A Consumer Electronics Christmas

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and wish you a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year in 2012. As for me, I can hardly imagine a better one, filled with family… and electronics.

Our son visited for 3 days with his pretty wife and our 7 month old granddaughter. What a treat. It ended too soon, and Yvonne and I miss them already. That helps explain our Electronics Christmas.

We’re like baby boomers split between keeping up with their adult kids and grandkids while also caring for elderly parents, but since our parents are long gone our attention is laser focused on our only son and his family. That’s why I’ve long wanted a good video conference system – to lessen the need for 4-hour trips to Dallas to see them.

Apple FaceTime

Apple FaceTimeShortly after the original iPad was announced, I bought one for my technophobe wife, and Yvonne hasn’t touched a PC since. Even though I have a high-end Dell XPS desktop system in my home office — with quad-core processor and lots of memory and storage, as well as several notebook PCs — I used Yvonne’s iPad so much that we’d fight over it. Buying her a new iPad2 with front & back cameras was treated as an early Christmas gift (about 3 months early). It was justified by its support of Apple FaceTime — at least once Adrian replaced his original iPhone with a newer iPhone4 that could also use FaceTime. That’s why we bought him one for Christmas, but I also had to buy Yvonne an iPhone4s because her old phone crapped out just before Christmas.

Our surprise came two days after Christmas when Adrian called and Yvonne answered a prompt to connect via FaceTime. She shrieked as his face appeared on the screen and we connected in a live video chat. It was soooo Easy.

We sat together on the sofa so Adrian could see us both, and he occasionally tapped his screen to switch to the rear camera to show our granddaughter happily playing on the floor. She could hear us on the speakerphone and would look up as we giggled. What a delight.

We now also get new photos & videos every day or two by email or text, and each time Yvonne says she wants to go visit. So, I’m not sure if the iPhones and FaceTime will end up saving us travel money or cause us to travel more. But we’re sure happy that FaceTime helps us stay in touch more.

High-definition TV

As a technologist who keeps up with PC & CE prices, I was surprised to see our neighborhood HEB-Plus grocery store selling a 60” high-def LCD television by Westinghouse for just $899. That’s less than half of what such TVs normally sell for, and it started me thinking about replacing the old 42” plasma TV in the living room and shifting that one to the bedroom. It still wouldn’t have happened except for a small and unexpected inheritance that paid for our extravagance.

The Westinghouse TV got good consumer reviews for value, but I continued researching and wanted to hear from the guys as BestBuy since they also sold the Westinghouse, but at $999. After learning about the different features and trade-offs, we instead chose a more expensive 60” Sharp LED TV and had it delivered for free since it was too big for the van.

AppleTV airplay - click image to learn moreWhile at BestBuy, we also bought an inexpensive Blu-ray disc player from Sony for $79 and a tiny AppleTV box for $99 so we could use AirPlay to send everything we see on the iPhone or iPad to the TV, including videos from YouTube and Adrian’s phone and FaceTime video chats.

The TV was so big and heavy that I had a neighbor help me hang it on the wall, but it wasn’t as heavy as my older 42” plasma TV, which we moved to the bedroom. I was especially pleased with how easy everything was to setup and get working, because it was so much better than when I worked with consumer products at Dell a few years ago. Thankfully, the industry has come a long way in value, ease of setup, and ease of use. The TV, Blu-ray player and AppleTV all have built-in Wi-Fi home networking, but I didn’t have to mess with selecting frequency bands or encryption protocols. The devices just discovered my wireless network automatically and then asked for the security key. That’s it.

Now I get all sorts of new content on the TV, including photos, music & videos from the PC, iPad & iPhone. Streaming Internet content includes photos from Flickr, music from Napster, Pandora and digital radio stations, video & movies from Blockbuster, CinemaNow, Netflix, YouTube, Vimeo and Vudu, and apps such as traffic & weather reports and stock quotes. And by adding a wireless keyboard, the 60” TV will become a large monitor for one of my underutilized notebook PCs. With so many new content options, we’re getting closer to cancelling AT&T Uverse service, just as so many people have already done with home phone service.

As a side note, the $899 price of that Westinghouse TV at HEB was reduced to just $699 the day before Christmas, and it’s gone now, so someone got a truly great deal. Each January new consumer electronics products are featured at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and I’ll be covering the show remotely this year, just as I did last year (see CES in Pajamas).

Comments on “A Consumer Electronics Christmas

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