Strange New World: Picks of the Week

Life on the Strange New World was particularly strange this past week. We're loving the latest way to link your PC to your home stereo. And we've ferreted out the logic behind Blockbuster declaring a winner in the high-def wars. But we're a little bummed that gadget shopping for holiday '07 is shaping up to be a one-trick pony: the iPhone.

Here are our picks for the must know tech trends and gadgets for the week.

The Squeezebox V3

If you're like us, you have a ton of digital music on your PC &133; all legally obtained, we're sure. But bridging your tunes to your high-end home audio system has been a big hassle. Well, problem solved: Check out Slim Devices' Squeezebox V3 ($299, www.slimdevices.com).

Sure, there are other ways to pipe music from your PC to your stereo -- the Wireless DJ from Logitech and the X-10, to name just two -- but none do it as well. The Squeezebox ports all of your stored audio tracks, plays Internet radio, and can even play music when your PC is powered down. Slick.

Setup is easy via ethernet or wireless connectors. And because the unit is away from your computer's noisy power supply and internal electronics -- and made from the highest quality components -- audio quality is excellent.

One caveat: Expect to be disappointed by how ratty much of what passes for digital music is these days. Since the Squeezebox plays on your stereo you can compare your ripped digital track to the original one on the CD. All we are going to say is, digital Dylan is particularly ugly.

Blockbuster Goes Blu-Ray

Do we have a high-def winner? Maybe. On Monday, video rental giant Blockbuster announced that it would phase out HD-DVDs and eventually only rent high-def Blu-Ray disks in its 1,450 stores nationwide. Blockbuster found that 70 percent of customers, given the choice between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray, went Blu-Ray. So out went the HD-DVD.

So what's going on here, you ask? That's easy: the Playstation 3! People rent Blu-Ray disks because they have the PS3 at home, not an HD-DVD player. The irony is that the much vaunted PS3 has been reduced to a mere high-definition DVD playback too. That was hardly Sony's intention when it spent billions developing the PS3.

Same Ol' Same Ol' for the Holidays

In digital cameras, megapixels are going up and prices are coming down; with TVs, a 53-inch screen is the new 42-inch; and laptops are getting down below $200. Sure, this is all good news, but what is really new with any of it? Not much.

Is it just us, or is the iPhone really the only interesting development in the consumer tech world? We figured that the rest of the consumer electronics industry was wisely staying out of Apple's line of fire. But it may be that the entire gadget-o-sphere is taking a breather. The New York Times reported last week that online ad sales are slowing. And growth in development also is leveling out in everything from the number of broadband connections to availability of new digital content.

What happened? Basically, things are in a lull. It's nothing sinister, just part of the natural ebb and flow of technology, but there is no mistaking the trend: Last year at this time, we were eagerly awaiting major new game consoles as well as new operating systems from Microsoft and Apple. This year, the only hot product on the horizon is the iPhone.

Things are really getting kind of bland here in tech-dom.

Jonathan Blum and Dan Evans co-host "Strange New World", a weekly syndicated radio show. Blum hosts the blog Blumsday.com, and Evans is a features editor at PC Magazine.

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