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Summer means fun

Here’s a cross-section of some of the newest entertainment gadgets that promise to add some zing to your vacation time.

Come on–you can spend the rest of the year fretting over servers, firewalls, and all that other serious, brow-furrowing technology. In the words of an old surf-music record, summer means fun, and for technophiles of all stripes, fun means new toys. Whether the heat’s firing you up or bringing you down, it’s time to look into gadgets that will entertain, amuse, and enlighten. Here’s a cross-section of some of the newest entertainment gadgets that promise to add some zing to your vacation time.

Say cheese

Summer antics are practically begging to be documented, and fortunately there’s an impressive variety of new ways to capture your freshly baked memories. Two top new digital cameras are from Olympus and Samsung. Olympus’s C-750 (MSRP: $550) boasts 10x optical/40x zoom, a hot shoe for adding extra flashes, a 4-megapixel CCD, a QuickTime movie mode, and free firmware that lets you connect the camera to any PictBridge-enabled printer and print photos without the need for a computer to act as a go-between.

Samsung’s Digimax U-CA3 ($230) has just a 3.2-megapixel CCD. But to make up for the relative lack of bulk, it has MPEG4 technology for digital movies–up to 72 minutes’ worth on a 256MB memory card. Throw in a Rainbow Eye lamp that will light your subject in one of seven colors, along with voice recording and memo capability, and the Digimax becomes hard to resist smiling for.

If you’re all about the movin’ pictures, check out the Hitachi DZ-MV550A DVD Camcorder ($800). What makes it unusual is that it records not to a memory card but directly to DVD media–fill the disc with your raw footage, pop it into your computer, and you’re ready to edit your masterpiece (or send it to your friends complete with outtakes). The Hitachi has a 2.5-inch LCD display, and can also double as a still camera.

Sounds of the season

What’s summer without music? Well, OK–it’s still summer, but no time of the year seems to beg for tunes like this time. When it comes to players, the phrase on everyone’s lips this season is iPod Mini. But for those who aren’t sure about ponying up $220-plus for the Mini, the field is full of MP3 players for the more economically minded. Auvi’s SA100 player ($50 for 64MB; $80 for 128MB) is short on frills, but good for someone who doesn’t intend to store his whole collection on his player.

JMTek’s MelodiStik ($130) earns its stripes with versatility, doubling (quadrupling, if you will) as a thumb drive, FM radio, and voice recorder.

If one of your summer projects is making the rockingest mix CD in town, try out MixMeister’s Express 5 mixing software ($50). Its built-in BPM (beats per minute) calculator helps you make seamless segues from song to song, and will even burn the results to disc for you.

If you’d rather make the music than just hear it, eMedia offers a whole line of instructional software. We’ve covered its Guitar Method in these pages before, and a newer selection is Piano & Keyboard Method ($60). It has 300 step-by-step lessons starting from the basics (hand position, rhythm, playing on the black keys) and moving on to more in-depth training on music notation, sight reading, scales, and lots more.

Maybe music isn’t your listening drug of choice, and you find AM radio to be only so much white noise. If so, check out Audible. It has more than 18,000 audio books, magazines, newspapers, and exclusive radio programs, starting at less than $10 each; all you do is download them, transfer them to your MP3 player, and wait to be edified.

A day at multimedia beach

Of course, there’ll be those rainy days when your only option is to hunker down indoors with your multipurpose audio-video component and let the entertainment wash over you. It shouldn’t come as news that the name of the game among media players this year is convergence: These are MVPs (most valuable players) meant to accommodate any kind of digital media from your home entertainment center.

Actiontec’s Wireless Digital Media Player ($200) acts as a connection between your computer, your television, and your stereo, letting you listen to Internet radio on your stereo, view family pictures from your computer on your television, or just play DVDs.

Prismiq’s MediaPlayer ($300) hooks into your wireless home network and lets you play digital audio and video files, view photos, stream Internet radio, chat with friends, and browse the Web, all from one location.

The Pixa DVOne DX-8020 DivX DVD player is one of the first standalone DVD players capable of playing video files that have been burned onto CD or DVD with DivX/MPEG-4 technology. That means you can play back your downloaded video on your TV instead of being confined to your PC. The Pixa also plays any and all audio and video media, and that’s not even the best part–that would be the $80 price tag.

Of course, the name of the game in home audio and video these days is Do it Yourself. That’s where Roxio’s Easy Media Creator 7 ($100) combines the award-winning Easy CD & DVD Creator, PhotoSuite, VideoWave, and Napster software packages into one unbeatable, integrated combo that will serve your every last burning need.

Once you have all that storebought and homebrewed media on hand–and you’ve got a nifty player to rack it up on–you’ll need the right speakers to make it all come alive. Check out Harman Kardon SoundSticks II speakers ($200), a three-piece plug-and-play system that kicks out impressive stereo sound while taking up a bare minimum of space–and that looks space-age snazzy in doing so.

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