Best electronics for the holiday shopping season

No matter what electronic gadget consumers are looking for this holiday season, they’ll find quality products at unusually low prices as retailers and manufacturers try to entice purchasing in this tough economy.
Consumer Reports rated 448 electronics products including LCD and plasma TVs, Blu-ray players, laptops and desktop computers, point-and-shoot cameras, new music players and headphones. Highlights of CR’s findings include:
— LCD & Plasma TVs. This shopping season, consumers will be enticed by high-definition TVs as prices continue to head downward. Of the 86 models tested, 42 sets offer excellent HD picture quality. CR marked 17 models as CR Best Buys for not only being a bargain, but also a quality investment. There are great options for LCDs and plasmas, such as the 46-inch LCD JVC LT-46J300, $1,000, a CR Best Buy, with excellent high definition, or the recommended plasma, Panasonic Viera TC-P42X1, $700, with strong definition and ease of use.
— Blu-ray Players. Any of the Blu-ray players CR tested offer excellent picture quality, and all but three upconvert standard DVDs well. New to Blu-ray players is BD-Live ready, which enables a player to connect to the Internet to access content. The LG BD390, $300, is recommended as the only tested model with built-in Wi-Fi and BD-Live, providing a connection to LG’s NetCast Service to access content. The CR Best Buy Magnavox NB530MGX, $130, is an excellent lower-priced player. It is a no frills player without BD-Live but provides excellent picture quality and DVD upconverting.
— Computers. Computer manufacturers are dropping prices on quite a few desktops and laptops, but shoppers should beware of imposters posing as bargains. Some computer makers are replacing dual-core processors with single-core Pentium and Celeron processors to reduce cost. Others are offering low-priced desktops and laptops that look full powered but use a far less powerful Atom processor. But there are still good deals. The Dell Studio One 19, $900 desktop, ranked a CR Best Buy, is an all-in-one equipped with a Pentium Dual-Core processor and 256 megabytes of video RAM that performed just as well overall as other all-in-ones costing considerably more. The recommended 13.3-inch Dell Inspiron 13, $700, one of the least expensive laptops, was rated very good in performance, while the 13.1-inch MSI X-Slim X320-037US, $580, which uses an Atom processor, rated poor in performance and ranked last.
— Point-and-Shoot Cameras. Good values and variety abound in point-and-shoots, whether shoppers are looking for a pocket-sized, simple to use, or versatile model. Recent testing of 92 cameras found that more expensive models with additional features such as more zoom, an output for HDTV, or touch-screen may not perform as well. Two Kodak models, rated CR Best Buys, the EasyShare C160, $90, and EasyShare M320, $100, show that strong subcompacts do exist for less than $150.
— New Music Players. The latest Microsoft Zune HD 16GB, $220, or 32GB, $290, is a largely successful redesign but continues to remain Windows-only. It is thinner, more elegant, and more colorful than previous models. Features include Wi-Fi to access the Internet and the ability to download purchases directly to the player and wirelessly sync the player to a PC.
The fifth generation iPod Nano multimedia player, 8GB, $150; 16GB, $180, has useful new features, but is still unable to capture still photos. Video recording capabilities make their debut in this version. After synching with the computer, it is easy to e-mail videos to friends, post on Facebook and YouTube, or edit in iMovie.
— Headphones. Headphones come in various types, shapes, and sizes and provide better sound with less noise. Headphones with active noise-canceling are best for limiting interruptions while listening. They use battery-powered electronic circuitry to reduce unwanted noise picked up by their tiny microphones. The Panasonic RP-HC55, $70, a CR Best Buy, is a good noise canceling set at a low price.

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