Seattle Times news services It's that time of year where information and reviews of electronic products are in demand. Over the next few...

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Seattle Times news services

It’s that time of year where information and reviews of electronic products are in demand. Over the next few weeks, this Reviews feature will look at a handful of items at a time that may find themselves in gift wrap for the season.

Mattel Vidster

No moms and dads in their right minds would get expensive digital camcorders for their children, so the $80 Vidster is an appealing alternative with features that won’t wow an adult but are plenty powerful for the kids.

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The Vidster is made of plastic but has sleek standard-camcorder looks. It works like one, too. One switch activates it, and another toggles between photo and video functions. Neither is cutting-edge — we’re talking 1.3 megapixel photos and 320 x 240-resolution video at 15 frames per second. The Vidster doesn’t have physical zoom, only 2.0 digital zoom.

But who cares? Kids will have a blast with this thing. For less than $100, the photo and video quality looks fine to me. And while the recessed preview screen won’t make grownups gasp, it is a surprisingly good one for a cheapo camcorder.

The Vidster has 32 megabytes of built-in storage for photos and video, and a Secure Digital memory-card slot lets users boost capacity up to 512 megs. The camera runs on AA batteries and links to a PC or Macintosh via a regular Universal Serial Bus cable for downloading the pics and clips.

— Julio Ojeda-Zapata

Knight Ridder Newspapers

My Voice music software

My Voice, by IPE Music, essentially turns your computer into a karaoke machine. Using special digital filters, it strips the vocal track from audio CDs, allowing you to croon along with your favorite band as if you were the lead singer.

Just drop an audio CD into your computer’s CD-ROM or DVD drive, select a track and then apply the My Voice masking filter by clicking a button on the screen. The vocals drop out from the music and you’re ready to start belting away.

If you have trouble remembering the words, you can cut-and-paste them into My Voice from the Internet, where lyrics sites abound, and it will scroll them karaoke-style as the song plays.

Vocal masking performance varies. My Voice acknowledges its software filters may not work on live albums and certain older recordings — think 1970s and earlier, stuff that was recorded before CDs became popular.

In my tests, even with newer albums you could often hear the lead vocals faintly echoing in the background. Still, those sounds were so dimmed that they could be easily sung over — certainly easier than trying to out-shout Bruce Springsteen or Dave Matthews in full-throated howl.

At $29.95 (Windows only), My Voice is a great alternative to karaoke machines costing several times more.

— John M. Moran

The Hartford Courant

HP Pavilion LCD TV

When shopping for a big-screen TV, Hewlett-Packard might not be the first brand that leaps to mind.

But allow me to profess myself pleasantly surprised with the quality of the HP Pavilion high-definition LCD television. The setup was quite easy and the image quality was as good as any liquid crystal display I’ve seen.

I tested HP’s television in a room with no blinds. Remarkably, even in direct sunlight, the picture was vivid enough to prompt my husband and son to break out the folding chairs to watch ESPN. I’m surprised they didn’t break out the popcorn.

I attribute this color richness to HP’s Visual Fidelity technology, which automatically adjusts the image’s brightness for the amount of light in the room. It also continually corrects contrast to ensure a sharp picture.

There are a few things to understand about LCD televisions, particularly if you’re considering buying one this holiday season. In general, the prices have dropped over the past year. Prices range from about $1,200 for a 26-inch screen to about $2,500 for a 37-inch, according to a recent survey by Consumer Reports. HP’s prices are slightly higher: $1,499 for the 26-inch screen, $1,999 for the 32-inch, and $2,899 for the 37-inch.

— Dawn C. Chmielewski

Knight Ridder Newspapers

DashTrak fitness tracker

Walkers can keep tabs on their progress with WalkStyles’ new DashTrak.

Designed to be worn on your waistband, the device tracks how many steps you take, the distance walked, the calories burned, your heart rate and your speed. It can store eight weeks of data, can display information on its LCD screen and can be connected to a computer with a USB port. It costs $129.

You can also subscribe to the DashTrak Wellness site for $9.95 a month. The site analyzes data downloaded from the device and provides fitness tips and interaction with other walkers.

— Deborah Porterfield

Gannett News Service

Air Hogs car

There’s something about a radio-controlled car that leaps across generations. You don’t have to be 8 years old to get excited about a little battery-powered vehicle, especially the intriguing and new toy from Spin Master. The Air Hogs Zero Gravity model has a trick that no other RC vehicles can match: It can climb straight up a wall.

The Hummer-style cars are squat and boxy-looking and there’s not much room for custom treatments. They come in two colors: camouflage and black.

But the Zero Gravity uses a technique called the Venturi effect to break the laws of physics. In simple terms, the car has an internal motor that creates an air pocket that has a downward force. It’s the same principle behind airfoils and other design techniques that help racecars stay glued to the track when they roar into a turn at 150 mph.

The Zero Gravity car, which sells at $69.99, comes with a radio transmitter that controls the car’s speed and direction. It has a range of up to 60 feet on the ground and up to 30 feet on a wall. It works best on smooth, flat surfaces. If you try to drive the car over a picture hanging on a wall, the suction will break and the car will crash.

— Ric Manning

The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal