Upping the ante (Less than $300)
Guitar Hero 3
Simply put, lots of fun, guaranteed
Price target: $100
Not for nothing GHIII is already, after a late October release, one of the best selling games for the entire year. The PC will be receiving the game for the first time these holidays, too, although I'm not sure that's what we want to recommend you.
The mod community may end up doing something amazing with the game if the developers release enough tools (imagine being able to add unlimited songs on the PC version only, free or charge?) however the idea of playing this game even on a large monitor doesn't sound as fun or convincing to me just yet. In the meantime we do fully recommend to get any of the console versions (whichever you own) that should be identical.
Also, just released is Band Hero which integrates drums and vocals. I haven't tried this one yet but it's getting decent reviews. For obvious reasons, this is not a game to be played solo though.
Logitech Z-10 2.0 speakers
Elegant desktop audio
Price target: $120
Having gone past the 4.1 and 5.1 craze, unless you game heavily or use your computer as a media center, you are better off owning a pair of subtle speakers like the Logitech Z-10. These don’t come with a subwoofer, so they are better suited to desktop operation but that doesn’t mean the Z-10s don’t sound great. You will find them more than suitable for music playback and basic gaming, plus the integrated USB-based soundcard means you get a ton of extra flexibility which can easily justify the price to pay for a pair of speakers.
Xbox 360 HD DVD
High-def for the PC and Xbox “on the cheap”
Price target: $180
Although these holidays are supposed to bring the sub-$100 HD DVD player (and maybe just maybe a similarly low priced Blu-ray player), the Xbox 360 add-on still looks like a pretty solid deal in my book and is available everywhere.
From a PC owner’s perspective, the drive can work with Windows via USB adding high-definition playback to your PC or console.
Roku SoundBridge M1001
Music anywhere in the house
Price target: $180
While many opt for connecting an iPod directly to a larger hi-fi system, this may prove unpractical in certain situations. The SoundBridge is meant to sit between your computer and your sound system and connect them wirelessly, giving you the freedom of browsing through your music collection using a 2-line 280x16 pixel display and remote control. The device is not too pricey compared to full blown systems like the Sonos DMS and it can still play plenty of content (AAC, MP3, WAV, WMA, FLAC). The Soundbridge has been available for a while now but this year brought a much needed upgrade for WPA Wi-Fi support.
Car GPS devices
Because you do get lost more often than you admit
Price target: $180 - $650
As with HDTVs (see our recommendation later on the guide), this is one hot item for which we have to admit we are not experts, but at the same time we couldn’t see this missing given its importance and the deep discounts all around during these holidays.
Cutting to the chase, there seems to be a generalized consensus that GPS devices nowadays are mature enough that the market is almost homogenized in the different price ranges. That said, the TomTom One seems to be the best budget barebones GPS device at $170. The Garmin nuvi 350 is also high ranked everywhere, especially after a deep discount that took it from $550 to current pricing of $300. The best overall full featured GPS seems to be the Garmin nuvi 680 which will set you back $650, but comes bundled with a one-year subscription to MSN Direct that provides live traffic updates.