's face or your grandmother's smile during a call isn't going to break the bank. Vialta, www.vialta.com, 877-963-8383

Kenwood Excelon Music Keg

It's tough to wedge a Wurlitzer into the average family sedan, but a slick alternative puts 5,000 songs at your fingertips as you cruise the highways and byways. You can install the Music Keg in the trunk, under the front seat, or anywhere you can find room for it. It connects to a standard Kenwood dashboard stereo head unit. As far as the dashboard stereo is concerned, it's playing from a CD changer. But the songs are actually stored as digital MP3 files on removable cartridges that you slap into the Music Keg -- no CDs, just thousands of songs on one convenient disc.

A quick primer for the post-college-aged: MP3 files let you store music that can be played back on a computer or a portable audio device. You can create your own MP3 files using the software provided or, if you're Internet savvy, download MP3 music from the Net. Either way, it's no problem loading the songs onto the Music Keg cartridge -- the system comes with a cradle that connects to your PC's USB port.

Trying to manage 5,000 songs while driving a motor vehicle is potentially more hazardous than a cell phone conversation with your broker at 70 mph. Fortunately, you can organize your music ahead of time into playlists -- groups of songs sequenced the way you like them -- before you pull out of the driveway. And as a song is playing, its title and artist information scrolls by in the stereo display window. Add colored tubes with bubbling fluids, and all our jukebox dreams would be answered. Kenwood, $749.95, www.kenwoodusa.com, 800-536-9663

Canon 8x25 IS Binoculars


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