One great use for the Grex is to burn backup copies of DVD movies to take on a car trip with the kids or on a plane on a business trip so you don't have to worry about losing or damaging the original discs.
Price: US$89 (online orders preferred)
Summary: Here's a small, easy-to-install device that makes it simple to transfer your old VHS tapes onto DVDs and to make backup copies of copyright-protected DVD movies you already own.
Todd R. Weiss LP-to-CD recorder: DAK System
Along the same lines, here's a gift that will get the music lovers on your list into the 21st century by providing a way to convert favorite LPs, 78s and 45s -- even reel-to-reel or cassette tapes -- into great-sounding CDs or MP3s that are ready for mobile music players.
The LP to CD System (US$219) from DAK Industries includes a turntable with an aluminum platter, tone-arm lift, tone-arm balancing system and antiskate control for good audio quality, as well as a specially designed preamp mixer box, customized DAK conversion software, cables, a detailed online tutorial and good e-mail technical support. (It can also be purchased for US$70 without the turntable if you want to use your own.)
Plug it all into the line-in jack on your computer's sound card using the detailed video instructions available online, download the two needed software applications from DAK's Web site, and you'll be set to go after watching the online tutorials. (Laptop users need an additional US$39 USB line-in jack.) There is a learning curve, but 30 to 60 minutes of practice will produce great CD recordings of your old albums.
Once recorded and saved, you separate the tracks using the software, and can then save them in WAV or MP3 formats. It works right out of the box, and the sound quality is great, almost as if you are listening to the albums but without the pops and clicks, thanks to software that filters them out.
Not all the music you want is available on CDs, but it might be sitting right there in your closet. With this system, any audiophile can burn CDs from albums with great results.
Price: US$219, or US$69.90 without turntable
Summary: Know an audiophile who wants to convert old vinyl record albums into CDs and MP3s? Here's the perfect gift.
Todd R. Weiss
Computing and home office
Nothing brings a smile to a giftee's face faster than unwrapping a shiny new laptop computer. And on the extremely practical side, consider giving peace of mind in the form of fast networking, protection from Internet threats or secure online backups.
Laptop: Apple MacBook
Looking for the best all-around laptop? Your first -- and last -- stop should be your nearest Apple Store to check out the MacBook line.
The MacBooks, which start at US$1,099 and run up to US$1,499, recently got a mild speed boost, a new graphics chip and, best of all, a new operating system -- Mac OS X 10.5, better known as Leopard. More speed, new apps, no price change. They'll even do Windows using Apple's Boot Camp software, included in Leopard.
The basic model and the midrange version come in shiny white. The top-end model comes in flat black, but you'll pay a premium for the Darth Vader look.