Strange New World: Tech Picks of the Week

Like it or not, in this strange new world, holiday shopping season starts in earnest on Halloween. Boo! That puts us in the final week of calm before the credit cards get their annual workout.

Gadget makers have been making last-minute tweaks to their lines looking for that fresh angle to bring them some holiday consumer electronics love.

Struggling TV-time-shifter Tivo announced that it will finally offer some support of high-definition television. Microsoft said it will offer a Wii-like riff on the Xbox. And several makers are coming to market with new home media servers, Web content and dual-mode TVs and monitors.

So no matter the weather, expect it to rain gadgets this holiday season.

Here are our picks for the top gadget stories of the week.

Tivo's Better Than Ever, but Can It Turn a Profit?

How many products out there are synonymous with an industry? There's Xerox, Kleenex, and — although the company hates it — Tivo.

Sure, every cable company tries to sell you a cable box with a digital video recorder built in, but that DVR is usually years behind the developmental curve. If you want the newest features in gadgets that record digital content, you still need to go with the originator: Tivo.

The company has revved its product cycle with My DVR Expander ($199), an external hard drive that can store 600 hours — that's 25 days — of standard-definition programming or 60 hours of high-definition programming. Either way, the expander forestalls the fight over what has to be erased: Game 7 or the final episode of "Gilmore Girls."

Tivo will also support multiroom viewing that shares content between multiple Tivos from a single source. And TiVoToGo is being rolled out for Series 3 and HD units, letting subscribers transfer recordings from their Tivo boxes to PCs or mobile devices.

All this good news, though, does not solve the company's major problem: It can't seem to make money. It lost 18 cents a share in the most recently reported quarter. We figure all these announcements just make the company a more attractive target for somebody to buy.

Xbox Says Wii

After feeling the heat from the more family-friendly Wii, Microsoft struck back this week by introducing the new Xbox 360 Arcade ($279).

This Xbox isn't aimed at all you couch-surfing, Master Chief-loving gamers. This is for families — or younger relatives whom you won't let touch your spiffy new Xbox 360. The Arcade ships with a wireless controller, HDMI output and five kid-friendly games: Namco-Bandai's "Pac-Man Championship Edition," Carbonated Games' "Uno," MumboJumbo's "Luxor 2," Electronic Arts' "Boom Boom Rocket" and Sprout Games' "Feeding Frenzy."

Microsoft plans to release even more family-friendly content starring big, scary villains like Shrek and Spongebob Squarepants. We have our doubts as to whether this is really gonna stop people from getting their Wii thing on, but at least Microsoft is putting something like a competitor on the market.

Impact Gadgets … Yet Again

We know all you really want for the holidays is an iPhone or a Wii. But if you already have a cell phone and a game device, don't be despondent. This holiday season you can expect an unmatched level of cool gadgets just aching to end up in your shopping basket, under your tree or beside your menorah.

Here's our ever-growing list of impact technologies for 2008.

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