The ultra last-minute gift guide

In many respects I’m an atypical American male. Football and basketball bore me to tears. Power tools leave me cold. And the workings of an internal combustion engine are no more clear to me than the broadest concepts of quantum mechanics. But in one respect, I do my best to hold up the manly escutcheon: I hate shopping. So much so, that I wait until the very last second to procure holiday gifts for my loved ones.

For those similarly averse to holiday hunting I offer this, my Ultra Last-Minute Gift Guide. Oh, I know, we’ve already presented you with the very helpful Playlist Winter Gear Guide, but the products listed within its virtual pages require that you either leave your house or visit a web-based emporium to obtain the goods. Nuh uh—shopping late on Christmas Eve is a bad idea. Brick and mortar stores ran out of the good stuff long ago and, unless I’ve missed something, Amazon and the Apple Store have yet to include a Beam It To Me Right Now instant delivery option.

No, the Ultra Last-Minute Shopper needs goods that can be obtained and transferred almost immediately. Here are my suggestions for the digital media lover in your life.

iTunes Media The iTunes Store includes an iTunes Gifts section that is incredibly handy. Here you’ll find physical iTunes Gift Cards (not so good for the UL-MS because they’re real cards that must be mailed by Apple), Printable Gift Certificates (better, as you can print them yourself and take them with you when it’s time for the family gift exchange), Email Gift Certificates (now we’re talking, you needn’t leave your chair to shop and deliver your gift), and a specific gift of music, TV shows, or movies (yep, your mother no longer has an excuse for not having a copy of Ernest Saves Christmas for the kids to watch while the grown-ups have that extra glass of holiday cheer after dinner).

iPod and iTunes Superguide At the risk of eating into sales of my own delightful iPod and iTunes Pocket Guide, I and other Macworld contributors helped to create a terrific PDF tome on the care, feeding, and maintenance of the iPod and iTunes, the $13 iPod and iTunes Superguide. Unlike my book, it’s instantly downloadable and burnable (but, please, burn just the single copy).

Free Media It’s the thought that counts, right? If so, the object of your holiday affection should care not a whit that you’ve traveled to the iTunes Store and accessed its Free on iTunes area to grab some free media, burn it to disc, and pass it along.

iPod Recovery Tools Within the pages of that aforementioned Superguide you’ll find instructions for moving music off the iPod. We excerpted and expanded the article for a recent Playlist story— Moving Music Off the iPod. In that article I list a few tools for recovering media from your favorite portable media player. Scan down to the More-Refined Methods portion of the article and you’ll see those tools listed— Senuti and iPodRip for Mac users and TuneJack and iGadget for Windows folk.

HandBrake If the iPod’s sales figures tell us anything, it’s that a lot of your friends and family are likely walking around with an iPod that can play video. If so, give them another free gift for making more of that 5G iPod— HandBrake (or the even easier-to-use Instant HandBrake). Each of these tools allows Mac users to convert commercial DVDs to a form playable on a 5G iPod. If your recipient is a Windows user, there’s a kinda/sorta version of HandBrake for them as well. This version won’t remove the copy-protection from commercial DVDs. Instead they must employ a tool such as DVDDecrypter to remove a disc’s copy protection and then convert the now-unprotected file to a form compatible with the iPod. (If ever there was a reason to get a Mac, the ease of converting DVDs might be it.)

TiVoDecodeManager Sorry Windows users, TiVoDecodeManager is for Mac users only. Why? Because you already have TiVo2Go—TiVo’s scheme for pulling content off a Series 2 TiVo digital video recorder and transferring it to your computer (and, eventually, to disc or a portable media player). TiVo has failed to deliver on its promise to deliver a Mac version of TiVo2Go by mid-2006 so some enterprising folks have taken matters into their own hands. With TiVoDecodeManager the recipient of your generosity can see the contents of their TiVo and, over a network connection, transfer shows to their Mac where they can have their way with them—burning them to disc or planting them on their 5G iPod, for example. The latest version can download TiVo files in their native MPEG-2 format or convert them to MPEG-4, saving you the step of converting them yourself for playback on an iPod with video.

Yes, like some other tools I’ve mentioned, TiVoDecodeManager is free-ish. Do as the author suggests and donate to a favorite charity in exchange for your giftable copy.

And more? Oh sure. An old colorful sock can be trimmed to create a custom “sleeve” for a friend’s iPod. A gaily decorated Altoids tin can serve as an even more robust case. A collection of Shoutcast playlists may be welcome by those who need more streamable music than iTunes’ Radio selections provide.

With the will, some creative thought, and, most importantly, a desperate need, the last-minute holiday shopper can turn just about anything into a useful (if somewhat penurious) gift. Best of luck and happy holidays!

This story, "The ultra last-minute gift guide" was originally published by PCWorld.

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