Even though most people have and use the camera on their cell phones, there are still a number of different and cool video- and photo-related gadgets available for holiday shoppers to peruse.
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The following are our picks for cameras (still or video) as well as devices and objects that let you view content on your TV or smaller gadgets.
Note: Products are listed in no particular order or preference. Prices are also rounded-up estimates from either the product's website or Amazon.com. Better deals may be offered online during the holiday season.
The Moverio BT-100 is a pair of glasses that provide a viewing screen when a user puts them on. This lets users watch videos, listen to music or even visit Web sites (if connected to a Wi-Fi network). Unlike other glasses that provide a virtual video screen, the BT-100 allows enough transparency for users to see what else is going on around them. This means if you're wearing them while sitting on a flight, you can still see when the flight attendant comes over to ask you if you want a drink. However, this doesn't mean you should use these while driving.
When you put the glasses on, you see an Android-based operating system and interface that lets you view photos, movies or listen to music. The interface is operated through an iPod-sized control unit, with a touch-pad and buttons that act like a computer mouse. However, this caused some problems, especially when trying to type in a very long Wi-Fi password on my network.
If you wear prescription glasses, you can adjust the BT-100 to let the unit slip over the glasses, but in my testing I found this a difficult fit. Thinner glasses work better than thicker ones. You can wear your own earbuds, or attach two separate ones (one for each ear) provided by Epson.
In addition, media is stored on a microSD card, and the unit doesn't come with an SD card adapter, so getting music and videos onto the BT-100 could be very frustrating for some.
Overall this felt like an unfinished symphony - the parts are there for something wonderful, but you keep noticing things that are missing or just not right. I'd keep an eye on this space for a second-generation unit from Epson (or if others create their own versions).
- Keith Shaw
D-Link has done an excellent job with this upgrade of its original MovieNite streaming media player, adding Internet streaming services that were sorely lacking before. The MovieNite Plus unit is very small and portable, connecting to your TV via an included audio/video cable or HDMI (which you'll want to get if you have an HD set). The box also connects to the Internet via an Ethernet port or Wi-Fi.
Setup is rather simple - connect to the TV, the Internet, power up and then configure any services that you might already subscribe to. The main appeal of the device is access to Netflix and Vudu for streaming movies and TV shows, but other services are available, including access to Pandora and Rhapsody for music, or Internet platforms like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. The MovieNite Plus also allows access to Vudu Apps and its own MovieNite Apps, which include video content from brands such as Funny or Die, TED, TMZ, TVGuide, among others.
The remote control is powered by two AA batteries (included), and is easy to operate - the interface is clean and simple. The unit includes support for 5.1 audio (via HDMI) as well as 1080p (again, via HDMI, and the service needs to support it - Netflix currently doesn't, but Vudu does).
For users with access to other D-Link products, such as their Internet or Cloud cameras, you can access their feeds via the MyDlink app. For example, if you have a camera at a summer home, you can monitor it through your TV instead of a computer web browser.
Overall, D-Link has done a great job including the latest video services - this device should be on the short list if you're looking for a streaming media player for yourself or someone on your holiday gift list.
- Keith Shaw
If you have a high-definition TV and a video source that can transmit via HDMI cable, you may want to enhance that picture with the Darblet. The device is a small HDMI video processor that connects between your video source (game console, streaming media box, Blu-ray video player) to provide additional picture clarity - the company says it "embeds real depth information into the video stream".
The unit is easy to set up - just take an existing HDMI cable from your video source and connect it to the HDMI input on the Darblet. Then take another HDMI cable (sadly, Darbee doesn't include a cable, so you'll need to purchase an additional one) and connect it from the HDMI output port to your TV. Plug in the Darblet's power adapter and the unit is connected.
While looking at content with the naked eye might be a bit difficult to see a big difference in video quality, fortunately the company provides a remote control that can turn the unit on or off, allowing you to see the difference in the picture with and without the Darblet. There's also a "DEMO" button that splits the screen in half, again allowing you to see quality differences. In my tests, I connected the unit to a Roku streaming media box and an Xbox 360 - for the most part with the Darblet connected I could see a slight increase in the sharpness of the picture. Again, your experiences may differ depending on the video source you connect to - games and/or video from your TV box may give different ranges of picture improvement.
At $350, some people may balk at the high price in order to gain the picture quality improvements noted here. High-end videophiles may appreciate the improved sharpness and clarity from the system, but I'm not sure whether the average consumer would care enough about the differences.
- Keith Shaw