Holiday shopping this year is a no-brainer for those with no imagination.
The three obvious choices are
Wii and any one of the zillions of cheap, flat-panel, liquid crystal display televisions from makers such as
, Vizio, Samsung and others.
Potential recession or not, don't assume falling prices and limitless availability for these hot items. Retailers are taking no prisoners this year.
Also, be ready to pay list price. Flat-panel TV prices, for example, may actually
this season if things break wrong for consumers.
Once you get beyond the big three, though, you get into the meat of the online shopping action: the fringe items that are not getting major media love. These gems of outdoor tech, audio, video and other areas offer remarkable value and terrific performance.
Here are seven off-the-wall gift ideas that you can order online:
1. Tomac: XC 1 Mountain Bike ($4,699).
Yes, the company flirted with bankruptcy earlier in the millennium, but mountain biking legend John Tomac is back with some filthy, big mountain rides that still have excellent urban pedigree.
The XC is a mostly carbon-frame all-mountain ride that is light enough to haul around town, but comes with enough suspension to really get moving on the rough stuff. If you can eat the nearly $5,000 cost, the Carbide is the ride right now.
2. Orca 3.8 Triathlon Speed Suit ($575).
Do you know somebody who likes to swim fast, but, well, can't?
The Orca 3.8 speed suit fixes that. Orca's latest wet suit has a slick, nonrestrictive method for trapping air against your body. The result is more buoyancy, less drag and simply ridiculous speeds through the water. Sure, you're probably violating some law about the purity of swimming, but nothing beats the fun of plowing through the water like Michael Phelps.
3. Canon XH A1 ($3,999)
A professional-grade video camera might seem a little extreme for the average user. But this
camera is so excellent that it really has become the standard for any user of means. Not only does it shoot in native full high definition resolutions, it has a fabulous autofocus, masters to the user-friendly MiniDVs format -- no proprietary pro standards to mess with -- and takes simply spectacular still pictures. Plus, if you have a decent PC you can edit your video yourself. If you can spring for the cost, you will have the ultimate video tool that will stay the ultimate tool for years to come.
Vudu Internet set-top box ($399).
The Vudu is about the hottest thing among media nerds right now: a TV set-top that seamlessly puts Web content on your TV.
Many other units have tried this hack before, with dismal results. Remember the multi-lame
TV? But Vudu succeeds where others have failed. It's elegant to look at and so easy to install that it can even work well for the mainstream TV watcher. Nice present for Mom. Really.
Headroom Ultra Micro Amp ($699).
Little is big right now in personal audio.
About my favorite is the Ultra Micro Amp from Headroom. Headphone amps take audio output from any source and optimize it for headphones. The effect can be electric. This 8-ounce amplifier, for example, produces excellent audio quality for its size. Match the unit to a good headphone, (see below) and you are looking at first-quality audio for less than $1,000 that otherwise would cost you tens of thousands. Not bad.
Beyerdynamic 770 sealed headphones ($249).
Don't let all the active noise-reduction headphone hype fool you -- the best performance still lies with sealed headphones that block out the outside the world the old fashioned way: with padding and lots of plastic.
These retro-sealed 'phones from Beyerdynamic offer old-world German quality for all of $249. They work great on planes too, if you don't mind the bulk.
Sonos Zone Bridge ($99 per zone with $999 base unit).
This holiday season give the gift of wireless multi-room audio: Sonos may not have invented the idea, but it perfected it by creating a proprietary technology that supports multiple zones with different audio feeds but without cables.
Simply install the head unit and place the remotes throughout your house and voila: instant home media network. Sonos has made its product more mainstream this year with the new Zone Bridge, which adds zones for $99. Better yet, it offers Napster's very cool digital music subscription service on its systems -- a great way to get great music in your home.
Jonathan Blum is an independent technology writer and analyst living in Westchester, N.Y. He has written for The Associated Press and Popular Science and appeared on FoxNews and The WB.