With Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales looming, new super-powerful game consoles — the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One — appear to be the hot tickets this year.
But from affordable 3D printers to tiny and low-cost smart-TV adaptors, there's something for every budget in this most bountiful of selling seasons.
Battle of the Game Controllers
The big battle in tech this holiday season sees Microsoft and Sony challenging November's tablet boom. With their multi-button, multi-input controllers, raw computational power and plenty of storage, unfettered by the need to sip at finite battery power, both new game consoles allow users to play intense games more accurately in more complex environments against smarter artificial intelligence.
So, console owners enjoy event titles like the billion dollar Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty franchises that dwarf movie and music sales. For the record, the average age of these console owners is 30. This is no longer kids stuff.
Perhaps the last blow for dedicated consoles, the $399 PS4 and $499 XB1, are effectively souped-up PCs that have moved on from the narrow, pre-mobile thinking of the last generation. These boxes will play nicely with social media, video and entertainment services and are taking tentative steps toward cloud processing, suggesting that a thin-client box is a likely future.
Which to buy?
Existing owners will already be likely in one camp or the other. But Sony has claimed an early lead by shipping without a PS Eye camera peripheral, saving users $100. Xbox One's Kinect peripheral is mandatory, meaning gamers pay more now, but could enjoy some inspired movement-controlled titles as developers won't fear small user numbers when creating ideas for it.
Sony also has a horsepower advantage with faster memory and a more efficient design, allowing some early games to play at 1080p on HDTV compared to the 720p for the Xbox One. However, that advantage won't last long as designers become more familiar with the hardware. Sony also offers remote play on its PlayStation Vita portable, so if the TV is in use, most games can still be played. Microsoft's SmartGlass app for phone or tablet isn't that cute yet.
To counter that Microsoft has the hotter games, with mechanoid first-person shooter Titanfall attracting most interest, Ryse giving Sony's own God of War franchise a Roman makeover and Forza 5 beating Sony's delayed Drive Club off the starting grid, plus extra TV and media features.
3D Printing for Beginners
Unlike the two-horse console race, 3D printing is available to all, across a huge range of budgets. The latest entry-level model announced by Printrbot (pictured below) costs only $299 in kit form ($399 for an assembled one) and can print anything up to the size of a 4-inch cube.
While this market is more for tinkerers and gadget enthusiasts, the technology is improving and is now available in big box stores and increasingly as a service. Increase the budget slightly and you can buy a printer that produces larger products using a wider range of materials.
For the independent-minded buyer, there are plenty of crowd-funded kit or ready-made options that you can support, but it won't be too long before the likes of HP and other printer makers step in to take control of the market, if you'd rather wait for a big name brand.
Wearables Will Have to Wait
While 2013 looks like it won't be the year of the smartwatch, smartglasses or any other wearable technology, shoppers looking for something different can consider the crowd-funded Pebble. This smartwatch is winning plaudits over the mainstream Galaxy Gear and Sony SmartWatch products. Expect to hear a lot more in these areas next year, when the issues of how to interact with users as they pass your store or business will be a hot topic.
Likely to be more popular are TV dongles that turn any old set into a smart one. Google's Chromecast will be a popular choice, alongside Apple's perennial hobby device, the Apple TV. Will both companies go the whole hog in 2014 and produce their own sets?
If you're looking for further inspiration the likes of Wal-Mart and Amazon have posted their top tech gift guides, while the upcoming holiday sales will see prices slashed to tempt buyers.
Title image by Hasloo Group Production Studio/Shutterstock