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Music to His Ears

12 Guys of Christmas: The Mediaphile

Thought purchasing a Christmas gift for your in-laws was tough? Try shopping for someone who knows everything about media gadgetry and can’t abide anything but the best. The Mediaphile’s affinity for films, games, music, and yes, eBooks, goes beyond the bounds of reason and continues to expand as the consumer market welcomes the latest tech innovations daily. Best believe he’s on top of everything from next-gen gaming consoles to popular subscription-based apps. This presents a problem, because you think HDMI, DSLR, DAC and WAV are medical tests and/or prerequisite exams for grad school applications. Don’t run to the Geek Squad yet. We’ve pulled together some awesome media-primed options worth your coin this holiday. He’ll thank you — and then you won’t see him for a couple months, save for Doritos runs and the rare bathroom break.

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See the Difference

Panasonic TC-PZT60

February of 2009 was a sad month for videophiles: Pioneer, maker of the critically acclaimed Kuro (“Black” in Japanese) line of premium HDTVs with best-in-class blacks, announced that it was throwing in the towel. Carrying the torch for the ailing plasma market fell to Panasonic, who dutifully purchased many of Pioneer’s patents. While consumers saw plenty of bells and whistles grafted onto TVs launched in the following years, no set managed to best the Kuro’s picture quality — until now. Panasonic’s flagship ZT60 series ($3,000) has finally dethroned the king.

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Through the Looking Glass

Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD

Announced all the way back in September 2012, Tamron’s 70-200 f/2.8 Di VC USD ($1500) — one of the company’s gutsiest moves into the pro lens field — had plenty of time to be picked apart prior to its release. Though the lens was announced a year and a half after Canon introduced the second edition of their vaunted 70-200 f/2.8 IS, the Tamron was able to combine image quality and build that kept up with the competition at a significantly reduced price point. In May 2013, nine months after its initial announcement, Tamron’s bold product was released — and then vindicated by an outpouring of positive reviews.

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Turnkey

McIntosh MT5

While anything bearing the McIntosh signature blue meters is guaranteed to catch our eyes faster than Brooklyn Decker at the pool, the MT5 Turntable ($6,500) deserves special attention. That’s partly because its 5-pound, 1.5-inch thick silicon acrylic platter glows greener than the envy of all who gaze upon it. But this beautiful piece of audio machinery has much, much more than just some literal flash.

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Game On

Xbox One

Backed by critically acclaimed exclusives, strong third-party support and the most popular online multiplayer component available, the Xbox 360 undeniably won the current-gen console war. The system resonated most with casual and hardcore audiences because of Microsoft’s popular Xbox Live service. Gamers found themselves drawn into a virtual universe where they could download popular titles from an overly populated digital marketplace, stream multimedia services like Netflix and Hulu and interact with players across the globe. In Live’s do-it-all mentality, Microsoft discovered the central core for its next generation console: The Xbox One ($500).

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Talk about shopping in advance

12 Guys of Christmas: The Techie

Oddly enough, the proliferation of electronic gadgetry, computer stuff and other digital goodies has made buying for the discerning sparkhead (we just coined that — please enjoy and proliferate at will) tougher. With this list, we aim to make the shopping a little simpler by covering suggestions for readers, photogs, movie buffs and gamers. Take a gander and start clicking; your techie giftee will thank you, probably with an email or holographic video message or something.

sandisk-logo-200x35This post brought to you by SanDisk. Trust life's memories to SanDisk.
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Potent Portables

Best Laptops

Apple and Microsoft dominate the laptop market with their respective Mac OS X and Windows systems, each exhibiting dynamic yet dissimilar user experiences. In considering the wide selection of convertibles and ultrabooks out at the moment, it only seemed fit to narrow down the top offerings from each computer platform. Here’s a look at the best laptops available now: The Acer Aspire S7 and the MacBook Air.

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Plastic Ink

Formlabs Form 1

Three-dimensional printing, turning the ethereal into the tangible at the click of a mouse, is the future-tech wizardry of Roddenberry at his best. The Formlabs Form 1 3D Printer ($3,300), a former Kickstarter project that raised a whopping $2,945,885 (its initial goal: $100,000), is the latest and easily the greatest out there. Using stereolithography technology, the Form 1 could seamlessly render next year’s GP100 picks, now. If MakerBot is color television, Formlabs is 1080p.

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PC gaming steps into the living room

Don’t Blow off Steam: A Deeper Look at Valve’s Steam Platform

This afternoon PC game service provider and developer Valve announced that Steam — their game platform for PC, Mac and Linux computers — surpassed 65 million accounts. What might be more impressive than a user base equivalent to the population of France is that Steam is still relatively unknown. Despite being significantly larger than Xbox Live and its 48 million subscribers (approximately Ukraine), Steam has never quite enjoyed the same limelight as other major consoles. Quietly though, Steam has become the go-to for PC gaming. 65 million users later, Steam is making a concerted push into the living room — and you can bet Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo are watching with apprehension.

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This one goes to 29

Breakdown: Meridian Signature Reference System

Smart folks in Cambridge, Massachusetts have estimated that the average American will spend a little under five and a half years driving during their lifetime. Meridian Audio and Land Rover have teamed up to make those years a bit more enjoyable. Drop 135,995 of your bucks on the Autobiography edition of the 2014 Range Rover and you’ll get the honor of experiencing the Meridian Signature Reference System: a 1700-watt, 29-speaker goliath of a system. And it’s even better than those numbers suggest. We break it down for you.

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We've only just begun

5 Smartphone Features Changing the Mobile Landscape

There was a time when the only personality you could impart into your phone was through a polyphonic ringtone of the James Bond theme and a “Carbon fiber look” faceplate. Today things are a little bit different. Customization has been elevated to the next level by devices like the Motorola Moto X, which offers customized exteriors in materials like bamboo, wood and a ton of colored plastics. The HTC One Max (among others) has a fingerprint sensor to identify a user solely by his or her touch; the Moto X learns your voice; and LG’s G2 has an OS that can be customized in nearly every element. If you still think customization means a new background, you should head to Best Buy and get to know your new phone (and vice-versa). And it’s not just customization that’s gone off the mobile charts. We’ve rounded up five of the most exciting technologies that manufacturers are rolling into their phones today.

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Masters in Mobile

Best Smartphones

We know what you’re thinking. Making three picks for the best smartphone of 2013 instead of crowning one ultimate winner is a total cop out. But our job here was clear: highlight innovations that benefit us all as users of smartphones. If there’s one defining comment to draw from our award winners below, it’s that a deliberate collaboration between hardware and software is critical to creating an excellent mobile device. Each of our Best Smartphone picks — the Nokia Lumia 1020, the Motorola Moto X and the iPhone 5s — pushes the boundaries of consumer technology and attempts to redefine the mobile experience in its own way.

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Autofocus in Every Pixel

Canon EOS 70D

We know you feel tech savvy standing at your son’s baseball game with a digital SLR around your neck and a high-def camcorder over your shoulder. But with the latest technology from Canon, the digital SLR is finally capable of shooting high-def videos worth your time and effort. Ten years and seven iterations after releasing their game-changing 10D digital SLR, they’ve done it again with the 70D ($1199), a mid-range digital SLR for the photographic enthusiast who’s ready to shoot smooth videos right next to stunning stills.

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Next Level

Mac Pro

As young men, we thought by the year 2000 we’d all be zipping around in Jetsons-style tubes from one place to the next. We don’t see any tubes, but Apple’s newest Mac Pro ($3000+) at least gives us hope that we may get there yet. This sneak peek into the future of the pro desktop has roused plenty of curiosity as the most powerful and smallest Mac Pro to date. With brains, beauty and brawn, this Mac might just be the best forward-thinking tech device around. Sorry, Rosie.

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Point Taken

Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II

Thanks to 16MP smartphone cameras and the mirrorless revolution, the old point-and-shoot has been headed towards extinction. That’s not exactly the way Sony sees things. They stubbornly released the best damn pocket camera in the world, the RX100, last year. The mighty marvel’s massive one-inch sensor paired with a fast f/1.8 Zeiss lens effortlessly produced rich 20MP images, even in the novice hands of doting grandparents and hapless tourists. How did Sony respond to the positive reviews? They released the RX100 II ($748), which is even better.

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Home Theater, Redifined

BenQ W1500 DLP Wireless Projector

Buying a projector can be deceptive: the thrill of viewing on a much larger screen often blinds shoppers to the installation migraines ahead. The high starts to fall away at home when the need to run power and signal cables to the back of the living room becomes apparent. Where do you find HDMI cables longer than six feet in length? How do you discreetly get them to the projector? The BenQ W1500 ($1599) hopes to finally break the cycle. It’s the first projector to include a wireless HD transmission technology called WHDI, which broadcasts uncompressed, full HD video and audio signals (including 3D) over a 5GHz channel up to 65 feet away from the transmitter.

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Lighter, Better, Faster, Stronger

Breakdown: iPad Air and iPad Mini 2

The original iPad’s unveiling generated a buzz world-over, and for good reason: it looked like something out of the Jetsons, and brought to life Steve Jobs’ dream of a portable, easy-to-use device that allowed users to connect to the Internet, play games, and consume media. Although some didn’t see the value (as Tim Cook gleefully pointed out in yesterday’s Apple Keynote), it was undoubtedly a commercial success. Yesterday, we witnessed the newest members of the iPad family: the iPad Air and the iPad Mini. Follow along as we break them down.

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Your new resource for all things Braun

Introducing the Braun Brand Guide

Without the radio, there would be no Braun electric razor.

Sounds weird, right? But before Braun started producing cutting-edge electric razors — before they were even Braun — the precursor to the German company made components for radio sets. This was back in 1921, when Max Braun opened up a little shop in Frankfurt. Only eight years later, he began producing the sets himself. Under his vision and commitment to innovation, it wasn’t long before that little shop became Braun, one of Germany’s leading radio manufacturers.

Radios, you say? That’s right. And there’s a lot more about this storied brand, the most recognized name in electric shaving today, that you surely don’t know. In celebration of the new CoolTec razor, we’ve created an entire guide to Braun, including a complete history, a timeline of their most important innovations, a collection of kits for any traveling situation, and even a breakdown of the new CoolTec and its features. You seem to be growing long in the beard already — so click here to see it all.

Braun-Sponsored-LogoBrought to you by Braun CoolTec, a simply outstanding shaving experience for men with sensitive skin.
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Hope you don't have a fixed income

Prime Time: 5 Best Fixed-Lens Cameras

There was a time when photographers didn’t carry nine different lenses with their camera, a time when one wide-angle lens was enough to get an adroit photographer through the day because he realized that sometimes the best way to zoom in was to damn well walk closer to his subject. While most of us like having a versatile zoom lens, there’s something to be said for having only one focal length: when you shoot with a fixed focal length camera, you don’t take pictures, you take photographs. We’ve rounded up the top six “fixies” to get you started on your path towards being an artisan.

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Orange is the New Black

Introducing: Gear Patrol x DSPTCH Camera Straps (Giveaway!)

Since 2010, San Francisco-based DSPTCH has designed rugged, functional camera straps that pair military-spec webbing and Paracord with high-quality hardware. They’re available in a variety of excellent, reserved hues, but we couldn’t help but wonder what a combination of blaze orange and matte black hardware might look like. Neither could DSPTCH — and so we’re pleased to introduce GP x DSPTCH straps in our signature color.

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Hacking away gaming precedents

Preview: Watch Dogs and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

I watch from behind a dumpster as the man with the government employee wife saddles up to the gangster. It’s not a smart move. The gangster calls him a snitch, pulls out a bat. Warnings flash on my readout: crime probability 40%, now 55%, now simply “imminent” as the gangster cocks the bat and the man cowers. I step forward while whipping out my pistol and the gangster hoofs it, sprinting to a nearby vehicle and burning rubber through a red light. This is not real-life vigilante justice: it’s a hands-on sneak preview of Watch Dogs (and Assassin’s Creed IV).

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Falling into the game

Opinion: GTA V and the Power of Immersive Digital Worlds

GTA V heralds a new era of gaming, one in which top studios will attract gamers by focusing on their interactions with the digital landscape — i.e., by creating more immersive worlds.

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Protecting Your Interests and Theirs

Opinion: Security Insecurities and the iPhone 5S

In the face of what Apple has recently touted as a record-setting sales weekend, there’s one important feature of the iPhone 5S whose larger implications are flying under the radar of the smartphone-toting public: Touch ID. In case you’ve been too busy living to pore over Apple spec sheets, Touch ID refers to the new “fingerprint identity sensor” feature that allows iPhone 5s users to unlock their phones and even make purchases on iTunes using only their fingerprints. Just how secure is this tech? We examine.

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Reflecting on the best

More For (Mirror)less: 6 Best Mirrorless Cameras

When in 2004 Epson released the R-D1, the world’s first mirrorless digital camera, photographers weren’t sure what to make of it. Ten years later every major camera company has thrown their proverbial hat into the mirrorless ring. In fact, with digital sensors equal to those found in DSLRs, interchangeable pro-quality lenses, and magnesium-alloy construction, mirrorless cameras are quickly becoming the choice of many professionals looking to downsize their gear. It’s safe to say 2014 will be the year of the mirrorless camera, and we’ve rounded up our favorites to help you prepare.

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Coming soon to a galaxy near you

Breakdown: Samsung Galaxy Gear

Pebble, Toq, Smartwatch 2, Cupertino Wristbeauty — how did the explosion of the “smart watch” segment catch us so by surprise? While we were busy reeling, the Samsung Galaxy Gear ($299) for Galaxy Note 3 (and soon, the Galaxy S4 and SIII) has been declared potentially the best option yet. What exactly does that mean? We break it down.

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Puzzling Over Professional Micro Four Thirds

Tested: Olympus OM-D EM-1

Olympus’s new OM-D EM-1 ($1,400, body only) is way ahead of its time. Effectively an upgraded version of the already-capable E-M5, the E-M1 is an excellent shooter across the board, albeit one that can’t quite find its place in the market. We say: stay different, E-M1.

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Taking photos... the long way

Daclotype

Handling incredibly dangerous chemicals and taking a single, earth-shattering shot — as much as it sounds like a recent happening in Breaking Bad, we’re actually talking about daguerreotype. Invented in the early 1800s, the labor-intensive process laid the groundwork for modern photography. Today, artists like Dan Carillo keep the tradition alive. This short film features incredible shots of Carillo’s daguerreotype process.

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It's all in the wrist

Breakdown: Qualcomm Toq

The Pebble and the Samsung Galaxy Gear, along with the rumored coming of an Apple edition, have brought smartwatches to the forefront of gadget news. Each version so far has its particular pros and cons, but Qualcomm figures they have the market figured out with their newly released Toq. We break it down.

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Brace Yourself

Steady As She Goes: 3 Great Monopods

You’ve got the latest DSLR, a smattering of lenses and the best location in the world, but try as you might, things are still looking more Monet than Ansel Adams. Even with the best image stabilization technology and neurosurgeon hands, photos will loose their crispness around exposures longer than 1/20th of a second. Past that, you’re going to need something sturdy to rest on. Less is more, we say. Here are our three favorite monopods.

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Bump the bass -- and finish that report

Front Row Seat: 10 Best Desktop Speakers

The majority of us have become extremely comfortable with the mediocre phonics that ooze through the speakers of our laptops and PCs or the less-than-stellar resonance produced from our headphones. This is sad, seeing as how providing a significant audio boost can transform your desk into the ultimate home entertainment console.

For those seeking a more potent and louder alternative to their built-in receivers or noise-canceling cans, we assembled this collection of awesome stereo monitors sure to have your ears ringing. No, they don’t have to break the bank (though they certainly can, if you’re the splurging type). From portable blasters to music studio amplifiers, each is Bona fide audio hardware powerful enough to enliven any Netflix, Spotify, or Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 sessions at the computer counter. Now get jammin’.