Cool stuff: Your 2010 holiday tech gift guide

Check out the best tablets, smartphones, HDTVs and other tech gifts to give and get this year

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Bright and beautiful HDTVs

Looking to surprise the family with a new HDTV this year? No gift is quite as breathtaking as a giant flat-screen set. While you might be tempted by the glut of incredibly cheap HDTVs out there, you're likely to be much happier with a high-quality set that provides razor-sharp images, smooth motion and vibrant colors.

Happily, even models with great image quality and advanced features are within range of moderate budgets these days.

The first question most HDTV buyers have is whether to get an LCD or a plasma set. Plasma was once the HDTV king, offering richer colors, blacker blacks and better handling of fast motion sequences than LCDs. But faster refresh rates and LED backlighting (see "What to look for in an HDTV this year") have greatly improved the quality of LCDs in the past few years, putting them on a more or less equal footing with plasma.

A few differences remain. LCDs weigh less and tend to be more energy efficient than plasma TVs, which makes them easier to move around and cheaper to operate in the long run. Plasma TVs offer a wider viewing angle and are generally better at showing dark scenes and truly deep blacks than LCDs; they're also usually less expensive when you get to larger screen sizes.

In other words, there are good reasons to choose either plasma or LCD, so we've recommended models of both kinds.

Samsung LN46C650 46-in. 1080p LCD HDTV

Samsung's 46-in. LN46C650 is a sharp-looking, moderately priced widescreen HDTV offering full 1080p resolution. Its 120 Hz refresh rate is respectable but not stellar, and it doesn't have LED backlighting. Nevertheless, PC World's testing jury rated its picture quality the highest overall with excellent motion scores in a test group of six 46- and 47-in. HDTVs that included both LED-backlit models with higher refresh rates and plasma sets.

Samsung LN46C650

Samsung LN46C650

(Click to view larger image.)

Sitting atop a swiveling pedestal, the LN46C650 is housed in Samsung's classy Series 6 design featuring a thin black bezel surrounded by a transparent edge, with a splash of red at the bottom.

The set offers the usual connection options, including four HDMI ports, one composite video port, two component video ports, two USB 2.0 ports, an Ethernet port, a PC input, an optical digital audio output, a DVI audio input and an RF input.

The LN46C650 also has strong Web features, says PC World reviewer Yardena Arar:

Samsung's Internet features are plentiful and nicely presented: When you press the Internet key while watching a video source, the image appears in the upper left corner of the screen along with icons for various sites and services that the set supports. These include Rovi TV listings, Netflix, Vudu, Yahoo Widgets and a slew of popular sites and services such as CinemaNow, Facebook, Hulu Plus, Pandora and Picasa, plus a handful of simple games such as Sudoku. (Read the full review.)

Also noteworthy are the LN46C650's easy-to-use on-screen menus, well-designed remote and abundant customization options. If you're looking for a smaller or larger display, Samsung's LNC650 series also includes 40-in. and 55-in. models with the same resolution, refresh rate and features.

Environmentally, the LN46C650 consumes more energy than LED-backlit displays, but it still beats plasma. And the price is hard to beat for a high-quality 46-in. HDTV: $1,299 list, with street prices from around $900 to $1,100.

LN46C650 46-in. 1080p LCD HDTV from Samsung

Street price: $900 to $1,300

Tech Specs  |  Phone: (800) SAMSUNG

Summary: Top-notch image quality, solid Web features and reasonable pricing combine to make the Samsung LN46C650 an excellent choice among today's HDTVs.

Vizio XVT553SV 55-in. TruLED LCD HDTV

LED backlighting in LCDs comes in two basic flavors: edge-lit, which places the LEDs around the outside of the display, and full-array, where the LEDs are behind the display. A benefit of many full-array models (and a few edge-lit models) is local-area dimming, the ability to turn off select LEDs behind the screen for better contrast.

Vizio XVT553SV

Vizio XVT553SV

(Click to view larger image.)

Vizio's XVT553SV is a full-array LED-backlit 55-in. LCD with local dimming capabilities, and it shows in the rich colors and deep blacks. With a native refresh rate of 120 Hz and full 1080p resolution, the set performed admirably in PC World's juried image-quality tests.

Connectivity options include four HDMI ports, an RF connector, a composite video port, a component video plus stereo audio port and a PC input. For Internet connections, Vizio offers both an Ethernet port and 802.11n dual-band Wi-Fi; an array of Internet apps -- including Netflix, Pandora, Flickr, Twitter and Yahoo -- is available. The included Bluetooth remote has a QWERTY keyboard that slides out -- a boon when you're using Internet apps that require typing.

PC World's Yardena Arar is impressed with the XVT553SV's easy tweakability:

Vizio's on-screen menus provide tons of customization options: presets for optimizing video quality based on content type, advanced image adjustments, picture-in-picture mode, specialized functions like automatically adjusting volume levels and more. All are readily accessible through nicely designed menus that offer explanations for features as you navigate through them. (Read the full review.)

All this in a set that can be found at a variety of retail outlets for around $1,700 -- what's not to like? And with an average power consumption of 66 watts per hour according to PC World (compared to more than 100 watts for a typical 55-in. LCD), it'll save you money in the long run too.

Vizio's XVT3SV series also includes 42-in. and 47-in. sizes with the same full-array LED backlighting and other features; however, the 32-in. and 37-in. models in the series use edge-lit backlighting.

XVT553SV 55-in. TruLED LCD HDTV from Vizio Inc.

Street price: $1,450 to $2,200

Tech Specs  |  Phone: (888) 849-4623

Summary: With full-array LED backlighting, rich colors and excellent customization options, the 55-in. XVT553SV packs a punch at a very reasonable price.

Panasonic Viera TC-P50VT25 50-in. 3D 1080p plasma HDTV

Sure, Panasonic's 50-in. Viera TC-P50VT25 plasma TV is fully 3D capable and even includes one pair of 3D glasses. But setting aside the fact that you'd still have to buy a pair of glasses for everyone in your family at about $150 a pop (and by the way, those glasses won't work with 3D sets from other manufacturers), there's a dearth of 3D content available right now. What's more, 3D simply isn't everybody's cup of tea.

Panasonic Viera TC-P50VT25

Panasonic Viera TC-P50VT25

(Click to view larger image.)

But the Viera TC-P50VT25 happens to be a superb 2D HDTV, with a 1080p antiglare screen that shows crisp images with rich colors and the deepest, darkest blacks. Even when it's turned off, the TC-P50VT25 looks pretty snazzy, sporting a muted bronze bezel with silver highlights -- a nice break from basic black.

The VieraCast Internet apps include YouTube, Picasa, Twitter, Pandora, Netflix, Fox Sports and Skype. Connectors are plentiful: four HDMI ports, two composite video ports, two component video ports, two USB 2.0 ports, an Ethernet port, a PC input, an optical digital audio output, an RF input, an RS-232 port and an SD card slot.

Street prices for the Viera TC-P50VT25 vary wildly (anywhere from $1,650 to $2,600), so be sure to shop around. And if a 50-in. set isn't big enough, the Viera TC-PVT25 series also includes 54-in., 58-in. and 65-in. models with the same features and specs.

Viera TC-P50VT25 50-in. 3D 1080p plasma HDTV from Panasonic Corp. of North America

Street price: $1,650 to $2,600

Tech Specs  |  Phone: (800) 405-0652

Summary: 3D capabilities are merely icing on the cake for the superb Viera TC-P50VT25 50-in. plasma.

-- Valerie Potter

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