SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Cheaper-than-ever handheld computers and a bounty of DVD players lead this year's parade of gadgets as major retailers stock up for the holiday season.
Consumer electronics sales expectations are modest, however, as economists predict more cautious spending than last year.
Major retailers such as Circuit City, Best Buy and CompUSA will again brim with tech toys but there's little buzz about any so-called "killer apps" that would inspire gadgethounds to spend significant sums.
The hottest item seems to be the DVD player, which also reigned last year. This season, they cost about $150 on average, and models can be found for as little as $79.
The number of movies available on DVD has doubled to nearly 20,000 titles since last year, which is driving demand for the players, said Sean Wargo, a senior industry analyst for the Consumer Electronics Association.
"If last year we were thinking it was the year of the DVD, this year it looks like even more the year of the DVD," Wargo said.
Sleek flat-screen computer monitors and scores of new, cheaper handheld computers and combination radio/MP3 players also will fill store shelves.
But analysts expect little demand for big ticket items such as large-screen televisions and stereo systems.
Merrill Lynch recently reduced its earnings estimates on Best Buy, and said consumer electronics retailers in general would be hard hit as fears about the economy make people less willing to spend on luxury items.
The past several months have seen a drop in demand at electronics retailers Best Buy, Tweeter and Radio Shack, a Merrill Lynch survey found.
Even frugal shoppers appear less inclined to spend more than they did last year. A survey of holiday shopping patterns found 31 percent of consumers saying they would spend less this year while just 19 percent would spend more.
The Consumer Electronics Association survey also showed that DVD players, for the third year in a row, top the list of video products shoppers expect to purchase.
Digital cameras and color TVs were the next most desirable gifts in the video category.
Sony is trying to get more people to migrate from film to digital cameras. The price per megapixel (remember: more megapixels, more image clarity) has dropped steadily as the popularity of these units has increased.
The company has two new Cyber-shot U models for the holidays, the DSC-U10 ($200, 1.3 megapixels) and DSC-U20 ($270, 2.0 megapixels).
DVD players and digital cameras are on the mind of Kari Rosenberg, 22, a graphic design major at Ohio University.
"Top of the list is a DVD player," said Rosenberg, who plans to march her parents into a store to be sure she gets what she wants.
Alma Romero, a San Francisco banker, plans to survey reviews on the Consumer Reports Web site before deciding on a bookshelf stereo system.
Her fiance, meanwhile, has his eye on a GPS receiver but has avoided the purchase so far because of the price. "I think he personally probably wouldn't spend the money, but I would," Romero said.
Other items that might interest holiday electronics shoppers:
-- Palm Inc. has introduced a new handheld, the Zire, at a consumer-friendly $99.
-- Kensington will introduce the Pocket Mouse Pro Wireless in late November. Instead of a USB cord for connectivity, this mouse has a small wireless USB node.
-- Gadgets from Sharper Image Corp. will show up in Circuit City stores, adding some variety to the current product stable at the electronics retailer.
-- In recent years, digital video enthusiasts have equipped themselves with good, affordable hardware. Low-priced FireWire cards -- high-speed data transfer components for desktop computers -- help them pump digital video footage directly to their hard drives.
Now, the software industry is catching up with this digital demand and plenty of good video-editing software packages are available for under $100.
Pinnacle Systems offers Expression ($49) as its entry-level digital video editing software. It gives novice users easy-to-understand tools to transfer digital video footage to CDs and DVDs.
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