Best of 2004

At a Glance
Page 9 of 10

Sound and Video

Digital Video Camera

Panasonic PV-GS200

Panasonic PV-GS200

This camcorder packs a lot into its small case, with a three-CCD imaging system that yields sharp, bright, color-rich video and 2.3-megapixel still images. $900

Video Editing Software

Adobe Premiere Pro 1.5

Though it faces some stiff competition from programs like Vegas 5, we like the powerful new features in Premiere Pro 1.5; it makes organizing and editing video easier, and adds support for editing HD video. $699

DVD Recorder

Lite-On LVW-5005

Lite-On LVW-5005

The svelte LVW-5005 impressed us for a number of reasons, starting with its ability to record to your choice of DVD-R/RW or DVD+R/RW media. The minimalist design is appealing, too: Its interface guides you through the recording process, and the remote is convenient and uncomplicated. Plus, the LVW-5005 is the first DVD recorder that lets you record MPEG-1 video to CDs, and record audio CDs from any audio input including over-the air broadcasts and digital music stations distributed by cable operators. $380

Network Streaming Device

Rockford Omnifi DMS1 Home Digital Media Streamer

Funky setup, clunky interfaces--some of the gadgets that let you shuttle digital music from a PC to a stereo system aren't worth the bother. But the Omnifi DMS1 is easy to install and offers intuitive access to your music library via a wired or wireless net. Bonuses include integration with Real's Rhapsody music service. $300

Digital Audio Player

Rio Karma

Rio Karma
Photograph: Wendi Nordeck

It's not as pretty as Apple's much-adored IPod (which finished a hotly debated second in our polling), but what the Rio Karma lacks in sex appeal, it makes up for in clever, usable features. It supports numerous audio formats (including Ogg Vorbis and FLAC), ships with a slick docking station that includes ethernet capabilities, and offers the pleasantly addictive Rio DJ, an on-board feature that generates playlists based upon your own listening habits. Add to that a long-lasting rechargeable battery and a reasonable price, and you have what Peter Rojas--editor of Engadget.com--calls the best player currently available for the power user. $300

Portable Projector

NEC LT10

NEC LT10

For a 2.2-pound projector, the NEC LT10 generates impressive image quality. Rated at 1100 lumens, it's best suited for small conference rooms that seat about 20 people. Text is sharp, even at a supersmall, 7-point font size. It also does a great job of reproducing colors, with warmth that makes flesh tones and colors look accurate. $2200

19-Inch LCD

Eizo Nanao FlexScan L767

Eizo Nanao FlexScan L767

The L767 defies the stereotype that LCDs can't handle graphics work. In our tests it displayed rich colors, with precise transitions. For further picture refinement, Eizo includes its excellent ScreenManager Pro adjustment software, which (among other things) lets you specify custom screen settings for each application on your PC. The L767 comes at a premium price, but the results are worth it. $900

17-Inch LCD

Samsung SyncMaster 173P

The SyncMaster 173P looks great and offers a lot of flexibility. You can set the silver-framed panel in almost any position, and you make screen adjustments via an intuitive control application rather than by pressing clunky buttons on the bezel. The stylish design alone might justify paying a bit extra, but the 173P is also a top-notch performer, producing bright, vibrant colors in graphics and extrasharp text in documents. $660

22-Inch CRT Monitor

ViewSonic P220f

LCDs are sexy, but a 22-inch LCD that matches the resolution of the P220f costs about three times more. Put a couple hundred dollars of those savings toward a calibration kit, and the flat-tube P220f will provide professional-grade shading and color quality for graphics or video. And the P220f offers swift response for smooth movie watching or gaming. $550

Graphics Board

ATI All-In-Wonder series

ATI All-In-Wonder 9600 XT

The All-In-Wonder series proves that graphics cards have gone beyond gaming. Besides fast 3D-gaming acceleration, the ATI All-In-Wonder 9600 XT is capable of recording and playing back live FM radio. Adding ATI's $29 HDTV adapter, you can hook up an HDTV display to your computer. If your interest lies in the latest hardware, though, keep an eye out for the next-generation boards from ATI and competitor NVidia. Using beta drivers, ATI's X800 board and NVidia's GeForce 6800 Ultra delivered impressive results in our preliminary tests. $299 to $399

Sound Card

Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Platinum

Creative's sweet-sounding 24-bit/192-KHz sound cards remain the only ones that play DVD-Audio recordings right out of the box. The THX-certified Audigy 2 ZS line excels at surround sound, with Dolby Digital EX and DTS-ES support for movies, EAX4 for games, and CMSS 3D audio that expands stereo music tracks to play in surround sound. The Platinum version of the Audigy 2 ZS comes with a front-panel I/O box that includes digital-in and -out ports, along with FireWire and MIDI connections. $180

PC Speakers

Logitech Z-680

Logitech Z-680

Last year's World Class Speaker System looks even better a year later. Newer units such as Klipsch's ProMedia Ultra set and Creative's GigaWorks line might sound just a trifle better; but for digital input with those models, you'll need to add an external decoder at $75 to $100. Logitech's speakers sound great, they're digital right out of the box, and reputable online dealers are selling them for under $300--a terrific bargain for a high-quality 5.1-speaker system. $280

At a Glance
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