timeless gift giving ideas
by Shirley Mitchell
the time of year, it's inevitable that you have to screw up your courage
and go gift shopping for the ones you love. Or, maybe just for yourself!
Regardless of who your "special someone" is, you may be looking
toward the marvelous world of consumer electronics for that perfect gift.
In this column,
we'll go over a few rather generic choices, avoiding brand names in favour
of general product categories.
In the past,
VCR's have been popular gifts and now many families are working on their
second or third units. If that's where you are, or if you still don't
own a VCR, they're now cheaper and better than ever. We'd suggest keeping
your current VCR (assuming it still works, of course!) as a secondary
unit (or for dubbing) and augmenting it with a newer one. If that's what
you want to do, why not consider SuperVHS (S-VHS)? S-VHS offers you a
far better picture than the smudgy, runny one you get from regular VHS
(it's said to be close to laserdisc quality, though we might argue that),
which makes it ideal for recording from TV, camcorders or, dare we say,
is that there's little pre-recorded S-VHS software, so you're pretty well
out of luck when it comes to renting S-VHS tapes. You can still play your
old tapes, and rental VHS cassettes, though, so this is really a non-issue.
Or how about
adding a DVD player to your home hardware? As outlined
elsewhere in TechnoFILE, these are the ultimate
video playback machines (at least until everything's replaced by digital
toys) that also handle your audio CD's. They're also relatively cheap
now, and the software's getting much easier to find.
laserdisc, some of these machines are also Karaoke-compatible, which means
you can use them as a singalong machine to amaze and impress, or just
plain annoy, your friends at parties. Karaoke LD players also play conventional
laserdiscs and audio CD's.
seen the a"bun"dance of automatic bread
makers on the market. Panasonic introduced the first one a few years
ago (and still make the best of the ones we've tried), and mouths have
been watering ever since.
A bread maker
is easy to use, relatively quick, and delivers a delicious product. You
can also make dough and other neat stuff in 'em, and you can use their
built-in timers to delay your loaf to morning, or until your arrival home
from work (at which time the whole house has that heavenly, fresh bread
has been around since the very beginnings of the "video revolution,"
but never has it been more affordable and/or flexible. Conventional satellite
systems, with the big, ten foot diameter dishes, are still popular (especially
in rural areas and at bars), but are now being seriously challenged (as
is your local cable operator) by the small, new digital dishes.
These are the
18 inch or so diameter dishes that are getting so much hype. They offer
you a wide variety of viewing choices, including most of the channels
you're accustomed to (though you may have trouble getting the big networks
on them if you live in an urban area) and even some specialty audio-only
channels that offer all music with no talk or commercials.
Prices on these
systems are dropping rapidly as they catch on, and the picture quality
is also improving - not that they were any slouch in the first place.
the initial price you pay for the equipment is only the beginning. You'll
spend a monthly fee licensing the programming, though it's priced competitively
with cable. And some places don't have access to legal programming (Canada
is a good example of this - Canadians have to buy their program from South
of the border!), so make sure you have a pipeline to the programming you
want before you plunk down your hard-earned currency.
you need a reasonably clear view toward the equator (a view to the South
if you live in the Northern hemisphere - a view to the North if you're
in the Southern hemisphere) because the satellites orbit over the equator
and if you can't aim at them you can't get their signals. Of course, they
don't always tell you this in the store
are leaping forward in quality and sophistication, like everything else.
Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis as being the state-of-the-art, though
of course they're still popular and new game titles are coming out all
the time. Now, Nintendo has its 64 bit system, and Sony's has its PlayStation
- soon to become PlayStation II.
And you've just
paid off the last game system the kids whined about until you bought it!
Priced in the
area of $250-400 US, and with software running about the same price as
the regular video games, these systems are remarkable in their graphics
and sound abilities and, of course, are incompatible with each other.
So you may be
stuck with an obsolete system a few years down the road, just as the old
Atari, Nintendo, and Sega games (and do you remember Mattel's Intellivision?),
which are now being found in bargain basements and dustbins.
kids will still get at least a few years of rock 'em, sock 'em mayhem
out of the machines and, if all you want is a game platform, they can
be a good investment. They plug into your TV, so you don't need to buy
a special monitor and set up a specific games area in your your home.
If you want
something that does more than just play games, though, you might want
to buy the family a personal computer.
Does Not Compute
A PC, and we
recommend the IBM-compatible market rather than the Macintosh (nothing
wrong with the Mac, but would you shop for a beta VCR these days?), is
the ultimate home information/entertainment and productivity platform.
And most top titles for the game platforms are available (or will be)
for PC's, while some games that are only available for PC will totally
blow away the game platform titles - like strategy games and simulations.
that most PC-based games are usually one-player affairs (unless you're
playing online against other people) and if your computer is set up in
its own place you might find it a bit crowded with everyone gathering
around the monitor to rubberneck the player. Extra controllers are available
for multi-player games, but you may also need to beef up your interface
so there's somewhere to plug 'em in.
Of course, a
PC is also great for lots more than games and that's why you'll spend
three to four times the amount of a PlayStation for the privilege of owning
If you already
have a PC, adding some new software to it can be a nice gift idea. If
your hardware is up to snuff, you can upgrade to Microsoft's Windows
95 or NT 4.0 operating systems. They both
do a really nice job of making your computing life easier and will also
allow you to run the scads of new software that's already hitting the
market. NT is more high end than Windows 95, though - and Windows 95 is
compatible with more existing Windows and DOS software.
Other than that,
how about some new games or applications?
A good family
gift could include one of the many multimedia encyclopedias
or reference works available on just about every topic from cooking to
health to Mozart.
We won't get
into the many other programs and games available; there isn't enough room
here! Besides, we add reviews of as many of these products as we can get
our collective hands on, so keep surfing back to TechnoFILE!
Just about every
time you pick up a new audio or video product, you get a new remote
control to add to that growing pile on your coffee table. This can lead
to confusion as you search for the right one, and frustration when you
finally discover it's not even in the pile; junior took it upstairs to
use as a "Jabba the Hutt sail barge."
there's a good selection of "universal"
remotes on the market. Ranging from "cereal box giveaway" pricing
to several hundred simoleons, these remotes control many different components
from many different manufacturers.
of these come with the codes already programmed it. All you have to do
is look up the brand and/or model of your particular piece of electronics
on the supplied list, then punch the appropriate "key" into
it and zap happily away.
the codes from your actual remote; you do this by pointing them at each
other and teaching it the various buttons.
you find, get one that's backlit or has big, easy-to-find-in-the-dark
buttons. You may give up some flexibility in the number of functions you
can operate, but if you're like most people you only use the basic ones
anyway (like Play, FF, REW, Record, Channel, etc.), so it's probably not
a big deal.
So, while your
universal remote won't let you throw away your other remotes, you will
be able to put them someplace a little more out of the way.
Of course, this
can lead to "remote control wars," when more than one person
has custody of a remote and they simultaneously zap different signals
at the beleaguered electronics. Check out our remote
control buyers' guide for some more advice.
For those with
are hot. You can get big phones, simple phones, cute phones, obnoxious
phones, cellular phones (but beware the
airtime charges!), cordless
phones, answering machine phones, even videophones!
Of all these,
the generic cordless phone is a great home/family gift. They've gotten
to the point where most of them are pretty quiet unless you're hovering
around some other electronic device, and even the inexpensive ones give
you more than one channel to cut down on interference.
You can never
have enough blank tape, batteries (rechargeables are making nice strides
toward respectability - unless you're a pink bunny), or other accessories.
Headphones are nice for the person whose musical tastes (or preferred
volume) may not be able to coexist with the rest of the family's.
You can also
think about upgrading the speakers on your PC, if it came with cheesy
little ones. You'll be amazed how much more enjoyable your computer becomes
with a good set of speakers or a better quality sound card. Likewise,
a good joystick or other game controller can be a bonus to the serious
only scratching the surface here; it would take more megabytes than there
are on earth to cover everything you can give as a gift. Clock Radios.
See? Hopefully, however, we've helped stimulate your own "creative
buying juices" and you'll now sally forth proudly and confidently
to make whatever buying decisions make the most sense for you.