It's time for my regular Web chat -- surf in at 2 p.m. ET today or submit a question early. I'll be talking about Windows Media Player 10, the subject of my review on Sunday, along with any other topics on your mind. (One suggestion: What happened to cause me to give halfway-positive reviews to multiple Microsoft products in a row? My reputation is in shreds.)
In the meantime, I'll keep this e-letter short, limiting it to a couple of observations about the digital-TV package we ran two Sundays ago and a review that I haven't had space to run in print.
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When I wrote that digital television is a confusing topic, I'm not sure I realized how confusing it was. During my Web chat last Monday, I was peppered with questions that I thought had obvious answers, such as, "Will my old TV set stop working when they shut off the analog signal in 2006 or whenever?"
The answer to that one is "no." You'll be able to plug in a digital tuner of one sort or another and watch TV with the same quality and resolution as now. It won't be high-definition, though. That would require a new set.
I think the basic problem with digital television is that so many of the big decisions -- from what standards would constitute "high definition" to when analog broadcasts might be shut off to what sort of copy restrictions may be built into future digital sets -- have been settled with little input from actual viewers. We all just found out about these things after the decisions were made and are still trying to figure out what they mean.
On the other hand, a lot of people who wrote into my Web chat testified to the quality of their over-the-air HDTV reception. One wrote: "I have a steady diet of 12-15 HD channels from Baltimore and Washington. How could I have possibly gone wrong with this purchase? Is this Nirvana going to last, or is there some tech leap around the corner that will fill me with buyer's remorse?"
If digital TV can bring even some of us back to the days of watching TV without paying a monthly bill, I will be very happy.
Taking the Web on the Go
I spent several weeks over this summer trying out Verizon Wireless's SuperPages 2.0 application, a downloadable phone book program you can rent on newer Verizon cell phones. At first, this can seem like a silly idea: You can already get phone listings from a phone! By dialing 411! And talking to a real human!
Ah, but that will cost you per call, while SuperPages costs $2.49 a month or $1.25 a day and offers a bit more than phone numbers and addresses. (A simpler version, with fewer options, is available for older Verizon phones.)
One annoying SuperPages feature is the initial search screen, which instructed me to type "the first three letters" of a business's name -- instead of "at least the first three letters." That language led me to waste time scrolling through immensely long lists of names, when typing more letters would have saved me far more time. (The screen that invited me to type in a city's name was much clearer in this regard.)