Looking for great recommendations to spice up your 2012 Christmas? Below is a compilation of what I rate as the “best bang for the buck” in multiple categories based on my personal experience in using the products.


Television & Entertainment System, Computer System, Computer Games, Mobile Phone, Tea Maker, Rice Cooker, Headphones, Movie Set (Blu-ray), Shoes & Socks, Auto Detail Kit, Water Filter System, Book Set, Cables


 

Television & Entertainment System

Finding the best buy on a complete quality Entertainment System can be challenging since many of the “packaged systems” are lower quality, lack features, or are last years’ specials (Costco is notorious for selling things that are a good 6-12+ months old or discontinued). Fear not! Below is a direct link to the best “bang for buck” components money can buy for a complete HDTV Blu-Ray 7.1 Home Theater system!

 

LG 60PM6700 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz Active 3D Plasma HDTV (Amazon $1,164)

With Wi-fi and 3D Processing, I believe this TV is the best bang for the buck on the market. While LCDs do have lower power consumption and are held as being a bit more “vibrant” for brightly colored movies (such as animated, etc), Plasmas are still king of “dark movies” such as Lord of the Rings or Star Wars. Additionally, a comparable LCD will generally be more than twice the price.

 

Onkyo HT-S9400THX 7.1 Surround System (NewEgg $729)

This is hands down the best “complete” 7.1 system on the market.  The only problem is the system does not come with speaker stands or mounts. Don’t worry; they’re listed below! One very important thing to consider; the receiver is 7″ high. This means it will not fit in many TV stands (their shelves don’t have the clearance). This is why I recommend the below stand; the receiver fits in it perfectly. If you choose another stand, make sure it has 7″ of clearance for the receiver!

 

Tech-Craft Bernini Series Black 60″ Metal Frame LCD/Plasma TV Stand (Cymax Stores $258.98)

This stand is high quality, beautiful, and perfectly fits the Onkyo receiver and anything else you need to put in it; including the center speaker for the Onkyo system (which I put in the top shelf).

 

Sanus Basic 31″ Wood Speaker Stands (BF-31B) (Amazon $39.99/pair – Get 3 pairs!)

As mentioned, the Onkyo system doesn’t come with its own mounts or stands. These speaker stands look great and are perfect for the system. Don’t forget to order 3 pairs!

 

Sony Playstation 3 160GB Black (NewEgg $249)

The most powerful blu-ray player on the market for the money. If you don’t have a blu-ray player, or want to “upgrade”, get yourself a PS3.

 

Total Entertainment System Price: $2,520.95 + shipping

 

Computer System

While prebuilt systems are easy to order and are generally plug and play, I’m a firm believer that having the best bang for the buck really requires one to buy all of the components individually and build the system yourself. Not only is it fun, but you know exactly what’s in your system and more importantly; that you can safely overclock it to 4.5GHz or higher! Both buildouts below include every item you need to get up and running with a new gaming computer system. While these configurations include Windows 8, you can replace Windows 8 with Windows 7; it’s all a matter of preference – just make sure you select the 64-bit version.

Overclocking these systems is cake; you can easily do it through the BIOS. I recommend shooting for at least 4.5GHz, and with the Hyper 212 EVO heat sink you should easily be able to hit 4.8 and keep the CPU under 70C. While the CPU is built to sustain temperatures under 90C, I recommend making sure it never spikes above 80C.

Ultimate Gaming System (NewEgg $2,775)

This monster 3rd generation i7 system features 3x 28″ monitors (for a total desktop size of 5760 x 1080), a 4GB 680GTX series nVidia video card, and a 5.1 Surround Sound. It’s everything a gamer/hardcore user needs. This system also features two SSD (Solid State Drives). One for boot (C:) and one for gaming (E:). The Hard Drive is the D drive (data storage, etc). If you get this system, install Steam and any other games on the E: drive to run them from the SSD. I recommend configuring C: as SSD 1, D: as HDD 1, and E: as SSD 2.

One of the nice things about the latest video cards is you no longer need two of them to run 3 monitors. You can run 3 from a single card; but you need to make sure you have a good 4GB of vRAM rather than 2GB to prevent bottlenecking. Here’s how you configure 3 monitors with a 600 series video card.

Excellent Gaming System (Newegg $1,875)

Featuring the same “guts” as the Ultimate Gaming System, this configuration only has one monitor, a 560 series video card, one SSD (for your C: boot drive), and uses the G930 headset vs. the 5.1 surround system.

 

Computer Games

2012 was a fantastic year for computer games, and there are many more choices than what I list below, but I can personally endorse the below games as absolutely fantastic and worth every penny.

Guild Wars 2 (ArenaNet $59.99)

I believe this is the best MMOG currently on the market. It’s subscription free (e.g. a 1 time purchase), is visually beautiful, and an outright work of art. You can read my review on this game here.

 

Borderlands 2 (Steam Store $44.95)

Nominated as Game of the Year for 2012, if you want something that’s a bit more gritty and fun in a “crazy” way, Borderlands 2 delivers. Unless you’re giving it to a timid housewife who thinks nickelodeon has violent programming, you can’t really go wrong with this game.

 

Mobile Phone

Many people are unaware of Amazon Wireless; possibly the best way to purchase a mobile phone. Order a phone and have it on your front porch two days later, ready for a single call-in activation. That, and their pricing is better than any store.

Samsung Galaxy S3 (Amazon Wireless $79 with Contract)

I used both the Galaxy S3 and iPhone 5 prior to deciding to purchase a Galaxy S3. I prefer the Android Operating system and the overall “feel” of the phone. You can’t go wrong with this awesome piece of technology.

 

Tea Maker

I cannot express to you how absolutely awesome the below tea maker is. We’ve been using ours multiple times a day for years; it is hands down the best brewer money can buy.

Breville BTM800XL One-Touch Tea Maker (Amazon $249)

If you drink loose leaf tea, you must buy this maker. When you get it, you will wonder how you ever made tea without it. Featuring perfect automated brewing times and temperatures, this is a must-have for anyone who drinks tea regularly.

 

Rice Cooker

Don’t laugh. While there are a ton of cheap rice cookers on the market that work, all of them are carcinogen-generating cheap units that aren’t worth your time and money. A real rice cooker that a family can safely use regularly must be stainless steel to ensure the nasty chemicals don’t get baked into the food every time it’s used.

Stainless Steel Rice Cooker by Miracle Exclusives (Amazon $63.99)

Eat rice? Buy this. We’ve had ours for years. It’s ultra easy to clean and doesn’t have any carcinogenic coating. It’s the best home rice cooker money can buy.

 

Headphones

My wife is thrilled I finally got headphones. Now she doesn’t have to sit behind me listening to my blasting of crazy targets in Borderlands or listen to music from my collection that she “does not like”. But more importantly; they’re wireless!

Logitech G930 USB Connector Circumaural Wireless Gaming Headset (NewEgg $104.99)

It’s hard to believe you can get 7.1 surround sound in a wireless headset, but Logitech has pulled it off. This headset is a must-have for any gamer who needs to turn their volume down (or off) due to complaints by roommates, annoyed spouses, or irritable neighbors. Additionally  you will have a better “sound experience” with these as you play immersive games that support 5.1 or 7.1 sound. This headset is the best bang for the buck, features a good 8+ hours of wireless 7.1 surround between charges, and easily charges through a micro-USB connector.

 

Movie Set (Blu-Ray)

Getting the best bang for the buck is important, especially when it comes to HDTV and Blu-ray purchases, which are often overly expensive. Don’t worry – I’ve got a fantastic pick for you this year!

Harry Potter: The Complete 8 Film Collection [Blu-ray] (Amazon $66.69)

No kidding. All 8 movies in High Definition Blu-Ray for under $70. It doesn’t get any better than that. This makes an excellent gift for anyone who wants a fantastic movie series to add to their collection. Jump on it!

 

Shoes & Socks

It’s Christmas time. This means millions of people throughout the world will receive the yearly regiment of Shoes and Socks. Why not mix it up a little?

Vibram FiveFingers KSO Multisport Shoes (REI Overstock $49.93)

I’ve been wearing these for years and recommend them to anyone who wants to try something different. They’re simply fantastic. You can tromp through the desert, wear them as you put on your snorkeling fins, and use them for any and all daily activities! The only catch is they use a different sizing system. Fear not, it’s easy to determine through the Vibram Online Sizing Tool!

 

Injinji Performance Original Weight Crew Toesocks (Amazon $12.00/pair)

If you get your hands on some Vibram FiveFingers, you’ll need new toed socks. Injinji makes the best. I recommend having two or three pairs for your new “monkey shoes”!

 

Auto Detail Kit

I began to do my own auto detailing when I got my first sports car back in the late 90’s: a 1993 Twin Turbo Supra. After that, I owned NSXs and then went to Corvettes. My latest babies were a Lexus LS430 and Toyota Highlander. While they aren’t sports cars, they definitely deserve some detail love. I spent years going through all of the car waxes, washes and numerous detail Kits. Zaino, Zymol, McGuires; you name it – I’ve used it. My current personal favorite is Adam’s.

Adam’s Basic Car Wash & Wax Kit (Adam’s Website $99.95)

A great starter kit for somebody who wants to take care of their car and make it beautiful. Wax on … Wax off!

 

 


Adam’s Essentials Detail Kit
(Adam’s Website $174.95)

This kit is perfect for anyone who wants to begin their journey down the road of becoming a true detailer. Not only will you make your car beautiful, you will learn the intricate details of taking care of paint and interior. If the water doesn’t bead, it’s time to get to work!

 

Water Filtration System

I’ve made sure every house I’ve lived in since the 90’s has some sort of under the sink water filtration system installed. You know these things make a huge difference not only by the taste of the water, but also by what the filters look like six months after you start using the kit. After you see what they catch, you won’t drink tap water again.

iSpring 75GPD 5-Stage Reverse Osmosis Water Filter System (Amazon $169.99)

This kit is fantastic and currently the best bang for the buck. If you don’t have an under the sink filtration system, get this. It makes all the difference; not just for drinking, but your coffee and tea will taste better, too!

 

Book Set

There is one book set to which there is no comparison. A must have for any family or individual that wishes to ensure proper reading is always available to anyone with both brains and a sense of humor.

Gary Larson: The Complete Far Side (Amazon $110.25)

I purchased this two-book hardcover collection a few years ago and never looked back. This is the ultimate gift, coffee table completion, and bathroom treatise. A must have for… everyone. Be warned though. Placing these books in your bathroom may result in extended use.

 

 

Cables

How much do people spend on HDMI, DVI and CAT6 Ethernet cables? Let’s explore. Want a 25′ HDMI Cable? Best Buy will gouge you for $149. This is simply insane. How about an optical cable for your Audio Connection? Try picking that up at Radio Shack and it’ll cost you $29.99. How about CAT-6 Ethernet cables for your LAN? Another $25 at Best Buy or Target. The costs quickly add up and waste your money. Time to put a stop to that. You can order these cables directly from the manufacturer for a fraction of the price… and when I say fraction… I mean 1/10th the price or less.

PI Manufacturing Corp (Assorted Cables at 10% the cost or less!)

This company is simply amazing, and once I started ordering from them, I never looked back. Remember that $149 25′ HDMI cable from Best Buy? $9.95 from PI Manufacturing. That’s 6.7% the cost of what Best Buy Charges. But it doesn’t stop there. What about a 10′ Cat6 Ethernet cable? $1.70 from PI. And the quality is just as good, if not better, than what you would find at retail stores.

There is no better place to buy cables or converters. Period.

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About The Author

Mr. Allen has an extensive background in technology spanning 20 years including software architecture, design and development, project management and leadership. He specializes in corporate planning, productivity and collaboration, and is the creator of the games Mordor, Demise, Horizons, and Alganon.

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