Face it, my brothers and sisters, it's been a good year. World uncertainties aside, the markets have been generous to most of us.
Bounty on this grand scale creates, well, a problem: What ridiculously extravagant gift are you going to give someone (or yourself) in 2006?
And since kids know the truth -- if one present is good, seven presents are better -- what better time, then, for a Borat-titled story: "The Seven Best Money-Is-No-Object Gifts to Get"?
Go ahead. Go wild. You deserve it.
Best Game Platform
There are those in the world for whom $600 is a lot of money. And there has been much twittering out there over which is the best gaming platform: The
PlayStation 3, the Nintendo Wii or the
But money is, blissfully, not the issue here. So the choice is simple. If you want to game, do what the professional gamers do: Get a gaming PC. Good brands are the Voodoo Envy notebook PC or the Vicious PC; but my pick is the
Alienware mALX ($9,900).
The mALX is a beast of a laptop, with a 19-inch screen that is -- just barely -- portable. The thing has unimaginable power and features. I will spare you the techno details, other than to say this: Spend three minutes playing
Grand Theft Auto
on the mALX, and you'll never mess around with a dorky old PlayStation again.
Best Disc Player
The supposed big story of the year is the "war" between the two competing high-definition video disc standards: HD digital video discs and Blu-ray discs. But there's really no story, and there is no war. Blu-ray disc players are better. They offer more storage, more features and better image quality. So get a Blu-ray player, cost and compatibility be damned.
The trick with Blu-ray is not to mess around with also-rans from the likes of Samsung,
or Panasonic. Get a Blu-ray player from the company that invented Blu-ray players, Sony Electronics -- the
BDP S-1 ($1,000), to be exact.
The S-1 comes with excellent controls, a nice array of connectivity options and a superbly designed user interface that embarrasses the competition. Timeless classics, like
Lawrence of Arabia
, are simply astounding on the S-1.
While the high-end of flat panels is populated with excellent brands like Pioneer Elite, Fujitsu and Sony's Bravia line, there is still only one real choice: Runco, specifically the
Yes, the PL61 is hardly new. And $15,000 is a lot of money to spend on a TV with less than the industry standard for vertical resolution in a high-definition set: The Runco only has 760 lines as opposed to 1080.
Still, right now, the Runco is the best TV money can buy. It presents 61 luscious diagonal inches of meticulously processed plasma-rendered imagery. Skin tones are stroke-them silky. Blacks are velvet on an October midnight.
You simply have to come to terms with the reality that when the 1080-line version of the Runco comes out later in 2007, the 760-line unit you just bought will be passed off into the kid's room.
This has been the year of cheapskate cameras. Digital single-lens reflex cameras with high-end features like auto exposure and focus are coming from the likes of Olympus, Pentax and others for less than $500.
And super-cheap units like point-and-shoot cameras from Panasonic,
and the rest come stocked with great features such as 5 megapixels of resolution and 5X optical zooms.
Fine. But do we care? No.
For the ultimate in photography, there is simply nothing to rival large-format cameras. Many vendors are still making these marvelous monsters, including Tachihara, Ebony and Alpa. But my pick for best-of-the-big is the
Horseman L Series (starts at $5,800).
There is simply no image this camera cannot make marvelous.
Sure, it weighs 15 pounds without a tripod or other accessories, and you can easily spend $10,000 on a full system -- and a lifetime mastering all its horrible complexities of exposure and processing -- but when you are near to breathing your last breath, you'll look up at that Horseman-created photo from happier days and know your life was not for nothing.
Best Portable Sound
I am not even going to burden these bits and bytes with mentioning Microsoft's ludicrous Zune portable player, which is attempting to compete this year with
iPod. Microsoft has no chance with the Zune. Not one.
Of much more interest in smaller sound systems are advances in headphones and headphone amps. Companies like Sennheiser and Beyerdynamics have, until now, ruled the high-end headphone roost.
But this year a new player fought its way to the top of the headphone heap: the
AKG 701. A reasonable $449 buys you a phenomenal headphone. The AKG is so good, you'll need a separate headphone amplifier to get the most out of these cans. My pick? The
Headroom Max Balanced Amp ($3,999).Run the 701 through the Headroom and you'll taste true elite-level audio, which is as pure an experience as you can have with personal technology.
You know the world is in turmoil when
navigation is a big story.
This year saw a bumper crop of technologies that help us get around: Cell-phone companies like
all are selling decent navigation products. And in-car vendors like Pioneer, Alpine and Clarion, too, are pushing navigation units.
But my pick for best nav tool is the portable
Garmin Nuvi 360 ($857).
The 360 is an elegant little navigational butler, the size of a pack of cigarettes, which resides quietly in your pocket and feeds flawless instructions on how to get from here to there.
This map-rich mini-me knows most of North America's streets, restaurants and points of interest. It can drive with you, bike with you and store pictures and music. And it even translates from one language to another.
With the Nuvi, now only losers get lost.
If mortally ridiculous transportation such as the Segway scooter and SpaceShipOne rocketship can count as a tech story in 2006 (and what self-respecting person of means gets anywhere near either of these stupid-looking things?), I can aptly make a transportation pick in a tech roundup.
This was a banner year for getting around in technostyle. We saw excellent developments in A-Class catamarans from makers like Boyer and old-school steel-frame bikes from builders like Vanilla Bicycles, but my pick for high tech transportation is easy: the
Lotus Elise ($42,900).
The Elise is the gadget of autos: No back seat. No trunk space to speak of. No ground clearance. Not even power windows. But for the joy of traveling in high-tech style, the Elise is impossible to beat.
Everything a rich geek dreams of is here: epoxy-glued aluminum chassis, roto-molded fiberglass body, a tiny little sound system and the roar of an 1.8-liter engine right behind your head.
Fun on this level usually costs several hundred thousand dollars from an elite maker like
Maserati or Ferrari. But the Lotus costs less than $40,000 to start, and it even gets 30 miles to a gallon of gasoline.
Fun and functional: that's great technology.
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Jonathan Blum is an independent technology writer and analyst living in Westchester, NY. He has written for The Associated Press and Popular Science and appeared on FoxNews and The WB.