For a kid weaned on Star Trek and Lost in Space, it was like snagging a seat on the Starship Enterprise.
Fumbling with the knob to my brand-new game of Pong, I was the envy of my mid-'70s neighborhood, mesmerized by the promise of firing up a game just like the stuff you could play in an arcade. So what if it looked mostly like two electronic rectangles kicking a cotton ball back and forth; I was playing a video game IN MY HOUSE.
To this day, that is one of my coolest Christmas memories. So believe me when I tell you, there is no better gift for the serious couch potato than a hip, TV-related piece of technology.
The toys have gotten more complicated, but the feeling hasn't. And there are more options out there than ever to make your small-screen addict feel like the biggest man (or woman) on the digital mountain.
Here, then, is this humble media critic's list of the Top TV-Related Gifts for Xmas 2010.
Xbox 360 with Kinect
List price: $149.99 for Kinect camera, $199 for Xbox console
You've seen the ads with little kids jumping around their living room to make animated tigers bounce on TV. The Kinect device is indeed that awesome, allowing body motions and voice commands to control some Xbox video games. Drawbacks are what you'd expect: You need lots of space, some games are slow to recognize movements, and the camera costs almost as much as the console itself. But watch five minutes of Robert Downey Jr. tossing around computer graphics by hand in the latest Iron Man movie and think how boss it would be to try that for real. On a box that also streams Netflix and Pandora? 'Nuff said.
Panasonic Viera 50-inch plasma 3-D TV List price: $2,500
I have the 42-inch 2-D Viera, and high-definition images are so crisp you can count the threads on James Bond's designer lapels. So imagine a screen almost 10 inches bigger and in 3-D. Yeah, there's not much programming yet, and you have to watch it wearing glasses thick enough to choke Elvis Costello. But see one football game in 3-D and even the sharpest HD picture will feel like AM radio in an FM world.
Price: $7.99 a month for streaming video, $9.99 a month for by-mail DVD rental and streaming
The only thing more convenient than keeping rental DVDs as long as you want is an online streaming service allowing you to call the stuff up on your television whenever you like. Not all of Netflix's material is available via streaming, and its new releases are often weeks behind the official DVD drop dates. But everything from Apple TV and Google TV to Wii gaming consoles, laptops and iPhones can display the video, making for an awfully convenient option when Kardashian marathons and CSI reruns clog traditional TV channels.
Logitech Harmony One Universal Remote List price: $250
Don't choke on the price (it can be had online and in some electronics stores for much less). This Logitech remote can be programmed to control 15 different devices, allowing you to program sequences for different activities (choose "watch TV," for example, and it will power up your TV, call up the right input, turn on your home theater receiver and start your cable/satellite box in whatever order you choose). There's also a backlit touch screen display for use in the dark. The only way this could be cooler is if it grabbed a beer for you during the commercials; and I hear there's an upgrade coming.
TiVo or TiNO
Intervention, returns for 10th cycle at 9 p.m. Monday, A&E: There may no more cynical exchange than a TV show that trades treatment of serious addictions for intimate camera access to the addict's worst habits and his or her family's desperate pleas for help. So why is A&E's series about that moment when friends and family push a user into getting care so, well, addictive? Let's say it's a combo of the voyeuristic thrill from seeing an addict in action, the rush of seeing a screwup redeemed and the Wilford Brimley-style frankness of gruffly mustachioed interventionist Jeff VanVonderen. A guilty TiVo for me, please.