Cool Stuff: Your 2006 Holiday Gift Guide

All the best technology gifts to give (and get) this holiday season

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Family Fun

Who says video games have to be all about pointless violence? Try these hot games and gaming systems that the whole family will enjoy.

Console gaming system: Nintendo Wii

With Microsoft and Sony attempting to outmuscle each other -- and consumers' pocketbooks -- with over-the-top (and admittedly drool-worthy) system specs in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 game consoles, it would be easy to overlook Nintendo's brand-new Wii next-gen gaming system this holiday season. That would be a mistake.

The Nintendo Wii ($249) is a decidedly unconventional gaming system. Instead of high-powered 3-D graphics and over-the-top processing power, Nintendo is focusing on the gaming experience. To wit, the Wii features a novel, immersive control scheme. If, for example, you're playing a tennis game, you don't press buttons or flip a joystick to swing the racket -- you actually swing the controller itself. The result is a gaming system the whole family will want to play. (product details)

The Wii's controller is like no other in video-game history. Courtesy of Nintendo.
The Wii's controller is like no other in video-game history. Courtesy of Nintendo. (Click image to see larger view)

Honorable mention: If you're looking for a more traditional, hard-core gaming experience, we recommend Microsoft's Xbox 360 ($400). It has a much bigger library of games and excellent online services. And with limited numbers of Sony PSP units available, it's not like you're going to get your hands on a PS3 anyway. (product details)

—George Jones

Console game: Guitar Hero II

If you missed the first Guitar Hero, you missed the gaming phenomenon of the year. The premise is simple: You plug the bundled 1/3-scale plastic guitar into your Sony PlayStation 2 and rock out to your favorite classic rock songs.

The Guitar Hero controller: a 1/3-size guitar. Courtesy of Red Octane.
The Guitar Hero controller: a 1/3-size guitar. Courtesy of Red Octane. (Click image to see larger view)

As in the original game, Guitar Hero II lets you hook up a second guitar controller to the game, but in the current version, one player can play lead guitar while another plays the bass. This year's game ($73 to $80) includes all-new songs, and they come from more genres than classic rock -- this year's selection ranges from Skynrd to the Police to Nirvana. Rock on! (product details)

—George Jones

PC games for the whole family

Want to know which computer games offer the most family-friendly fun this year? Here's a handful of games that appeal to a variety of tastes and offer hours of fascinating gameplay.

Sid Meier's Railroads: Call us old-fashioned, but there's something about developing and maintaining a working rail company that makes us extremely happy. Thankfully, Railroads ($35 to $40) allows us to do just that. This is one of the sleeper hits of the year. (product details)

Space Empires V: This is one of those underground strategy games that you can play for years. The premise is simple: Over a number of turns you expand your empire from a single planet to a galactic empire. Develop new technologies, engage the AI in diplomacy and try to rule the universe ($40). (product details)

Flight Simulator X: Microsoft's latest incarnation of Flight Simulator ($40 to $47) is visually astonishing. If you're into flying planes sans bullets and missiles, this is a great bet. (product details)

Flight Simulator X offers realistic flying with gorgeous visuals. Courtesy of Microsoft.

Flight Simulator X offers realistic flying with gorgeous visuals.

Courtesy of Microsoft.

Sid Meier's Civilization IV: An ultra-addictive strategic blend of empire- and world-building, Civ IV ($45 to $50) isn't just one of the best games of the year; it's one of the best games of all time. If you like your gaming to entail deep strategic thinking, this is for you. And if you already have Civ IV, make sure to check out the recently released Warlords add-on. (product details)

—George Jones

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