Blu-ray has survived, but it hasn’t thrived. Sure, sales of players and discs are increasing, while sales of DVDs have been declining. Overall, though, the sales of physical discs—regular and Blu-ray formats—are on the wane, while digital sales and rentals are shooting through the roof. This confirms what everyone in the entertainment industry believes: In the long run, discs are dead.
This year you’ll find Blu-ray players going for next to nothing: There are several models for around $75, and a few for $50 or less. Go ahead and buy one if you’ve got to play discs, but if you do, make sure to future-proof your purchase. Many Blu-ray players include Wi-Fi, which allows them to access streaming content from Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube. Some of the very cheapest models—like this $50 Magnavox player at Fred’s—don’t have that feature. Even if you don’t watch a lot of streaming video now, it makes sense to spend $20 or $30 more to get access to Internet content, since that’s how we’ll all be watching in a few years.
Do not buy a netbook. These small, cheap, underpowered machines made my don’t-buy list in 2009, and I’m happy to report that these turkeys have since been rendered all but extinct. (The iPad probably had something to do with it, but I’m sure my column was a major factor.) Alas, a few netbooks are still hanging on; this year you can pick one up for as little as $80.
Don’t bother. Odds are you’ll quickly grow to hate your cheap netbook, which won’t have enough power to run any programs very well. Although it’s more portable than a laptop, its cramped keyboard and generally cheap build will make it a pain to use. Plus, if all you’re looking for is a device to watch movies, send emails, and browse the Web, why not get a Kindle Fire? That device may be flawed, but it’s a joy compared with just about any netbook you can find.
Buy a better wireless router. If you bought your current wireless router several years ago, there’s a good chance it features a Wi-Fi signal known as 802.11B or 802.11G. In the last few years, manufacturers have moved on to a newer standard, known as 802.11N. These N-class routers won’t speed up your Internet browsing, but they will make it faster to transfer data between devices in your network—if you’ve got one of these, for instance, it will be easier to send files wirelessly to a backup drive. More importantly, an N router will improve your wireless signal’s range. If your Wi-Fi cuts out in certain parts of your house, this could be your ticket. And it won’t cost you very much at all: You can pick up an N-class router for about $20 this Black Friday.
Buy a solid-state hard drive. These devices use transistors rather than spinning magnetic discs to store your data; as a result, they can access your data much, much faster than traditional drives. When I installed an SSD in my computer last year, I confirmed what many hardware hounds have observed: A solid-state drive is one of the best ways to give your machine a significant speed boost. But SSDs are expensive—I paid about $400 for a 128GB model in 2010 (that drive now sells for $250). On Black Friday, though, you can get some good deals on SSDs. Newegg.com is selling one 60GB model for $70 after a manufacturer’s rebate. You need a bit of expertise to install one—you’ve got to set it as your main system drive to house your operating system and your most-used programs—but if you’re the tinkering type, there’s no better gift for the holidays.