Thinking about getting something cool 'n' techy for dad or your favorite grad? Gizmo guy has the goods on the best in sights, sounds and accessories.
TV done right: A state-of-the art big screen delivers great thanks to a great dad. The new 65-inch Panasonic VT50 series plasma recently took top honors in a reputable best-of-breed "shootout." And Gizmo guy can attest to the many charms of its 55-inch sibling, the TC-P55VT50, which boasts the same inky blacks, finite contrast gradations, accurate colors and improved brightness levels that make both 2-D and 3-D images really pop. The onboard speaker system is better than most. Optional 3-D glasses (about $50) are feather-light and charge superfast. Entertainment apps are plentiful. Amazon.com just discounted this baby to an even $2,000. A close relation, the Panasonic TC-P55GT50 sells for about $1,700 at Best Buy.
SoundBar city: Are they happy with their flat-panel TV -- except for the putrid built-in speakers? A Zvox Z-Base Sound Bar Home Theater system offers a fast, neat fix. Built into a slim box that fits under the TV are multiple amps and high-quality drivers, including a down-firing subwoofer. I put a Zvox V420 ($299) under a 32-inch Vizio and I swear it made the TV seem MUCH BIGGER, not just boosting screen height by 3 inches, but also pumping up the explosive drama of action flicks like "Runaway Train."
Backyard buddies: Is dad still listening to the FM radio? Help him step into the now with the Pure One Flow or the Sony RDP-XF300IP.
Selling for $129 (plus $49 for rechargeable battery pack), the Pure is a small, easy-to-use portable radio that pulls in both FM and thousands of Internet radio channels -- the latter when you're near a WiFi hot spot. Sound quality is sweet and favorite streams are easily stored. A well-stocked Pure Music subscription/track purchase service is States-bound soon.
The Sony RDP-XF300IP ($249) delivers awesome, room-filling FM and music streamed wirelessly from a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone, PC or tablet. This metal-clad, slim-line objet d'art also has a pop-out dock for iPod play and an auxiliary input. It runs on AC or a battery that holds a charge for weeks.
Headphone heaven: Dozens of fashionable new portable headphones are vying for attention this spring. But the super-detailed and tonally well-balanced Sennheiser MM-400-X ($259) are simply the best. Connects wirelessly to highest-quality Bluetooth streaming sources (also plugged-in sound makers) and takes mobile-phone calls with push of a button. While folding up small, the well-padded, on-ear headphones sit comfortably for hours, even if you wear glasses.
Guitar gizmos: Great for practicing in a dorm room, the palm-sized Vox Amplug headphone amplifier ($50) sticks into the cable jack on an electric guitar, then feeds out to connected headphones. The AC1 RhythmVOX Mini Guitar Amplifier ($60) packs lots of features (including 60 rhythmic options) into a battery-powered, one-watt box no bigger than your average hardback novel. (Details at korg.com.)
Gadgets to go: Finally, there's a protective iPad case tough enough for a camping trip. It's the CampFire iPad2 by X-Doria, an "airbag" for your tablet with a padded, prop-up cushion that reverses to protect the screen. Doesn't deflate, though. $59.99 at x-doria.com.
Even with a (nonpuffy) cover-on, an iPad or Galaxy Tab can be stuffed into a zippered iLuv Music Pac. Thus you get double protection and, as the name suggests, built-in powered speakers that play louder than the tablet's. About $60.
After cycling through several mobile-phone cases, Gizmo guy is now happy with the Case-Mate Tough -- a two-layer protection strategy unto itself available for $20 for Apple, Samsung and HTC phone. Packaging boldly declares: "Think Rambo. Only Pocket Sized."
Also ready to travel is Logitech's wireless, solar-powered keyboard for iPads and iPhones, the K760, $80. Top off the iPhone/iPad's depleted power with a reliable Griffin car charger, available in a variety of configurations for about $20-$30.
A digital camera that can take a beating and keep on clicking is perfect for that summer whitewater-rafting trip. Rugged and waterproof, the Olympus Tough TG-1 ($399) and Nikon Coolpix AW100 ($270-$296) are worthy sharpshooters.
When in doubt, get 'em software: If Dad's a "classic rock" aficionado, hit him up with Jethro Tull "Thick as a Brick 2," the better-than-we-dared-expect Beach Boys 50th- anniversary album, "That's Why God Made the Radio," or the new double-disc Tedeschi Trucks Band concert set "Everybody's Talkin' " -- the best soul-rocking revue since Eric Clapton friended with Delaney & Bonnie.
Also primed for giving are the 25th-anniversary edition of Paul Simon's "Graceland," enhanced with a book, video documentary and concert DVD, and the 40th-anniversary deluxe edition of David Bowie's "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars," boasting a heavyweight vinyl pressing, bonus tracks and a high-resolution multichannel mix on DVD.
For video diversions, how about the action-hero-transformed "Sherlock Holmes -- A Game of Shadows," "The Three Musketeers" or the latest rendering of "Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol."
And newly tuned up for Blu-ray are the classic buddy cop "Lethal Weapon Collection" from Warner Bros. and the Universal 100th Anniversary Collector's Series editions of "The Deer Hunter" and "The Sting."
Buying for a gamer? Top picks include "Xenoblade Chronicles," "Mass Effect 3" "Max Payne 3" and "The Walking Dead Episode 1: A New Day."