Arriba and Feliz Navidad, Gringos! Your economy is screwed!
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

Arriba and Feliz Navidad, Gringos! Your economy is screwed! Now go buy some expensive toys, America!

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Ah yes, the annual holiday PEPCOM party at the Metropolitan Pavilion. It was truly a surreal experience attending the popular and press-only consumer electronics and technology event this year, considering the stock market and our economy crashed only a day before and most people who would even consider buying these things will probably give it a second thought this Christmas, likely preferring to stuff their pillows instead of their stockings instead.

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As usual, the place was chock full of gadgets and doo-dads from every consumer electronics vendor you can imagine, as well as from some companies you probably haven't heard of and are sitting under the radar. My ZDNET colleague Andrew Nusca at The Toybox shot all the gratuitous gadget porn you'd ever want, so if you want to check that stuff out, head on over to his blog.

I decided to follow the road less traveled this year and try to pick out products that weren't just "me too" and "I've seen this crap before" which this event was absolutely full of. Sure, I have some crazy expensive stuff in the mix, but a man can dream.

Let's get the wacky-crazy expensive stuff out of the way first. Being a total camera nut, I couldn't pass up at least holding Canon's EOS 50D in my sweaty palms. The flagship of Canon's DSLR line, it features a 15 megapixel CMOS with a maximum ISO rating of 12,800 and a built-in HDMI connector for direct output to a HDTV. The price? $1399 for just the body. I'm gonna have a lot of 'splainin to do to the wife if I intend to replace my Rebel XSi with one of these next year.

Being blind as a bat at night, the FLIR automotive and marine night vision system is something I could totally see installing in my car, especially since I've always wanted to zoom down the highway at 120mph with my headlights off, like in Knight Rider. Right now, the product is available as $2700 option in select Mercedes-Benz cars or can be installed aftermarket for about $3500. Ka-ching!

Getting more down to earth, and much more in everyone's price range is NAVIGON's 7200T GPS navigation system. The 4.3" widescreen LCD unit features a 600mhz processor, voice turn-by-turn prompting and 3D real time navigation view which includes buildings and other visual points of reference. At around $449 the unit competes very aggressively with much more expensive models from Garmin and Magellan, the established leaders in the market. The Navigon is no slouch on features, and it has the same NAVTECH database the bigger companies use. I'm hoping to get a test unit in to see how it compares with my trusty Garmin 750 that I bought for over $700 last holiday season.

Thermal management is a necessity for modern PCs, but most people don't give it a second thought when it comes to consumer electronics equipment. They really should, considering that an XBOX 360 or a PS3 can be a considerable investment. While you would think that manufacturers like Microsoft and SONY would adequately protect their devices against overheating, the simple matter is that set tops tend to be abused much more than PCs do (with some people using them for hours and hours on end) and most consumer electronics equipment failure comes about as a result of bad ventilation which will cause these devices to literally cook themselves. Fortunately, the guys at NYKO have you covered. Their Intercoolers are fully integrated thermal management devices for your XBOX 360 or PS3, and will only set you back about $25.

The holiday season is a time when families frequently take pictures of their loved ones. These days, we all have digital cameras, but what do you do about all your old 35mm negatives, slides, and prints? How do you get them into digital format, or even repair them if the images become scratched, faded or discolored with time? The people over at ScanCafe will take your prints, negatives and slides and scan them by hand using their expert photo restoration experts, and bring them back to their original beauty. They charge an average of 24 cents per image, and you only pay for the scans you want.

After taking all those great holiday digital pictures, it would be an absolute disaster if the hard drive you stored them on crashed and you lost every one of them. While the average citizen can't afford enterprise-class online backup services like Iron MountainCuckuprovides a free software package that allows you to perform "peer" backup over the existing Skype network. Simply install the client on two different PC's -- which can be anywhere over a local LAN or on the Internet, and select the backup directories. Cucku does the rest. The software is written in Microsoft's .NET 2.0 framework so at the moment, it's Windows-only, but with Mono, its possible they could build this on Linux and Mac as well. I'd love to see this thing be able to utilize free storage space on my Internet-connected HD DVR units too.

What kind of value do you place on keeping your personal or your customer's sensitive data safe from wandering eyes in public locations such as airport lounges, Starbucks or even from snoopy co-workers? At work, I use a 3M Privacy Filter on my laptop, and it's the best $45 I have ever spent. You can now have the same protection on your mobile device such as iPhones and BlackBerries.  The handheld-sized filters are expected to sell for about $10.  That's a stocking stuffer that I think everyone should be buying this Christmas.

Here's a product that some people might regard as a bit ridiculous, but one that I think who's time has come -- the  Cat Genie. I can't tell you how many of my friends have stinky, disgusting cat poop and cat piss reeking bathrooms in their perfectly nice houses and apartments. They either don't clean the litter that often, or that the smell has just permeated everything. For $350 you can totally solve this problem. The Cat Genie is a self-cleaning, water washed toilet that uses gravel instead of cat litter, and flushes the nasty waste product through your existing toilet or your laundry/utility room water pipe.

Got any plans to spend big bucks on consumer electronics toys this holiday season, or are you taking all that moolah and putting it in a FDIC-insured financial institution instead? Talk back and let me know.

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