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What Not To Buy: Gadgets To Avoid This Holiday Season

Today's column might as well carry the byline of Mr. Grinch. It's pretty much all negativity, explaining why five kinds of gadgets aren't worth your money this holiday season: Blu-ray high-definition players, XM and Sirius satellite radio receivers, set-top Internet video boxes, phones running Google's Android software and e-book readers like Amazon's Kindle.

My inbox has yet to fill up with "how could you?!" or "Ugh" e-mails from publicists for the companies that make these things, but I'm pretty sure those messages are being composed as I write this.

I understand why they might feel a little blindsided -- I've said complimentary things about all of these things in the past. See, for example, my assessments of such Internet video receivers as Apple's Apple TV and Roku's Netflix Player; T-Mobile's G1 Android phone; and Amazon's Kindle.

(Then again, I've long been a Blu-ray skeptic, and I thought the Sirius-XM merger was a dumb idea from the start.)

If you ask me about these five gadgets again in late 2009, I might be far more optimistic about them -- almost all of their failings are not the result of any technological limits, but business decisions made by companies who could do better. Android phones, for example, should be a much better choice once more than one carrier and manufacturer offer them. On the other hand, companies can be awfully stubborn about admitting they've made a mistake (Apple comes to mind in particular). So I'm really not sure. How about you? How do you think these five gadgets will be doing a year from now?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  November 20, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Gadgets , Gripes , Tips  
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It's that time of year! When do we get the holiday gift guide?!

Posted by: cbr1 | November 20, 2008 11:22 AM | Report abuse

I think some of the deals on Black Friday will allow me to get a Blu-Ray 2.0 player for less than $200, which is what I was waiting for.

Personally I've stopped buying DVDs for the past few years as I waited out the format war and am now waiting for the right price.

Posted by: Hemisphire | November 20, 2008 12:07 PM | Report abuse

There aren't nearly enough books offered in Kindle's format for me to consider it. I'm too busy lusting after the new Sony 700 reader, which actually has **gasp** a light. I can't believe they're trying to sell me something for $300 - $400, and then tell me, oh, you'll need a $5 book light.

Posted by: crunchyfrog | November 20, 2008 12:37 PM | Report abuse

OK, so I finally would like to upgrade my VerizonWireless cell phone to something that gives me excellent internet and e-mail capability [real keys maybe] and does not have a camera phone -- least I have to leave it upon entry into far too many courthouses.

The best provider and phone would then be ?????????

Posted by: | November 20, 2008 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Not enough books in Kindle's format? Are you serious? Are 201,582 books (including all of the current already released best sellers) not enough for you? Not to mention that prices for the Sony e-books are generally $2 higher than at Amazon.

As for Blu Ray, Rob, you're wrong, just flat out wrong on this one. Digital downloads are not even close to a possibility in the 7-10 year future in the United States, so Blu Ray's the best we're going to get for a very long time. It's being adopted statistically faster than DVD and anybody who says an up-converted DVD looks as good as Blu Ray on an HDTV needs a new pair of eyes.

Blu Ray is definitely worth it and with player prices coming down to sub $200, they probably won't sell as many as Sony and others predicted they'd sell this holiday season, but it will easily be one of the better selling tech gadgets of this holiday season and 2008 overall.

Also, linking to a two year old article on Blu Ray doesn't make much of a point. The format war has LONG since been settled since that article was written and (according to 2,101 movies and TV shows are available for sale on Blu Ray. Including such classics as The Godfather trilogy and six James Bond flicks. That's a bit more than the "just over 100" you cited in that article back in 2006.

Blu Ray is here to stay Rob and it's the best we're going to get for a VERY long time.

Posted by: CJMARTIN04 | November 20, 2008 10:32 PM | Report abuse


Suggest you have the WP spring for a quality home theater/audio testing set up and dedicated listening/viewing room for you house.

With a 60" Pioneer Kuro plasma or a Sony55XBR8 LCD, a nice setup of Magnepan HT speakers and REL sub, A Sony 550 Blu Ray, Marantz 6003AVR and cabling and speaker wire from Better Cable(local VA company) you would have a nice stup and be able to appreciate 1080p and Blu Ray. Better Cable builds quality cabling and speaker wire that rivals the top companies
at 1/10 to 1/100th the cost.

And CJmartin the next big thing is 4k I have a protype 4k Meridian projector on loan while waiting a for a production unit. The upscaling processor in this unit is incredible. You do have a spare $100+K
right. Upscaling 1080p to 4k is incredible.

Posted by: omarthetentmaker | November 21, 2008 6:28 AM | Report abuse

Blu-Ray: Survive, as a niche product for videophiles and folks who are paranoid of losing the content stored on their hard drives.

Satellite Radio: Survive, but the programming will get worse over time.

Internet Video Boxes: All current models will be rendered obsolete by new products from Apple, Google and/or Microsoft.

Google Android: Survive and thrive. The iPhone will be the only real competition.

Amazon Kindle: Killed by competing products from Apple, Google and/or Microsoft.

Posted by: SSMD1 | November 21, 2008 8:30 AM | Report abuse

simple question: Are blu-ray DVD players able to play the regular DVDs? Or does the blu-ray DVD players only play blu-ray discs?

Posted by: SOCIETY1 | November 21, 2008 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Man & Machine, Inc. is an international provider of leading edge computer accessories focusing on medical, governmental, industrial and general office environments. Products include waterproof keyboards and mice, mobile keyboards for the RIM Blackberry, LCD privacy monitors for HIPAA compliance and financial security, and customized products to meet client’s unique applications. The company was founded in 1982 outside of Washington, DC with satellite offices in New York, Tennessee, Florida, Netherlands and China. Man & Machine, Inc. adheres to a strict environmental code for the sustainability and protection of our environment. Please visit Our BlackBerry Keyboard is called The CoolMIR was co-developed with Research In Motion (RIM). We have gone on to make it wireless, the HotTooth. All of our wireless products are "Hot" and since this was Bluetooth we called it the HotTooth. It has all of the requirements set forth by RIM and it is HID Compliant. Therefore, it will work with all HID Compliant devices.

We have added lots of features such as; Auto Reconnect, Auto on/off, quick charge (with wall charger (optional)), normally charges thru the USB port and has an optional Bluetooth Dongle available for those devices that don't have Bluetooth.

People love the feel of this keyboard. The tactile feedback is one of the best in the industry for rubber keyboards and comes with our Silk Touch coating.

If you are interested in trying one out, you may purchase one for evaluation and return it within 30 days for a complete refund.

Posted by: Susan319 | November 21, 2008 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Hi, Rob. We have a 720p Panasonic 22in. plasma, Roku and 5down/2up Verizon FIOS. I hard-wired the Roku and now get a pretty good picture. Also, Netflix keeps adding streaming movies and now has more than 10,000 movies available including STARZ. I like English drama and found a good streaming selection. I have dropped HBO and will drop Verizon movie channel service since they do not offer me much that I am interested in. Have a good holiday and keep up the good work.


Posted by: jjw7210 | November 21, 2008 12:48 PM | Report abuse

simple question: Are blu-ray DVD players able to play the regular DVDs? Or does the blu-ray DVD players only play blu-ray discs?

Posted by: SOCIETY1 | November 21, 2008 12:36 PM

Yup, BR players upconvert regular DVDs.

Posted by: DrBeaker | November 21, 2008 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Got a Sony Blu-ray. The Radio Shack guy tried to talk me out of it but I had to have it a year ago. I love the HD picture and surround sound, but . . . it is so clunky slow to load. One day, some of my newer Netflix blu-rays stopped playing - I needed a firware upgrade. That took half a day to figure out and solve. I am now reminded with the promo on each DVD that my old player doesn't have the internet connectivity that newer Blurays have. I wouldn't recommend these to my family until the technology settles a bit and he price hits a sweeter spot . . . but I sure do enjoy the HD . . .

Posted by: mvassmer | November 21, 2008 3:00 PM | Report abuse

I have a 60 inch Pioneer Kuro Plasma and HD blows normal def movies out of the water. However, I get plenty of movies from DirecTV in 1080i, which is virtually indistinguishable from 1080p plus I have about 600 DVDs in Standard definition and an Oppo DVD player that does a pretty good job of upscaling. I shall hold off on Blu Ray until the price of disks drops to a more reasonable level, new releases are still around $30, and I can buy foreign DVDs, Blu Ray, unlike HD DVD enforces area limits.

I love the idea of the Kindle but I will not buy one as long as they try to monopolise downloads, they do not support PDF (Project Gutenberg) and charge such a ridiculous amount.

Posted by: iansmccarthy | November 23, 2008 5:57 AM | Report abuse

I bought a Kindle a little over a month ago, and everyone I have let play with it now wants one.
The guy who thinks there aren't enogh books for the Kindle yet simply has not looked. Amazon is not the only source - I have as many (totally FREE) books on my Kindle from Project Guttenberg and Feedbooks as I do from Amazon. With all of the ebook sites combined, there are well ober 300,000 titles available, a significant proportion of which are free or 99 cents. An example - the entire 20 volume Talmud for 1 dollar.
Also the screen - I have actgually found the black-on-grey easier on my eyes than regular ink on paper. I have read my Kindle for over 12hours at a time without even a slight headache or eye ache.
Of course ereaders will never replace books, at least for serious bibliophiles - an ebook is not furniture the way bookshelves are. But especially for someone like me, who is handicapped and could never carry a book larger than a trad-paperback without disconfort, thye Kindle has been a godsend. I think it will be around for many years.

Posted by: arforsten | November 24, 2008 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Blu-ray may remain on for Grinch list for some time, as the film studios are using it as an excuse to raise the price of purchasing movies for the home library.

Posted by: MackAA | November 24, 2008 4:19 PM | Report abuse

I lucked up and got my Blu-ray for much less than $200 before Black Friday. It does play standard DVDs, which look great, but the Blu-ray picture quality's truly spectacular.

Caveats: I agree with other readers who find the loading process glacially slow, compared with the speed of a standard DVD player. The current price of most Blu-ray disks (30 bucks!?!) is a deal breaker for most consumers when you can buy standard DVDs for as little as five dollars. It makes more sense to rent them for now, from sources like Netflix.

That said, Rob's right about waiting on this purchase if your money's tight at the moment. But if you've got an HDTV and want to see what it can really do right now, go ahead and get a Blu-ray deck when you find one for under $200.

I'm also an XM subscriber who is mostly unimpressed with the merged Sirius channels (Real Jazz and NPR are the exceptions), but I still think the overall variety and fidelity of satellite radio make it worth the money if your local stations are awful.

Posted by: ajazzfantoo | November 24, 2008 5:29 PM | Report abuse

I love the high-def video technologies that have been released in the last few years. Blu-ray really is astounding to view and to hear.

However, it's not so astounding as to make me replace my current home theatre receiver, which is technically superior to any

I also refuse to buy a new display, as my current HD montitor is using its single HDMI connector from an upconverting DVD/SACD/DVD-A player (which sends its video over a DVI video cable with HDMI terminal adapter).

I refuse to buy a dedicated HDMI switchbox because the HDMI licensing committee just loves to change the rules (we are on version 1.3 after all), and it is very likely that any inexpensive switchbox today would not comply with the HDCP handshake tomorrow.

If i chose to purchase a blu-ray player, to achieve highest quality video and audio, I would be forced to disconnect my beloved Marantz DVD/SACD/DVD-A player, downgrading it to an audio-only player. then i would have to connect the blu-ray player to the amplifier via a fiber optic Toslink audio connection (which is intentionally downgraded in quality thanks to HDCP). Then I would HOPE that the HDMI cable direct to my display is compatible with the much-maligned HDCP handshake protocol. It's just old enough that no one seems to know for sure...

Word to the movie industry: I'm not buying your forced-obsolescence plan. You have officially removed me from the group of people willing to keep up with home theatre advances by making the painful HDMI / HDCP "standard" incompatible with existing gear. You might be surprised to know that there are people who would buy your overpriced HD movies if only you didn't force them to replace thousands of dollars in electronics to achieve your latest in the string of video-connection "standards". I am sticking with DVD until you remove your heads from where the sun never shines.

Word to the audio industry: keep the SACD discs coming.

Posted by: roule | November 24, 2008 5:30 PM | Report abuse

Here is the frustration with Blu-Ray; should receive both Blu Ray and regular DVD format with a Blu Ray purchase. While I often would prefer Blu Ray, I will buy a regular DVD version of the movie so that I can play it in the play room when my grandson wants to watch it, or take it in the mini-van for the same reason. Paying 30 bucks for a Blu Ray copy should get me rights to the regular DVD as well.

Posted by: dgbishop | November 24, 2008 9:17 PM | Report abuse

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