Gifts, Gadgets & Gizmos
Part 3 of 3
In this final installment of our Gift guide for this season, we're going to look at a very diverse group of cool tech toys ranging from video production tools to actual flying toys! Hang on tight because we're going to cover a lot of ground in a strangely cohesive order.
Let's face it; these days if you're not filming it you're watching it. Either on TV or YouTube. So we're going to show you 3 things that will make that part of your life a whole lot better.
Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000
Logitech has released a number of terrific webcams over the years including one of my favorites, the venerable QuickCam Orbit. This year they've outdone themselves with the QuickCam Pro 9000 . Probably the most salient feature of this little gem is the incorporation of Carl Zeiss optics. Carl Zeiss is one of the most respected names in optics and lenses. They are renowned for both their scientific and photographic offerings and the inclusion of their glass in the Pro 9000 helps to deliver outstanding crispness and clarity at HD video resolutions of 960 x 720 pixels. Coupled with Logitech's RightLight™ 2 and RightSound™ technology, this is an unbeatable webcam at $99.00.
We've experimented with this webcam in all kinds of lighting conditions and even using ‘green screen' effects (that's what the weather person stands in front of so you see the weather map behind them), and it works flawlessly.
If you're considering anything from serious desktop video production to just video chat, this is a must have for your shopping list.
Speaking of video production.....
Pinnacle Studio MovieBox Ultimate
Have you ever seen a magician reach into his top hat and start pulling things out...and he keeps on pulling things out and you wonder how he got all that stuff into that little hat. Well, the folks at Pinnacle have pulled off a little video magic of their own. They have crammed just about everything you could imagine into a little box called Studio MovieBox Ultimate.
Studio MovieBox Ultimate integrates a high-speed USB 2.0 capture device with all the inputs you could hope for in this era of DRM (digital rights management) and movie studio paranoia. You can attach your video camera, webcam, or other video source into a Firewire, composite or S-video input and have it come appropriately out the other end through a series of connectors including USB 2.0, directly to your computer.
After that the magic of Pinnacle Studio Plus 11 video editing software and a suite of highly acclaimed pro audio and video tools help you produce Spielberg like results (OK, maybe not that good, but the tools are that good). The suite runs comfortably on a Windows XP or Vista (yes, I said Vista...miracles do happen) system and you can crank out HD DVD and AVCHD format disc authoring, web publishing formats and even audio music tracks to set the mood.
If you're really adventurous, try the included green screen for awesome live production effects.
The Pinnacle Studio MovieBox Ultimate is all yours for only $149.00
So now that you've produced several Oscar worthy features, it's time to kick back and watch some good HD TV. But wait, you're sitting in the airport waiting for your flight to L.A. What to do, what to do.....
Pinnacle PCTV HD Pro Stick
Got a laptop? Got a spare USB port? Got milk? You're all set. This tiny little wonder plugs into your laptop or PC's USB port and poof, instant over the air broadcast HD TV. The ‘Stick' comes with its own antenna and remote along with a small host of other dongles and adapters. Another nice plus, it comes with PVR software so you can record on the fly (or in between flights).
Sitting alone in your room? You can also attach your analog cable feed to the antenna input of the Pinnacle PCTV HD Pro Stick and cozy up to "Weeds" or the weather channel. All this for $99.00.
So you've conquered the video world and you've decided you next goal is to be a rock star. Well have we got the tools for you!
M-Audio specializes in all things audio from garage bands to professionals. We got a chance to play with (literally and figuratively) two of their budding rock star tools, Session Music Producer and Session Key Studio.
Session Music Producer is a vocal studio in a box. It comes packaged with their Producer USB microphone which is an excellent basic recording mic. Producer USB has a large diaphragm to capture all voice qualities and timbres easily. A real bonus is the included drivers allow you to listen to your performance in real time without those momentary delays that drive you crazy when doing computer based recording.
The Session software is a whole studio world unto itself. Record and playback are a quick click away. Session will automatically configure new tracks and help you along through the process as well as assist with sounds and effects.
Like what you got but would like to sweeten it just a bit? No problem. Session lets you add reverb, echo, percussion or just play with the equalization. At just $99 it's a steal.
Now all this is great, but what if you want to add some serious keyboards or instrumentals?
You guessed it...
M-Audio Session KeyStudio
I was brought up on keyboards and today there is almost nothing you can't play using one. M-Audio's Session KeyStudio makes sure of it. With a 49-note velocity-sensitive USB keyboard and an incredible library of virtual instruments, loops and effects the possibilities are virtually limitless. The session basics are the same as for the vocal product, but here you get to jam with your traditional keyboard, synth, bass, percussion, you name it, they've got it.
The Session software itself is an incredibly in-depth package that allows you to add as many instruments, effects and tracks as your creative heart desires. The package comes with 2 GB of pre-recorded loops so that you can start laying down professional sounding tracks almost immediately. For the garage band enthusiast or hard core musician these packages are a must! Another steal at just $99.
So now you've shot the video, written the score and added some stills, but you'd like to get them all together in one place and see them on your 50" flat panel.
How about Video, Audio, Pictures....
Media center PC's are fine, but sometimes you've got content spread out all over your network and you'd just like a simple way to tap into all of that and run it through your home theatre system. D-Link has packaged all this capability in a very convenient, easy to use, slim package, the DSM-520.
The DSM-520 is both a wired and wireless HD media center. You can connect it directly to your switch or router using standard Ethernet cable, or, where that isn't a possibility, connect wirelessly using its built in 802.11g access.
The DSM-520 has all the necessary connectors, from composite to optical to HDMI. This allows you to view all of your content in resolutions up to 1080i HD. Nice.
Remember all that video content we talked about at the beginning of the article. You know, the stuff you're either filming or watching somewhere on the net. Well, with the optional active-TV ONLINE software installed you'll get instant access to YouTube, ESPN, MTV, Movielink, AOL Video, Comedy Central and tons of other sites. All of which will be viewable through your home theatre. Sweet. Easy. Convenient. Only $249.00
Speaking of Convenience...
The nice folks at Belkin sent us a little buffet of terrific comfort and convenience items. I have to tell you, the more time I spent with these things, the more I kept saying to myself, "Somebody at Belkin was really thinking!" These little gadgets are simple, effective and just downright useful. OK, so what are they already....
In-Desk USB Hub
You know how all the new desks come with those little round holes drilled through them so you can route your cables? You know how there's always space around them? You know how you're always bending over to plug in some USB device for your phone or IPOD or whatever? Don't you just hate doing that? I do. The folks at Belkin came up with a wonderful way to save your back, make those USB ports easier to reach and fill the extra space in those holes.
The In-Desk USB Hub comes in 2" and 3" sizes to accommodate all the standard openings. It plugs into an available USB port on your PC and, presto, you've now got 4 USB ports right on top of your desk. So simple. So perfect. All yours for $39.95.
What? You say your desk doesn't have a big round hole? No Problem!!
Another round of applause for Belkin. The Clip-on Hub , as you can see from the picture, can be attached to the side of a desk, a lamp pole, a chair leg, even a large bundle of cables! You get the idea. Just $29.95.
So you say your problem is that your work area is a little rustic. That's why you need the Clip-on hub in the first place. Well Belkin has another goodie for you. The Belkin Clamp-On Surge Protector attaches to the edge of a desk, table, a two-by-four, your pets leg if it will stand still. This is invaluable again for not only making clean power accessible but for saving your back as well. Retail $40.99.
Sometimes the obvious is the best. And these little darlings are obvious and terrific.
The Belkin FLIP
So now you've got our desk organized, your PC has a few extra and convenient USB ports but you've got some stuff on your laptop that you need to get to and you know that you're going to end up going back and forth between your PC and laptop all night. You'd also prefer to just be able to sit at your desk with your keyboard, mouse and monitor and not have to give that up just to finish up on your laptop. Enter the Flip.
The Flip is a simple two (2) system KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) switch that comes neatly bundled with everything you'll need to connect two computing devices to one monitor, keyboard and mouse. The device is an integral part of the wiring harness and mounts easily out of the way behind your PC. The coolest part of the Flip is the wireless system switch button that only takes up about 1 ½" on your desktop. A simple push and you've changed systems. This is another terrific convenience item at only $49.99 (with audio $59.99).
Now we don't always have the convenience of a desktop or other flat surface for our laptop (isn't that why they call it a laptop?). Well for those times where it's just you, your laptop and a small chair, you might want to try...
The CushTop is simply a cleverly molded, mildly triangular cushion that sits comfortably on your lap giving you a flat, slightly tilted, comfortable surface to operate your laptop.
The angle is set to not only compensate for your thighs when seated, but also to help give the laptop a better working angle. The wedge shaped opening in the middle is a great place to put that clumsy A/C power transformer. With a nicely upholstered look and a barrier to the laptop's heat, you can fashionably work for hours on a chair, on the couch or in your bed. It comes in numerous colors and sells for $34.99.
And while you're resting that new laptop on the comfortable CushTop, make sure it's connected to the Logitech QuickCam Pro for notebooks. It has all the phenomenal capabilities or the QuickCam Pro 9000 mentioned above, but designed specifically for mounting on your laptop. This is as good as it gets on the go.
When you're done working (or playing) on your notebook, pack it up in a durable, rugged and very classy looking carry case, the KINETIKTM 15.4 Briefcase, also from Logitech . It has a lightweight exo-shell casing that makes it particularly durable and ‘environment' resistant. It has plenty of storage capacity for your laptop, papers, accessories and assorted do-dads. The two things that grab your attention the most however, are its surprisingly light weight (considering its durability) and sleek lines. This case plays ‘dress-up' very well. Retail is $99.00.
One last Convenience and some Old Fashioned FUN!
There are times, especially in older buildings and homes, that not only is it not feasible to try and run Ethernet cable from point A to point B but it's not even possible to get a wireless signal through all that beautiful old stone and woodwork. But before you start drilling holes you'll regret and pulling out your last remaining hairs, there is a solution. The answer to this networking dilemma is powerline networking.
What's that? In a nutshell, using regular A/C wiring to transport Ethernet signals. There are several flavors of this available, and we tested the PLK200 PowerLine AV Ethernet Adapter from Linksys Corp. Installation is simple involving some setup software to insure security and network communication and simply plugging the devices where you need them. This would normally be to a computer or other network enabled device on one end and most probably your router or switch on the other. The end result is a solid, secure network connection where you otherwise might not have been able to get one. We highly recommend this type of solution.
InterActive Toy - Play Time
Sometimes you just want to play. I'm not talking about first person shooters or online multi-person mayhem. I'm talking about simple enjoyment like flying a remote controlled single wing micro size ornithopter. A What? A big other worldly buggy type thing that you fly around like a maniac with a wireless remote. InterActive Toy sent us two of their nifty indoor/outdoor flying toys; the Vamp ,
and the Black Ghost helicopter .
Anything I say about these toys beyond the fact that they are just cool is almost a waste of time. I will say, however, that it does take a bit of practice to master the art of keeping them safely aloft. There were many close encounters of the cubicle kind when we first attempted to use them. We don't recommend using these in any office environment that you intend to get any serious work done....but they are fun!
We hope all of these suggestions have helped.
From the staff at Int2View.com-Have a Happy Holiday Season and the best in 2008!