With Christmas rapidly approaching, the HD Guru has picked some of his favorite gadgets and accessories for holiday gifting.

By Cha Merson


With VUDU you wouldn’t need to go to a video store or wait for a disc in the mail from Netflix, you can download the latest DVD releases and see the movie in seconds. VUDU is a hard drive recorder +internet downloading service, which provides access to thousands of movies and a number of TV series. The beauty of VUDU is its outstanding picture quality. There are three levels of picture quality, SD, HD and HDx. Subjectively (A/B comparisons with discs will appear in a future review) the standard definition images are comparable to DVDs.  Using the HD mode, (with over 1300 movies currently available) images appear similar to 720p HD quality. The highest definition mode, called HDx is 1080i resolution quality, without many of the MPEG2 compression noise and artifacts associated with broadcast HDTV. An Internet connection is required for the downloading of content. Using a high-speed Internet connection (Verizon FIOS) SD content immediately begins to play, HD within 30 seconds. The quick startup is due to each movie’s opening being stored on the hard drive.

The slow pokes are films in the highest HDx resolution. They typically take around 2 hours to download.  There are two size hard drive models available, the standard VUDU (regularly $299) has a 250GB drive and the VUDU XL has a one-terabyte hard drive. Recent movies are $2.99 for SD and $5.99 for the HD or HDx versions with 24-hour viewing window. You may also purchase a movie and keep it stored on the hard drive indefinitely for (usually) $19.99.

The user interface and remote are so intuitive, (once connected and set-up) even granny should be able to learn how to operate it in minutes (note: granny was not available to confirm this at the time of this was written)

VUDU is currently running a terrific on-line Christmas special at (VUDU). You may now purchase the standard VUDU for only $99, if you buy $50 worth of downloads at the time of ordering, saving you $200. The offer is only available on-line and not at VUDU retailers, according to a customer service representative.



The TiVo HD (160 GB $299) and TiVo HD XL (1 TB $599) are far and away the best digital video recorders (DVR) you can own. The HD Guru has sampled the competition from Cisco (formally Scientific Atlanta), Motorola and DirecTV and its no contest. The graphics, ease of use and reliability of knowing the shows you wanted to record were recorded, beats all other DVRs sampled.  These TiVo models are for persons with cable systems and require up to two CableCARDs for its twin tuners (some systems can supply a single multi use “M” CableCARD to operate both cable tuners), allowing the recording of up to two programs at the same time. There is a monthly fee from cable operator for the CableCARD(s), typically $2-$3 a month each, plus a monthly fee from TiVo ($12.95) or discounted prepaid yearly plans or a prepaid lifetime account for $399.

You can save $100 off the lifetime subscription ($299) if you have a will friend with a current TiVo subscription place the order for you. Details are at (TiVo).


Gefen Splitters & Switchers

If you need to send an HDMI signal from your Blu-ray player, Cable box or any other HDMI source to multiple displays (such as a front projector and a flat panel), Gefen has the solution. They make a line of HDMI splitters that flawlessly distribute any HDMI signal (including 1.3) without any loss or degradation. Superbly engineered and ruggedly built in the USA, Gefen’s full line of HDTV solutions include CAT5 to HDMI converters, HDMI extenders and HDMI switchers. The HD Guru lab uses its 1:4 HDMI splitter ($499) for accurate comparisons of up to four HDTVs and recommends it to all readers with multiple displays sharing an HDMI source. Learn more at (Gefen)


Sony MDR-NC500D Noise Canceling Headphones

HD Guru has sampled and purchased a number of noise canceling headphones with varying results (including the Bose models). Some produce moderate noise canceling with good fidelity others provide better ambient noise reduction with mediocre sound. The Sony MDR-NC500D provides phenomenal ambient noise reduction, with good sound as well! These rechargeable headphones pack enough charge to last an entire 18 hour plus flight. They are around the ear designs that digitally analyze ambient sound and feeds an inverse noise into the headphones to cancel out (according to Sony) up to 99% of the cabin noise. The result, when listening to a movie soundtrack, these marvelous headphones managed to eliminate the sound of a crying baby two rows behind my seat location. Another plus, they are the only around the air headphone found that don’t make ones ears too hot when wearing them. Expensive at $399, however, but they are truly the Ferrari of noise canceller headphones. A sturdy carrying case, accessories and battery back-up power supply are included.


Sling Box

The Sling Box allows one to view your local SD or HD cable or satellite programming, over an Internet connection anywhere in the world on a laptop. If you have a traveler that would enjoy seeing American programs anytime, anywhere the Sling Box makes a great gift. There are two models, the Sling Box standard definition unit called the SLINGBOX SOLO ($179.95 retail) and the HD model, SLINGBOX PRO-HD($299.99 retail).  Both have no fee and once set-up on your  laqptop computer, your can control your source box from anywhere. Mine is connected to an HD TIVO. One small caveat, you’ll need an inbound connection (when traveling) of at least about 100Mbps, a problem in hotels that have very slow internet service.


Tributaries Surge Protector

The HD Guru has been recommending a surge protector for your HDTV and related electronics. Tributaries makes really good, moderately priced ones that are much more useful than many competitors, due to their clever designs.

The first thing you will notice, a number of the outlets rotate 90 or 180 degrees depending on the model. This allows the use of external power supplies often called “wall warts”, those little black boxes that supply power to most low voltage device like Slingbox, switchers, VUDU etc. The rotation design allows you to place the wall warts next to each other on the surge protector. Without rotation, wall warts tend to block the adjacent power jacks, often turning a 8 outlet strip into a 3 outlet strip.

The other great feature on the Tributaries surge protectors is an auto test lamp. Many consumers don’t realize, after a surge protector takes a strong surge, it may not absorb the next one and will simply pass the excess voltage to your HDTV and connected devices, negating its purpose and possibly causing damage to your equipment. There is simply no way to know if it is doing its job with out a test. The Tributaries T series have a self-check light to assure it continues to function properly. Tributaries makes surge protectors with 8, 10 and 12 outlets, starting at just $50 retail. That’s cheap insurance.

Happy Holidays to All Our Readers

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