Must-have gadgets for the discerning geek

Real techies will want these cool toys

It's that time of year when even adults' thoughts turn to toys. For IT pros and technology lovers, that means gadgets and cool apps. Chances are that you've got an Apple iPod Touch on your list, if not already in your pocket. And a high-def TiVo, Apple MacBook Pro with Leopard and Parallels Desktop are all old news to you.

So you want something that not everyone else has already discovered.

You've come to the right place. InfoWorld has looked beyond the merely cool to uncover seven items that the truly leading-edge tech cognoscenti will want on their holiday lists.

InfoWorld's must-have gadgets

Sun Microsystems Project Sun Spot Development Kit sensor and robotics kit

Why you must have it: If your happy childhood centered around your Heathkit radio, computer, or home audio electronics kits, you'll drool over Sun Microsystems' Project Sun Spot Development Kit, a battery-operated platform for development of radio-controlled sensor networks, robotics, and personal consumer electronics. Each kit comes with a base station and two Spot devices, each of which, in turn, includes a processor, a radio, a sensor board, and battery. You can also add servo motors and your own sensors on top of the acceleration, temperature, and light sensors that come with each Spot. You program and build the Java VM-based Spots to do whatever it is you want to build; examples of Spot applications developed so far include microwave detection, robotic-arm control, and slot-car control.

Project Sun Spot was the brainchild of Sun Labs, which developed the basic technology but soon realized it had more possibilities than its team could research. So Sun Labs has made the technology available to anyone willing to purchase a kit for US$499.

Your chances of having the first one on the block: Very high, as supplies are limited and frequently need to be back-ordered.

What you should know: The Sun Spot technology is decidedly not commercial -- it's more like an open source hardware/software platform. So be warned: If you're not willing to go deep into the tech thicket and work with an evolving technology, Sun Spot is not for you. The kits can be ordered only from Sun.

What you need: A PC running Windows XP, Mac OS X 10.4 (only PowerPC Macs are supported now, though Intel Mac compatibility is planned), and Linux (Fedora Core 5, SuSE 10.1, and Ubuntu 6.06 have all been tested). Sun has not tested Sun Spot on Vista or Leopard, but users report that it works on those operating systems. Each kit costs US$499.

VuduBox movies-on-demand server

Why you must have it: Sure, it's a bit cliched to get yet another entertainment box, but the ongoing industry transformation to digital media delivery gives you no choice. The cable and satellite companies have been pushing video on demand for years, so why bother with the Vudu Box? The answer is that you get to keep your movies with Vudu -- sort of like an iPod that can store your digital movie collection and move them to your TV. And you're not tied into your current TV provider's offerings. Vudu uses a broadband connection to download the movies, which you can either rent for 24 hours or buy, and there's no monthly subscription fee. The HD-capable Vudu Box can access about 5,000 movie titles -- though it only store about 100 movies at a time. When Vudu upgrades its software next year, you'll be able to store movies on a USB 2.0 hard drive (the Box has two USB ports). Another option: Store them on Vudu's Web site, and they'll be streamed back down when you want to watch them.

Your chances of having the first one on the block: High, as this movie server has been available only since September.

What you should know: The encoding technology is proprietary, so you cannot move over TiVo'd or other view files to the Vudu Box. The company offers about 5,000 titles, so the selection is about as much as a large video-rental store's inventory. There's a risk that if the company goes under, you'll lose access to any movies you've bought but not stored locally. HD films play only over the Vudu Box's HDMI connections, not over its composite interface.

What you need: A broadband connection of at least 2Mbps, plus the ability to run an Ethernet cable from the Vudu box to your router. HDMI input is required for HD playback. The Vudu Box costs US$399.

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Galen Gruman

InfoWorld
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