FEEL LIKE THE MAN of the house really deserves a break this Father's Day? And something a lot cooler than a tie?
Consider one of these entertaining, high-tech gadgets to bring instant gratification and long-term pleasure to your hard-toiling, much-loved man.
KEEPING SCORE: Make the day (and season) of a baseball fanatic with the Ambient Devices Baseball ScoreCast ($129.99, www.ambientdevices.com), a sleek personal electronic scoreboard that sits on a desk, always on, tracking every pro baseball game.
Scorecast wirelessly updates inning-by-inning with runs, hits and errors, team standings and schedules.
The data grabber uses pager frequencies that reach more than 90 percent of U.S. households and runs on a long-life battery. There are no monthly or yearly subscription fees. Scorecast also functions, on or off season, as an accurate timekeeper.
UP PERISCOPE: Need something techy for a booklover but not ready to take the plunge for a Kindle or Sony e-book? The Periscope Book Light in a Cover ($39.95, www.periscopelight.com) combines a leathery bookcover with a built-in telescoping arm topped with twin LED lights that spread a bright, wide angle glow across the pages. 3 AA batteries illuminate for up to 40 hours and those LED bulbs are virtually indestructible.
The Periscope is offered in two versions for full-size hardcover/trade paperback books and smaller mass market paperbacks.
SMALLER IS BETTER: Encourage dad to bring the video camera to all family occasions with a shooter so small and smart he can stash it in his shirt pocket - and operate it with the mere push of a button. Newest and best of the tiny breed is the FlipVideo Ultra HD ($199.99, www.theflip.com), which captures vivid videos in 720p high definition at 30 frames per second.
This model also improves on the species with a 2-inch widescreen, two hours of (solid state) recording capacity, rechargeable battery and (most significant) as the first Flip with an HDMI (high-def) output jack for playing back recordings on an HDTV. There's also a flip-out USB connector for computer linkup, charging and posting of content to sites like MySpace and YouTube.
One note of caution: lacking image stabilization, this video shooter demands a steady hand.
RADIO GA-GA: If dad's got a wireless home network, he'll be blown away by a Wi-Fi-ready Internet radio like the VTech IS9181 ($199.99, www.vtech phones.com) or Tivoli Audio Networks Radio ($599, www.tivoliaudio.com). Both deliver endless entertainment from thousands of global radio stations singing and speaking in all manner of languages.
While still something of a secret here, Internet radios are a huge phenomenon in Europe, where music lovers are more into creating and listening to independent radio stations than just trading files (and blatantly cheating artists).
Big-time broadcasters worldwide have also hopped onto the Internet radio bandwagon as the replacement for shortwave, so many choices sound quite professional. And commercial interruptions are minimal.
The IS9181 is the first Internet radio this fan has found for less than $200 with respectable stereo sound (a down-firing subwoofer helps) and ergonomic features, including a big display screen and top-mounted tuner wheel. Both ease the search for stations, subdivided by genre, global region, country and state.
Another neat touch: The IS9181 serves up a five-day Accu-Weather forecast at the touch of a button. And it will run on batteries as well as AC, though alarm clock functions don't work on battery power.
Feeling really, really generous for dad's day? While pricey, the Networks boasts the brightest, warmest and overall best sound I've ever heard from an Internet table radio. And (unlike on the VTech), the Network's conventional FM tuner section performs quite well, too.
A built-in "super buffer" eliminates the occasional signal dropouts some Internet stations suffer. And Networks' striking, minimalist cabinet design (in a variety of color finishes) boasts sturdy wood construction with bass porting. Matched accessory components are available to create a whole system, too.
BEST OF BOTH WORLDS: My father-in-law has a collection of VHS videotapes that he just can't part with - including every episode of "The Honeymooners," "Blondie" and "The Rifleman," the stuff of his youth. Yet he's ready to move into the 21st-century with a high-definition Blu-ray player, if only he had a place to put it.
To the rescue comes the Panasonic DMP-BD70V ($399 list, $328 at www.abt.com), the first combo device offering a Blu-ray/DVD/CD player and a separate VHS Hi-Fi tape player (not recorder!) in one standard-width box.
VHS signals pass through an upscaling processor to be fed to an HDTV through the same high-definition HDMI cable that carries Blu-ray and upscale DVD signals. Thus tweaked, VHS images are significantly improved and the sound is great.
Like other new Panasonic Blu-ray models, the DMP-BD70 also boasts patented color-enhancement circuitry that helps make BR discs look terrific, plus reduced power consumption and Vieracast Internet connectivity. The latter accesses YouTube, Google's Picasa Web Album, Bloomberg, a Weather Channel and Amazon Video-On-Demand offerings.
MORE WITH LESS: Guys love to pump up the sound when watching movies. We also crave full control of all the gear in our audiovisual rack, even if it means filling the coffee table with remote controls.
So how can you give 'em what they want without cluttering up the room with speakers and 'motes?
One solution is the Zvox Z-Base 550 ($499, Crutchfield.com and wwstereo.com), a single-cabinet sound system that delivers significantly better audio performance than dad can get out of the TV's own speakers.
Unlike all-in-one speaker "bars," this 3 1/2-inch-tall black box sits under the TV set - supporting flat-panel sets weighing upward of 90 pounds.
Setup is a snap. Just connect Zvox to the analog audio output jacks of the TV, and in the TV menu chose "Speaker off" and "audio out/variable." Now, whenever you use the TV's remote to power up the set and adjust volume, you're also waking up the Zvox and controlling the sound output from its built-in amplifiers and six speakers.
In my test, the box delivered good to very good sound, depending on the source material, with plenty of bass, a nicely forward (for voice clarity) mid-range, bright high frequencies and volume galore.
There's also an adjustable phasing circuit that aims to add a sense of spaciousness with surround-sound material. That feature didn't do much for me.
The guy who has everything deserves a Logitech Harmony universal remote, these days priced $120 and up (for the 880 model). Harmonys are the connoisseur's choice in terms of easy setup (via a custom, computer-linked download) and operation of multiple audiovisual devices.
But one piece of gear a Harmony always found discordant was the Sony PlayStation 3. While a great game system and favorite Blu-ray player among early adopters, the PS3 is designed to respond to Bluetooth remote-control signals, rather than to standard infrared cues.
To the rescue is the Logitech Harmony Adapter for PlayStation 3 ($59.99, newegg.com). This powered box accepts dedicated IR blasts from a Harmony remote and instantly converts the commands into Bluetooth signals a PS3 will hear and respond to.
ENDANGERED SPECIES 2: Does dad complain that he's got nowhere to play his vinyl albums? That's because newer receivers and sound systems lack the proper input for a record player.
Tickle his fancy with a problem solver like the Audio Technica AT-PEQ3 ($60, Amazon.com). This small, well-made pre-amplifier pumps up the stereo signal of a (magnetic or moving coil cartridge-equipped) record player so it can be connected to powered speakers or to "line input" jacks (also labeled MP3 player, CD, TV, VCR, DVD, Tape or Auxiliary) on a receiver, mini-system or TV set.
Just make sure to also connect the record player's separate thin ground wire, to avoid an unpleasant hum. *
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