Tech the Halls

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It's the most joyous time of the year. Again. A time for sleigh bells, Christmas carols, and timeless traditions. It's also a time for technology to put a modern spin on those traditions. You may be the type that doesn't like tampering with tradition while you spend hours crafting bells out of Dixie cups, so to you, we say, 'Humbug!' And to make our point , here are five technologies makes the holidays shine brighter.

(Image: rypson/iStock/Getty Images)

The Mistletoe Drone

We had predicted that the first introduction of 'Drone Meets Christmas' would be an Amazon delivery drone dropping gifts on our doorstep. Not so. It's the Mistletoe Drone, a remote-controlled hovering ball of 'I'm gonna get me some' introduced this year by the folks at Hammacher Schlemmer.

"This invention of ours will be the hit of any holiday party," said the company's General Manager Fred Berns. "You can easily hover it over couples or the person from whom you'd like to steal a holiday kiss."

The Mistletoe Drone makes love, not war.
The Mistletoe Drone makes love, not war. (Image: Hammacher Schlemmer)

The Mistletoe Drone is a potential godsend if you're a poor, besotted schlub who can't maneuver the object of your affection beneath that traditionally immobile mistletoe for that all-important first kiss, leading said object to realize that all this time he or she was in love with you. This time the mistletoe is mobile and at your command.

The only downside we see is the remote is quite large, making it hard to move the Mistletoe Drone surreptitiously. If your special someone doesn't want to be kissed, they have plenty of warning you're coming. Perhaps Mistletoe Drone 2.0 will be controlled by a smartwatch. Then with a whisper of 'Target sighted. Move into position,' your drone will appear as if by magic above your potential paramour's head.

Hammacher Schlemmer's drone is an excellent first effort, however, and the company has accomplished an important first step by making the quadcopter safe. The rotors are housed within a spherical cage of mistletoe leaves and berries so people can smooch without fear of being cut to ribbons. (You know, like the time that happened at a TGI Friday's last year where a woman lost a piece of her nose from a homemade mistletoe drone that looked like a flying cutlery set.)

The Mistletoe drone is available from Hammacher Schlemmer for $69.95. It operates on a rechargeable battery, and a 30-minute charge gives it up to five minutes of flying time. The remote requires six AA batteries.

LUMENPLAY

Lumenplay's light strings may look like classic C9 bulbs, but in fact, they are RGB LEDs which can be programmed to display millions of colors. It's the perfect Christmas gift for those who crave change. Constant change. Lumenplay lights are also a hit with kids, who can't resist playing with different light combinations. And the lights aren't limited to trees -- they are fine for outdoor use so you can decorate your house with them as well. Mess with your neighbors: Leave a ladder out so they think you're constantly changing the lights.

The lights are remote controlled via any Bluetooth 4.0 compatible iOS or Android device and can be controlled from as far as 60 feet away. For security minded Christmas decorators, it's possible to use a password to prevent neighbors from hijacking your decorations. We suggest you take advantage of this feature. After you've fooled your neighbor into thinking you put up new lights every day, thus forcing him to up his game, he's going to want revenge when he learns the truth. Remember: even on Christmas only the paranoid survive.

Change Christmas tree light colors endlessly via remote.
Change Christmas tree light colors endlessly via remote. (Image: Lumenplay)

Lumenplay can be programmed to dance to any music of your choice. You also have an impressive degree of control over your light show, with the ability to choose effects, speed and brightness.

To get started with Lumenplay, you need to buy a starter set which retails for $79.99. The set comes with a controller, (which communicates with your Bluetooth device) and 12 LED lights. You can add up to 500 lights to a single controller and Lumenplay sells extender kits of 24 lights each for about $55.00.

VIRTUAL CHRISTMAS LIGHTS

Virtual Christmas lights have been with us for a few years and they keep getting better. Imagine a gadget that projects lasers onto your home, lawn, bushes and trees -- or wherever you happen to want a dazzling display of thousands of points of light. Not only do they look awesomely cool, but they are supremely easy to set up. Say goodbye to hours of clipping lights to your home's shingles. Now you just need to flip a switch.

BlissLights, which has surprisingly been blasting the holidays with laser beams since 2006, has introduced two new projectors this year: Motion and Color. Motion includes a remote (so you can control the motion of the lights) as well as a built-in timer. The Color projector introduces RGB LED lights to the mix. Older BlissLights' projectors only used lasers, which came in one of four basic colors. Now you now have 16 colors to choose from in addition to one of the four laser colors. BlissLights gives you enough control that you can use the laser alone, just the LED, or both. The laser covers an area of 50' x 50' while the LED coverage is 15' x 15'. BlissLights' projectors retail for about $140.

Bliss Lights now offers remotes and LEDs.
Bliss Lights now offers remotes and LEDs. (Image: Bliss Lights)

Another option for those looking to shoot holiday lasers is Laser Christmas Lights. Its projectors are featured at Six Flags Theme Parks. If you scoffed at BlissLight's coverage area, then pay attention. Laser Christmas Lights offers high-output laser diodes in as many as three colors, letting you project your thousand points of light in red, green and blue at the same time. Their lasers cover 2,500-square feet and are impressively dense.

Laser Christmas Lights offers dense coverage.
Laser Christmas Lights offers dense coverage. (Image: Laser Christmas Lights)

Other companies offer virtual Christmas lights. as well, making us wonder if all defense contractors working on missile defense decided to branch out into holiday light sets. You can pick up an Elf Light Laser for $129.00 from Brookstone or Virtual Christmas Lights from Hammacher Schlemmer for $199.95.

One note of caution about virtual Christmas lights: You get what you pay for, and inexpensive options, which hover around $30.00, use low-output lasers. There's no point in disappointing yourself this holiday season. That's what the ugly sweaters are for.

SEQUENCING

What follows is not for the faint of heart. Indeed, some of you will seek refuge in the previous section on virtual Christmas lights, never to return. For sequencing is the Holy Grail of Christmas technology, in which choreographed lights dance in sync to sounds and music. You've seen the videos that make the rounds each holiday season. These are the work of average Joes who have become illumination wizards. You, too, can become a Christmas light Jedi master. (If you are unmoved by the light sabers at minute 1:25, then you have truly gone to the dark side.)

There are a number of technologies that go into sequencing, including channel light controllers, sequencing software, pixel editors, tri-quantum flux modulators, and specialized adapters. (We made up one of those. Can you guess which one?) The website PlanetChristmas says that, "For years it’s been the wild west with the pioneers of over-the-top decorators and computer based shows but times are changing."

Light-O-Rama offers great support for novices.
Light-O-Rama offers great support for novices. (Image: Light-O-Rama)

Light-O-Rama is leading the charge to streamline and standardize the technology. They've helped 1,000s around the world to master sequencing. The company offers everything you need to get started and much more for the advanced practitioner. Most importantly, Light-O-Rama understands that the technology is daunting and offers plenty of support. The company has even put together an AC Lighting Starter Package for the uninitiated. It retails for $387.80.

If your goal is to make people stop and gape at your home this Christmas, then sequencing is for you.

TECH-O-RATIONS

Don't just decorate -- tech-o-rate. (We'll show ourselves out.) Whether it's decorating your tree, stuffing your stockings, or festooning your house, show off your geeky side with justifiable pride. The folks at ThinkGeek are sure to get you off to a good start with their tech-inspired decorations. We're particularly taken with their 8-bit LED holiday wreath, which looks like it fell out of a video game and into the real world. It's made of EVA foam and bedecked with blinking gold coins, a Super Famicom style video game controller, and a Galaga fighter, among other recognizable old-school video game icons.

The 8-bit LED holiday wreath looks like it fell out of a PC.
The 8-bit LED holiday wreath looks like it fell out of a PC. (Image: ThinkGeek)

And what could be better than a Darth Vader Stocking Holder? We'll tell you what: A Darth Vader Stocking Holder from which hangs an R2-D2 Stocking that blurps and bleeps. There are also tree ornaments galore -- from a Doctor Who's Tardis to the Serenity ship from the Firefly series (we still haven't recovered from that show's cancellation). We also enjoyed ThinkGeek's holiday take on phone charging with its iPhone Merry Charger -- a string of LED lights leading to an 8-pin lightning connector. That one is sure to turn heads at the office, Starbucks, and among family and friends.

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