2006 Consumer Tech Forecast
Here are the tech toys you should buy now -- and the ones worth waiting for.
By Peter H Lewis, FORTUNE senior editor

NEW YORK (FORTUNE) - The holidays are past, the sales are on, and perhaps you're tempted to buy yourself the technology toy that Santa somehow forgot to drop down your chimney.

But wait! Even in an industry notorious for rapid change, 2006 is already shaping up as a particularly disruptive year for consumer electronics. Some of the changes will be incremental -- new phone features, lower prices for TVs, faster computers -- but others have the potential to render current products obsolete, or to make you regret buying now when replacement products are just around the corner.

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So don't buy anything until you read our 2006 Consumer Tech Forecast. We've got the in-depth information you need to understand new technology offerings -- and some down-to-earth advice about what you should be shopping for.

Microsoft Vista

It has been a long slog for Vista (aka Longhorn), Microsoft's next major version of the Windows operating system. The oft-delayed new version of Windows will appear sometime in 2006, and the software maker promises it will bring improved security, instant global search, easy integration with home entertainment systems and portable devices, and scores of other changes.

My advice is to sit out the first version, waiting for the inevitable Service Pack 1 (fixing the most egregious bugs that other, more impatient users have discovered). But that doesn't mean you have to hold off on new PC purchases until Vista is ready. Here's how to buy a computer that will stand up to Vista.

DVD recorders and players

The sun is setting on traditional red-laser DVDs as the world makes the transition to high definition movies and television. If you're going to spend the big bucks for a fancy HDTV set -- and you know you will at some point -- you're going to want a high-definition DVD player to go with it.

But a cautious consumer won't make any big purchases until the standards war is over. Here's why.

Intel inside Apple

Apple said last summer that it is switching to Intel microprocessors from the IBM and Motorola PowerPC chips that have powered the Mac for the past decade. The switch promises more speed and processing power for desktop Macs and better battery life for Macintosh portables.

But when? Apple initially said the changeover would start in the summer of 2006. But lately the rumor mill says the switch will start much sooner, perhaps with a first batch of PowerBook portables in the spring.

My advice, which Apple will not receive happily, is to put off any new Macintosh purchases at least until Steve Jobs' January 10 keynote address at the Macworld expo in San Francisco, when the timeline will be clearer. Click here for more.

Intel's Viiv and Yonah

At the same time Apple is shifting to Intel microprocessors, Intel is planning a new generation of chips and technologies designed to make notebook computers smaller and less power hungry, and home computers that will emphasize music, video, games and photos.

In portable PCs, Intel plans to replace the venerable Pentium line of chips with smaller, faster and more efficient Yonah dual-core chips.

Intel Viiv technology-based home entertainment PCs will feature Yonah dual-core processors, advanced graphics and 7.1-channel surround sound capability, along with new shapes and sizes designed to fit in with living room home theater systems.

Our advice? Before buying a laptop or home PC (especially one intended for entertainment), wait and see if the new technologies are worth waiting for. Here's what to consider.

New WiFi standards

It's time to retire 802.11b, the 10 mbps system that started the wireless data trend, and WiFi is one area where you probably don't have to wait for faster and better technology.

Although formal certification of the standard is still months away, it's increasingly safe to upgrade to wireless routers and adapters based on the draft IEEE 802.11n specifications, some experts say. Here's whyTop of page

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