Hot gadgets don't have to cost a lot, from CES

The Consumer Electronics Show may seem all about the bling and big screen TVs, but as Walletpop discovered, even flashy new technology can be a good value.

The buzz at CES was all about 3-D TV. Pretty much every major TV manufacturer is planning 3-D ready TVs, there are 3-D Blu-ray players and now live 3-D TV programming. This summer, you'll even be able to watch the World Cup and Major League Baseball's All-Star Game in 3-D, courtesy of Fox Sports and DirecTV.
The electronics industry looks to new technology like 3-D (and HD before it) to maintain profits. Consumer electronics are some of the only products that decrease in price as time goes by. As prices decline on things like flat panel TVs, the industry tries to have new technologies in the pipeline that appeal to early adopters and will eventually make all of us want to replace older units with the new formats. Like VHS to to DVD or analog to digital -- 3-D is that product today.

But the good news for consumers is that having a 3-D ready TV isn't going to set anyone back nearly as much as those other new technologies did. LED models in larger screen prices will cost a pretty penny, but on most, the 3-D capability is adding just a couple hundred dollars to the cost of the set. A pair of 3-D glasses will run between $100 and $300 depending on the technological standard, active or passive lens and most TVs come with a pair of glasses included in the price. How much you spend on replacement glasses that get lost or chewed by the dog, is something else.

Advances in technology offer other ways to save money too. Small hand held video cameras designed to connect directly to a computer and easily upload video clips to web sharing sites are abundant. Many now shoot in HD, have rechargeable batteries and are rugged enough to go under water. And cost roughly the same as an entry level camera

New point and shoot digital cameras that offer video capabilities, many in HD, do double duty. These aren't for long videos but the quality is good enough that you'll never need a separate camcorder for the short clips again.

Soundbars are a great way to get high quality, even audiophile quality surround sound in the home. They can be pricey, but you don't have to spend a lot to get 5.1 channel sound in a compact model. Low cost suppliers like Vizio now have sound bars for less than $250, and even with the more expensive models, what you can save in set up time, cables, wires, clutter and aggravation is whole different kind of value equation.

And of course there is the inevitable green message. You won't save the planet by buying electronics, and it's ridiculous for an industry that's very existence depends on sucking up electricity is labeling things green. But there are more responsible ways to buy, own and operate our gadgets. New technology like LED LCD TVs use about a 1/3 of the power of plasma and traditional LCD units. A "smart" power strip costs little but saves both money and energy by sensing when products are fully charged or not in use and cutting the invisible power drain that still occurs when they are plugged in. One specially designed for home entertainment systems cuts power to all the components not in use and leaves those that need to be in standby mode like a DVR on.
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