Strange New World: Tech Picks of the Week

Happy new year, loyal readers!

This week, as you recover from the nightmare of holiday travel and time with the family, we would like you all to take a moment and reflect upon what's really important: technology.

Yes, the biggest event of the holiday season is still to come -- the Consumer Electronics Show out in Vegas next week.

If you can't wait that long for news, we have a few tidbits. Netflix has made a change in its queue policy, the iPhone has landed at Wal-Mart, and there are plenty of other new gadgets to go with your new holiday gadgets. Here now our picks of the week.

Netflix Is Changing Its Queue Policy

If you are like us and are addicted to online DVD rental house Netflix, we've got some cool news for you. Now, rather than having to wait for the top movie in your queue to show up, the company will skip to the next available movie you want and get that out to you.

"If your first choice is not available in your local shipping center, we immediately send the next locally available movie in your queue, and whenever possible, we also send your first choice from another part of the country," said Lyndon Wong, director of product management at Netflix.

If you do find yourself in a lurch without a DVD to watch, go to and check out one of the streamable movies they have available for viewing online.

The Wal-Mart iPhone

This Sunday, Wal-Mart began sales of the 8 gigabyte Apple iPhone 3G for $197 and the 16 gigabyte version for $297. All of these prices also come paired with a two-year service agreement.

When Wal-Mart first announced it was going to sell these products, the Internet was awash in rumors of a "discount" iPhone.

Now, they finally go on sale and the rumors are true! There is a discount, a discount of two bucks! On the Apple Web site, iPhones are $199 and $299, respectively.

Wow, thanks Wal-Mart. I think I'll spend my extra $2 on the gas I'll need to drive over to your store.

Where Will the Real Money Be in 2009?

Online and offline retailers had to take a big hit this holiday season on big-ticket items, like flat panel TVs, PCs and iPods because in order to sell anything in these tough times, they had to deeply discount them.

But I wouldn't feel too bad for them quite yet: They are making a killing on accessories.

Just look at this iPhone/iPod mount for cars that sells for $30. It's simply a plastic contraption that costs a lot less to manufacture than its list price suggests.

At the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), there will be thousands of products introduced that will try to capture the discretionary consumer dollars. With the bevy of new DTVs selling this year, you'll see a big push for selling things as simple as HDMI cables.

Another popular product will be the universal remote, which is an easy way to squeeze an extra couple hundred dollars out of a TV buyer.

Audio is always a benefactor of this category, and it looks like it's getting interesting again, with devices that wirelessly stream audio in a non-PC device or do cool things like connect Bluetooth-enabled phones and PCs and allow them to connect in a conference call mode.

There is also a great deal of activity in the broadband arena. A whole new product category has popped up, based around the fact that you have fast Internet at home and might buy a gadget to go with it. Companies, like Sprecht, are capitalizing on areas like IP-telephony (VoIP) for both consumers and small businesses.

Meanwhile, some things are really promising innovation. At CES, PS Audio will introduce a power conditioner that offers cloud computing functionality for home entertainment systems, allowing simple control of home systems from anywhere you can get a Web connection.