Marantz NR1402 Receiver

I’ve had a lot of questions come in lately that read a lot like this:

“Hi, not too long ago you recommended an HDMI receiver that is slim and reasonably priced and otherwise wonderful. But I didn’t keep the article from my newspaper. Can you help jog my memory? Thank you.”

The receiver is the Marantz NR1402, and it is indeed wonderful. I am using mine with the Definitive Technology ProCinema 400 speakers mentioned in the post below and it is a match made in heaven! I will be writing more about this combo in a future newspaper column.

Marantz NR1402 on Amazon.com

Questions? Email Don

Definitive Technology ProCinema 400 Home Theater Speaker System

Here is another winner from the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show: the Definitive Technology ProCinema 400 5.1-channel home theater speaker system. As you can see in the picture the speakers in this system are very small. Usually tiny speakers mean a big sound quality compromise, but that isn’t the case with the ProCinema 400.

In the picture above the grill has been removed so you can see the ribbed passive radiator on top of the cabinet. The speaker is sealed so when the driven woofer moves the passive radiator moves with it, allowing the speaker to reproduce deeper bass than it could without it. Most tiny speakers sound very thin but the passive radiator allows the ProCinema 400 to sound like a real speaker, not a toy.

The top-mounted radiator is a Definitive Technology innovation that has been one of the keys to the great sound and critical acclaim they have earned over the years.

The speakers have removable bases that snap in place. Putting them on a shelf? The bases provide solid footing. Mounting them on the wall? Take off the bases for a cleaner look.

The ProCinema 400 ships as a system complete with powered subwoofer for only $599. I was impressed at the show so I requested an editorial loan so I could review it, and I am listening to them as I type this. The sound is crisp, clean, and detailed with just the right touch of warmth to make the sound immediately appealing. Instruments and vocals have a palpable presence that is rich and defined. When you start enjoying the music that accompanies commercials, you know that you are listening to some great speakers! My only comment is the center channel needed just a bit more break-in than the satellites before it sounded its best. but this is just a comment, not a critique and something for you to bear in mind if you do buy the ProCinema 400 for yourself.

At $599 retail they represent a great buy from a leading high-end brand. Paired with a receiver like the $399 Marantz NR1402 and you have a wonderful home theater for under $1,000.

ProCinema 400 on Amazon.com

 

 
Questions? Email Don

 

Ricoh CX6 Digital Camera

In my next column I mention the Ricoh CX6 camera, which I saw for the first time at CES 2012 last month.  Ricoh is a name most people have heard, but not so much in the camera market as of late.  Years ago Ricoh was a powerhouse in the mass marketplace, selling excellent 35mm compact autofocus cameras.  In the digital age they have made excellent cameras, but with specialized features and high prices that have made them more of a choice for pros and serious hobbyists than the typical person looking for a travel and family camera.

That may change with the new Ricoh CX6.  This is a camera that many readers have been asking for- a compact with the focus and shutter release speed of an SLR.  It uses two focusing systems working together to focus in just .1 seconds… yes, a tenth of a second!   Here is what an Amazon.com reviewer had to say about its predecessor, the CX5:

“The CX5 is VERY fast with the focus. Point and shoot. Not point, hold half-way while the camera tries to focus—BAM Clear! That is so cool you won’t believe it. I’ll try to add am image of my dog “flying” that I took the first time I used the camera. It’s an amazing shot.”

The screen is especially noteworthy.  At 1.23 million pixels it is about 3x as sharp as a typical compact camera screen, even very expensive ones.  No pricing or availability info as of yet, but I expect it to sell between $300 and $400.  That’s not bad for a Ricoh but still more than some competitive cameras.  If that sounds like a bit much you may want to consider a Ricoh CX5, which is selling at only $219 these days and has very fast focus as well.  At .2 seconds it takes twice as long as the CX6 .1 second, but that is still pretty fast.

Ricoh CX5 in Silver

Ricoh CX6 in Pink

 

 

 
Questions? Email Don

 

Weekly column: Infrared remote enables 2-room TV use, Canon SD4500IS

Originally published second week of December 2011

Q. I have a 42-inch plasma TV monitor that does not have a TV tuner. I used to hook it up to a cable DVR, which cost an extra $15 a month on my cable bill. Since I did not use it often, I returned the DVR to the cable company to save the $15 a month. Now the question is: How can I get TV signal to this monitor?

Can I buy a TV tuner or a DVR with a TV tuner and feed it with an HD antenna? The other option is to hook it up to the cable DVR in the family room just on the other side of the same wall on which the monitor is installed. The problem is that I need to walk out to the family room if I need to change channel, etc. What do you think I should do?

-KWOK CHENG, Vallejo, Calif.

A. You can get a component with a tuner and connect it to the monitor, but I do not think that is the best solution. How about a solution that provides full functionality of your family room cable DVR, without being in the family room?

What I suggest is connecting the monitor to the DVR in the family room but using an infrared remote repeater to control it. An infrared remote repeater will receive the signal from the remote and broadcast it via radio waves to a transmitter in another room, which will reproduce it and control the device. An infrared remote repeater can be purchased for $30 or less.

First, connect the monitor to the DVR through the wall. Set up the receiving unit of the remote repeater near the TV. Then place the transmitting unit in the same room as the DVR, facing it. You can then use your remote as if it was in the same room as the DVR. There is nothing to program since the repeater just reproduces whatever signal goes into it. Just take the remote from room to room and enjoy your televisions.

Holiday product highlight: Last week I discussed a premium-priced compact camera for serious photographers and professionals. This week we have a compact camera for everyone looking for something much more affordable and aimed at the consumer market.

Canon’s SD4500IS is a 10-megapixel compact that is regularly available for $170 or less. It has a 10x optical zoom lens with optical image stabilization, 1080HD video recording, and a wide variety of shooting modes for every situation. It all comes packaged in an attractive shell that is available in several appealing colors. The big appeal, of course, is the picture quality, which is as good as it gets for under $200.

If you are looking for a small, affordable camera as a gift, the Canon SD4500IS will definitely make them smile when they open it, and smile even more over the years as they use it.

Questions? Email Don

Weekly column: Blu-ray player needed for HDTV? Pentax Q

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich

Column for first week of December, 2011

Q. I have a 40-inch Samsung LCD HDTV. What is your advice on buying a Blu-ray player for it? I have a Roku box, so I don’t need streaming and Internet capability.

BOB POIRIER
Martinez, Calif.

A. Even though you have a Roku, it still makes sense to get a player with built-in Wi-Fi. Blu-ray discs often contain online content accessed via the BD-Live function, which requires an Internet connection. Blu-ray players also require occasional firmware updates to keep them running their best. If your player is connected to the Internet, it will download and install these updates automatically. If it isn’t, you must find the file online, download it and do the process manually with a burned disc or flash drive. Automatic is much easier and less frustrating.

Since you have a Samsung TV, it makes sense to get a Samsung player because the TV and Blu-ray remotes will operate both TV and player. An entry-level model will work fine for basic movie watching. The improvement in picture quality and sound over DVD or streaming will be dramatic.

If you have a lot of DVDs or rent them frequently, consider a Panasonic player as their DVD playback quality is superior, even at the lower price ranges. Anyone looking for a high-end model should consider the Sony PlayStation 3 for $249 or the Oppo BDP-93 for $499.

Holiday product highlight: Premium compact cameras for serious photographers are nothing new. The Leica Minilux, Nikon 35Ti and Contax T 35 mm film cameras are examples of boutique cameras that were highly prized in their day. They combined solid metal bodies, sharp lenses and a hefty price befitting their high quality.

The 12-megapixel Pentax Q ($799) is the modern digital equivalent of these cameras. It has a rugged magnesium body so small it can hide behind a playing card but unlike film cameras, the Pentax Q has interchangeable lenses. Five lenses are available and more to come.

I was initially skeptical of the Pentax Q, and that is coming from someone who has used Pentax SLRs for over twenty years. A large sensor is the main attraction to an interchangeable lens camera and at first glance the small sensor and premium price made the Q seem hopelessly outmatched. I now see the Pentax Q is in a class of its own. It does not replace a large sensor camera and given the price it isn’t for everyone, but enthusiasts and pros looking for a tiny camera with maximum creative potential will find it to be a marvelous addition to their toolkit.

The Pentax Q feels solid in the hand and any knowledgeable photographer who picks it up, explores the interface and settings and fires a few frames will quickly understand it is a serious and capable photographic tool. It produces clean, sharp images and excellent video, and is fun to carry around and use. The blur filter allows you to separate the subject from the background; the different lenses raise creative possibilities not possible with other tiny cameras.

Questions?  Email Don

Weekly column: Antenna for HDTV, Monoprice iPod/iPad accessories

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich

Q.  I have a second home in South Florida and am considering getting rid of my cable service there to save money, since I am not there all the time.  For a long time I thought you had to have cable to get TV anymore and thought rabbit ears went out 30 years ago, and now people are talking about using them to get HDTV.  I figure the local channels will be enough for the time I spend there.  Is it hard to get TV with an antenna and will the picture look as good as it does as with cable? I currently have a high definition cable box with a 720p Panasonic plasma HDTV.

-Donald Carl, Milwaukee, WI

A.  There is a good chance the picture quality will actually be better than what you are getting now.  Most pay TV companies, both cable and satellite, take the original feed from the network and compress it before rebroadcast so they can fit more channels on their system.  If you get the signal with an antenna you are getting it in the original, unaltered form for the best possible picture quality.

Digital TV is very easy to receive, especially in Florida’s flat terrain.  Just connect the antenna, set the TV to receive signals from “Air ” or “Antenna” and run a channel scan.  You may find a few extra channels as a bonus as many local broadcasters have two or three channels on the digital band.  For example, where I live the NBC affiliate also broadcasts RTV, or Retro TV, and a weather channel on separate subchannels.

Holiday product highlight:  This week’s holiday product highlight goes out to those of you looking for a stocking stuffer for an iPad, iPod or iPhone lover.

Monoprice.com has made a lot of friends nationwide by selling top quality high-speed HDMI cables for $5 or less, compared to the $50+ often charged in stores.  It is a lot nicer to get your 3 HDMI cables for $15 instead of $150 or more! They now sell accessories for portable devices and the same high-quality, high-value equation still applies.

Want a USB dock for your iPad, iPhone of iPod?  Only $9.52.  How about a high transparency screen protector for an iPad?  They are $1.27 each.  An iPad case with integrated stand?  Yours for only $8.48.  A silicon case?  A mere $3.29. A sharp, modern folding adjustable aluminum stand?  That will be $10.08, please.  Radio alarm clock iPod/iPhone docks are $29.68 and $49.28.  If you have priced accessories in stores before, you know what a deal these prices are.  On the site there are a lot more products for Apple and other brands so be sure to check it out.

If you are shopping for someone who has all the accessories they need, consider a gift card to the iTunes store to help them buy more music and apps for their favorite device.  It is sure to be appreciated and used in short order. If you like game a few of my favorites are RC Plane 2, a flight simulator with great graphics, pleasant music and lots of airplanes, any version of Monopoly, and Battleship, which has been updated for the 21st century with animations and superweapons that can sink a ship with a single hit.

Craigslist Chutzpah : sellers without shame

My $175 Olympus E-PL1, a good Craigslist find

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If you ever buy or trade electronics or photo gear on Craigslist… especially if you are looking to buy and find a bargain… this is for you. It seems like a lot of people out there think that writing a Craigslist ad over-hyping their old gear is going to allow them to commit the equivalent of highway robbery, selling their cast-offs for far more than they are worth.  I hope that people aren’t falling for it, but just in case… read on, and this is a post you may want to pass on to your friends and family, too.  There is a lot of Craigslist Chutzpah out there as many items on Craigslist are listed at prices that show the seller to have no shame and no honor! (Or at the very least, no common sense, but most of the time I am going to put my chips on the no shame/ no honor!)

This post discusses people who actually have gear to sell and are trying to take unfair advantage of an uneducated buyer. Criminal scams and fraud are another story entirely and won’t be discussed here.

Read the rest of this entry »

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

: sell

Gabby, Beni and I would like to wish everyone a Thanksgiving!  Check back over the holiday season as I have many treats in store!

I have had a lot of new newspapers pick up the column lately and I am getting a bit behind on my emails as it has increased exponentially.  If you are waiting for a response will get back to you, I promise!  And now, for a post I have been wanting to write for a while… Craigslist Chutzpah, sellers without shame

Ohm Black Friday Sale is on!

mw2.jpg

Ohm MicroWalsh Short Speaker

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Long time-readers know how much I love Ohm Acoustics Walsh speakers.  You can read what I have to say about them at the links below:

http://www.soundadviceblog.com/home-theater/ohm-walsh-speakers-unique-technology-stunning-performance/

http://www.soundadviceblog.com/sound-systems/product-of-the-day-ohm-walsh-3000-speakers/

If you want to treat yourself to the best, Ohm is having a Black Friday sale this weekend, including Thanksgiving hours! I have copied the email I received and pasted it below in italics. I can think of no better way to celebrate the start of the holiday season than with some designed-and-made-in-the-USA sonic perfection, at big savings!

Questions?  Email Don

Ohm’s Black Friday SALE starts Wednesday!

We’re having our second Black Friday SALE — Starting Wednesday; so…

If you are ready to order speakers or upgrades, give me a call and we will make a deal if at all possible. We have some amazing deals.

These all use our latest Walsh technology.

I’ll be in the office Thursday 4-9PM, Friday 10-7PM and Saturday 10-7PM to take calls.

If you get no answer, please try later; I’m going to be the only one here. Everyone else is on Thanksgiving Holiday.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

John Strohbeen 1-800-783-1553 

For more information, please visit our WebSite: http://www.ohmspeakers.com

Great new $350 turntable setup from LPGear.com

 

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LP Gear.com has a new turntable package available, one I am proud to have had a hand in putting together.

The Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB is an excellent direct drive turntable with built-in phono preamp and USB connection.  It’s a great value as it ships from the manufacturer but the DJ-oriented cartridge is the weak link.  LPGear.com recognized this and for years has offered a package with the Audio-Technica AT95 cartridge and an improved platter mat to bring the performance into the realm of true hi-fi, if entry-level hi-fi.

After testing the sweet-sounding $99 Nagaoka MP-110 cartridge, now my favorite offering for $100, I suggested to LPGear that they consider creating a package combining the AT-LP120-USB with the MP-110, to take the sound quality to an even higher level than their AT95 package.  They have done just that, at only $354.95.  If you want an affordable USB turntable you won’t find more bang for your buck anywhere.  The AT-LP120-USB is a fine platform that belies its price and the MP-110 and its sweet sound will sweep you away.

AT-LP120-USB with Nagaoka MP-110 cartridge at LPGear.com

My review of the MP-110

Vinyl Records and Why You Should Have a Turntable

Questions?  Email Don

Kodak Easyshare Max: A great superzoom camera for only $220, on sale at Amazon.com

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The Kodak Easyshare Max has proven to be an excellent superzoom camera with a very impressive specification. It has a clear and sharp 30x optical zoom lens from top-tier lens manufacturer Schneider of Germany, optical image stabilization, 1080p HD video, fast shooting speed, good low light capability and a f/2.8 28mm lens at the wide end. Old-school photographers will appreciate the ability to select from various “film modes” to duplicate the look of Kodachrome (RIP), Kodacolor, Ektachrome, Tri-X B&W, and T-Max B&W Kodak films as well as sepia tones. Users report great looking images and video, along with fast focusing and quick shutter response. The MSRP is $299 and it offers great value and quality at that figure. At the current online price of $220 nothing even comes remotely close to what you get with the Easyshare Max.

On the downside is shot-to-shot times are a bit slow unless you are using continuous mode, and the panorama mode seems to be a bit hit or miss, as well. Battery life is just average with the four included rechargeable AA batteries, so a second set is advised if you are going to be taking pictures all day. Though these drawbacks may make the Easyshare Max less than perfect, in the end they don’t amount to much for most users who are simply looking for an easy-to-use camera that delivers a lot of creative potential and wonderful images for not a lot of money.

I have always been a fan of the better Kodak cameras. See what I have to say about the Kodak P880 here and here.  This recent picture of Gabby and Beni was taken with my P880 at dusk at a rest area in South Carolina.  I may buy an Easyshare Max for myself while they are this cheap!

Kodak Easyshare Max for $220 on amazon.com

Questions? Email Don

Sound Advice #14, 2011: Video connections, supreme home theater with 3D and gaming

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Q. I recently purchased the Samsung PN42C450 after reading your blog. With my PlayStation 2 hooked up, I get sound with a black-and-white picture. I am using the regular red/white/yellow cable that came with the PS2. What do I need to get a color picture?

JIM HONDLIK

A. Your TV does not have a composite connection on its own. You can connect the yellow cable to the green input and it will work but if you use red/green/blue component video cables you will get a better picture. PS2 component video cables with red/white stereo audio are available at prices ranging from $4 to $20 or more. Using this cable will give you a color image that is sharper as well.

If you can’t get a component cable for a particular video game system, you can run the video signal through your audio/video receiver if it has video upscaling. The receiver will convert the signal to a digital HDMI signal that will work with your television.

Be sure to connect the audio cables so the sound will come from your sound system’s speakers, which will sound much better than the TV’s speakers. In the case of a PlayStation 2, an optical digital audio cable can be used for both better sound quality and for Dolby Digital or DTS surround sound on some game titles.

System-building feature hiatus: Readers have responded enthusiastically to the recent system-building segment. I have had a lot of fun writing it, but after next week I am going to take a break and just do Q&A for a while.

Most of the featured systems have been very modestly priced. This week’s system is for those of you who expressed an interest in spending a bit more for something special. All told it’s still not expensive for what you get and its performance is near state of the art.

The new Panasonic TC-P55ST30 3-D plasma HDTV is available for $1,515. (EDIT: now $1199 on Amazon.com)  It uses the industry’s best technology to provide a big, beautiful 55-inch picture with 3-D as icing on the cake. The memory card slot displays pictures and plays movies from your digital camera or camcorder, also in high def. It’s an absolute knockout in every way, but especially in value.

The sound system uses Definitive Technology’s new BP-8020ST bipolar SuperTower speakers. I am enthralled with their ability to realistically portray the most dramatic action movie, as well as capture all the subtlety and nuance of chamber music. Built-in powered subwoofers mean simpler placement, big bass impact and modest receiver power requirements. The complete 5.1-channel BP-8020ST system is available for $2,199. I don’t know of a better performing home theater speaker system at the price point. Visit http://tinyurl.com/3m9cmff to see the entire system.

Onkyo’s TX-SR609 receiver sells for $499 (now $399 on Amazon.com.) It is 3D-compatible and offers ample clean power for the Definitive speakers; see www.onkyousa.com.

There are several reasons I am recommending the Sony PlayStation 3 for disc-playing duties. It is still one of the best Blu-ray players you can buy, it can stream Internet content, it is 3D capable, and it plays high-def video games.  Make sure you get the Blu-ray Remote to go with it.

It cost $4,000 to get a primitive HDTV not all that long ago. Now it gets you a big beautiful TV, spectacular sound and 3-D movies and gaming.

Questions?  Email Don

Sony NSX-32GT1 32-inch LED-LCD Internet TV only $499, reduced from $799

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Sony’s nifty 32-inch Internet TV just received a price drop to $499, almost 50% off of its original price of $799.  It’s a good LED-LCD TV in its own right, the Internet capabilities are a huge bonus!  It makes for a nice bedroom TV given the picture quality and web functionality.

If you can find one left over somewhere the 24-inch version is selling for only $299!

Sony NSX-32GT1 at Amazon.com

Questions?  Email Don

Panasonic 42-inch ST30 plasma for $699 at Best Buy this week

Yowzers! If you want a 42-inch TV do not miss this!

Panasonic TC-P42ST30 at Best Buy

iPad Accessories from Monoprice.com

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I’ve had an iPad for about a year now and though I was initially a bit skeptical about it compared to a netbook, I have become quite enamored with it and take it everywhere.  I find myself on airplanes a great deal and it is a perfect travel companion.

Most readers are familiar with monoprice.com, who I have long recommended for their extremely high quality, low cost HDMI cables (selling for as little as $1.97 each.)  I was pleased to discover they now offer accessories for the iPad and iPad 2.  I ordered a bunch and should have them soon.  After I test them I will have more to say, but for now it looks very encouraging.  I especially liked the backup batteries for as little as $17 and wall chargers for under $9.  They have some great looking cases for as little as $7.  If you have an iPad be sure to check it out.

Questions? Email Don

Excellent article on HDMI cables and why expensive ones are a waste

My friend David Radin at Just Between Friends shared this excellent article with me earlier this week. It describes in great detail why a $5 HDMI cable is just as good as a $500 one. (Yes, they have HDMI cables selling for $500, or even much more.)

Why all HDMI cables are the same(CNET)

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The $499 Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1 : The best value in interchangeable lens cameras?

 

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Olympus recently introduced three new PEN Micro Four-Thirds cameras and as might be expected, the top-of-the-line E-P3 ($899 with kit zoom lens) received the most attention. Rave reviews quickly followed, praising the E-P3′s image quality, focusing speed, and 1080i video as well as its beautiful touch screen and built-in flash. Advanced photographers will undoubtedly be drawn to the E-P3 and I am buying one myself.

Looking past the E-P3 for a minute, though, I have to wonder if the PEN Mini E-PM1 is the one that will be remembered as a worldbeater in the interchangeable lens camera market, and the model that makes the biggest splash. At only $499 list, the PEN Mini E-PM1 packs the E-P3′s good stuff… the image quality, 1080i video, and super-fast focusing… into a very compact body about the size of an iPhone, for $400 less. There is no built-in flash but a removable flash is included, and the camera works with all the PEN accessories such as the lenses (from both Olympus and Panasonic) and removable viewfinders.

Most family photographers would probably prefer the smaller camera body anyway. Olympus is known for producing pictures that are pretty much perfect right out of the camera with no tweaking necessary, making it ideal for anyone wanting professional quality results with little effort. The fast focusing (said to be on a par with very expensive professional digital SLRs used for photographing sports) makes it perfect for photographing children. It looks to be a real winner and could be one of the biggest hits of the holiday season.

The E-PM1 is shipping soon and is available in six colors. You can read more at the links below.

E-PM1 at Amazon.com

E-PM1 at Olympus website

I will have more on the E-P3 and the middle model, the $699 E-PL3, in future posts.

Questions? Email Don

Affordable Pioneer speakers- good news for those wanting quality on a budget!

Pioneer SP-FS51-LR Floorstanding Speakers

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Longtime readers probably remember The Speaker Company and the great speakers they sold at very low prices. Sadly, they are not around any more and though there are lots of high-value lines out there (such as Arx) not everyone can spend $249 per pair for bookshelf speakers or $500 or more per pair for towers. They say nature abhors a vacuum, and I have been hoping something would come along to fill the void left by The Speaker Company’s departure.  Something offering quality, good looks and good sound without breaking the bank.  You do not have to be an audiophile to want something satisfying for yourself.

The answer may be here and the company is Pioneer, the same Pioneer that is so well known for their receivers, which I have come to favor for their MCACC setup and  room equalization system.  Pioneer’s new Home Theater line features some great choices at prices anyone can afford, including the floorstanders shown above for only $199/pair.  Customer reviews have been very favorable and I have contacted Pioneer about loaning me a pair to review.  Check back soon for updates.

Questions?  Email Don

Back in the saddle and posting again

As you can tell by Beni and Gabby sulking in unison, they have not been getting as much attention as usual lately, and neither has the website!  I had some home projects to work on and  now that they are underway and I am back from summer trip #2,  I am going to start posting again at the frequency I did before so keep your eyes on the site.  I am going to have a series of giveaways starting next week, for some truly nice stuff.

I think Gabby has taught him well but she is probably telling him to work on the eyes, keep them open to stare at me and inflict maximum guilt, LOL.. enough work already, let’s play!

Panasonic 42-inch ST30 3D plasma for only $799 at Best Buy, $785 at Amazin.com

I have been singing the praises of Panasonic’s ST30 series of TVs for months now.  It was a good deal at the MSRP of $1,099, and at the typical $900 street price, an amazing bargain for such a top-performing, feature-laden TV.  You can see what I have to say about the ST30 here and here.

I stopped by Best Buy today and saw the 42-inch TC-P42ST30 on sale for $799.  WOW! Amazon is a little cheaper at $784.99 delivered.  I never thought I would see the day when so little would buy so much.  I hope the trend continues, as consumers are winning big time.

Questions?  Email Don