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Consumer Electronics Show

Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Monday, January 10, 2005; 2:00 PM

Fast Forward's Rob Pegoraro was online to discuss his experiences at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Want to know what upcoming topics are being covered? Sign up for Fast Forward e-letter -- get updated information on personal technology news and product demos. Read past editions of Rob's e-letter online here.

Rob Pegoraro (The Post)

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A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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washingtonpost.com: Rob Pegoraro talked about his experiences at CES in his Fast Forward column yesterday: "Waiting for a TV Technology to Inherit the Future."

More of his CES observations can be read in the Gadget Gab blog, Rob's weekly personal tech e-letter, and this Reporter's Notebook file.

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washingtonpost.com: Rob Pegoraro is running a few minutes late. He's out in California for the Macworld Expo. He says, "Tell everyone I'm stuck in traffic in California, they'll understand."

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Rob Pegoraro: Good afternoon--er, morning. Just sat down in a coffee shop in Palo Alto... took me a few minutes longer than I'd thought to find parking and get this ^$%#@!! laptop online. Let's get rolling here.

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Springfield, Va.: Was there any news at the show regarding the new DVD formats (blu-ray, etc) and compatibility issues with existing DVD players? In short, is everyone going to have to buy new players in a year or so when these formats are out?

Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: Check out Rob's related posting in the Gadget Gab blog.

Rob Pegoraro: Excellent question. My answer is "No," because I don't think there will be any compelling reason to upgrade to either of these two would-be standards--why place such an expensive bet?

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Mac Fan in Bowie: Rob, with the Macworld Expo in SF going on, what do you think will come out of the show this week? I'm kind of excited about the reported headless iMac and new iPod Flash minis coming out. If there is a headless iMac, what will this do for the eMac? Or, is this a replacement for it.

Rob Pegoraro: Macworld, BTW, is why I'm logging on from the Bay Area (I'm touring an Intel chip-making facility in a couple of hours). I've seen all the rumors of a headless Mac as well (that is, a $500 small-form-factor Mac sold without a monitor), and I think they make sense. I'm also seeing many suggestions that Apple will finally update AppleWorks, as well as those reports about a flash-memory based iPod (which would be cheaper than the mini but hold less music, and which, for what it's worth, Steve Jobs has said is something that Apple's not interested in)

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Rob Pegoraro: I'm back. Once again, Windows decided to drop a wireless connection 10 minutes in--it's been happening for the last two days. (If anybody has advice on how to fix this, please post it here :) Fortunately, the Linux half of this machine is functioning fine, so let's get back to these questions

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Silver Spring, Md.: I shelled out $2500 for a 65 inch rear projection TV in 2003, and love it, but am amazed that my friends' recently-bought LCD displays albeit on much smaller screens. Was I too hasty in making my purchase?

Rob Pegoraro: Do you enjoy the TV now? Have you enjoyed it since buying it? It's hard to say you "bought too soon" if buying this, say, allowed you to enjoy last year's World Series that much more.

That said, for a while buying any big-screen TV will be like buying a computer in the mid- to late 1990s. There will *never* be a right time to buy, in that prices will keep dropping for some time to come. If you wait, you will be rewarded, but if your TV dies or you simply have to have a big screen for the Super Bowl, not much you can do.

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Reston, Va.: It's about time Bluetooth finally started to show its value through implementation in new product. However, did it appear to you that these "points of light" were designed to interoperate? That is, if I have headset A will it necessarily work with MP3 player B or Phone C? Eventually I would hope we could buy Bluetooth enabled devices, plug them in within range of one another and have them all "just work". Will we get there?

Rob Pegoraro: That's been the idea with Bluetooth from the get-go. But implementation of it has been pretty miserable so far. I'm still getting the occasional e-mail from people who read my review of the Palm Tungsten T5 and want to know how I got it to pair with a Moto V710 cell phone. Unfortunately, I can't quite tell them--both devices are long gone, and I don't exactly remember how I did it in the first place :(

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Lopez Island, Wa.: If use my HDTV monitor only for watching DVDs and programs I get via satellite, do I need a monitor with a built in tuner? Do I need a tuner at all?

Rob Pegoraro: Only if you don't need to watch local stations in HD. You'd use your satellite receiver to pull in all other programs, then plug the DVD player into one of the other inputs. *BUT* you then wouldn't be able to watch local channels in HD, not until DirecTV and Dish Network complete the system upgrades that will yield the extra bandwidth needed for that.

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Washington, D.C.: What's the coolest thing you've seen out at MacWorld this year?

Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Nothing as yet, besides a mercifully short line (i.e., zero people) to wait to pick up my badge this a.m. Show starts tomorrow at 9 with Steve Jobs' keynote.

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Portland, Oregon: Any memorable NEW consumer health gadgets that you can wear continuously or intermittently to monitor your heartbeat or vital signs? ('Don't know how popular or pervasive healthcare products are at this show).

APD

Rob Pegoraro: I didn't cover that category in any great detail--sorry. But I did see heart rate monitors built into some other devices, like (if I recall correctly) one of those clunky Microsoft data watches.

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Webster, N.Y.: Rob:

Can you shed some insight on the products from Orb Networks, the Slingshot thing that allows TV to PC viewing, 3G video, and WiFi phones that'll work with Vonage. Also, the video products that will display 6 screens on one. And how 'bout TiVo, will they survive?

The news that Comcast is going to roll out digital phone service isn't surprising, but are people dumb enough to go for a service that costs $15 more a month as opposed to something like Vonage? I am a Time Warner customer and laugh at the commercials I see for their digital phone service. It includes the words "save hundreds of dollars on your home phone bill....." Yes, if people went to something like Vonage or AT&T and stayed away from these cable pigs!;

It seems that this thing, CES, being held so soon after Christmas kinds of shafts the people who bought some gadgets during the shopping season.

Rob Pegoraro: The Sling Media device essentially acts as a *really* long video/audio cable--it will relay a video stream to any computer you designate. For most people, I don't think it's enormously relevant; it seems too complicated and doesn't, y'know, fill a void in my entertainment existence that I can think of. (But I don't watch that much TV in the first place.)

TiVo: They're going to be in a world of hurt if they can't get their boxes sold at a subsidized rate by more video carriers. All the features they can throw in won't do much to make up for the fact that Comcast or Cox or Dish will give you a decent DVR for free, then charge only $5 a month extra for it instead of $13. "Good enough" is a *powerful* motivation in this business.

The timing of CES may not seem great for consumers, but the vast bulk of the stuff on display there won't be on sale for months and months. My main complaint with the timing is that I'd like more downtime after the holidays before I start jumping on planes!

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Washington, DC: What is the future of combining into one unit a home stereo; wireless speakers, headphones and remote; streaming as well as broadcast radio and music from a hard-drive which is uploaded from CDs and downloaded from the Internet?

I suspect that hardest part of that is the market survey.

Rob Pegoraro: Nah, the hardest part is deciding what to put into this universal receiver thingy. What about: DVD recorder, digital video recorder, satellite-radio tuner, HD Radio (digital AM/FM) tuner, SACD or DVD-Audio capability, or even Blu-Ray or HD DVD support?

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Yorktown: Is there any work around when using Hotmail in Firefox to allow you to open links within emails as new tabs instead of opening a new browser? Hotmail seems to have changed the links from being able to be opened as a new tab to now setup as a javascript. Or is this just Microsoft being Microsoft and making a competitors product seem less user friendly?

Rob Pegoraro: Don't know--but this might be a decent question for Help File :) Anybody w/ insights into how Hotmail works and how to work around it?

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Washington, D.C.: hi Rob - hope you're having fun in Vegas.

I've been using a Samsung LCD TV which can do HDTV - but it's starting to go "dark" on the upper half of the screen. Been using it to display a computer screen for extended periods of time....

any thoughts - is this normal? should I return it to the manufacturer?

Tom

Rob Pegoraro: No, no piece of hardware that expensive should be breaking down anytime soon. Is it going dark, or is it changing color? Either way, yes, I would definitely call Samsung.

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Dallas, Texas: How far away is the day that a user will carry a cell phone that works users a WI FI hotspot on one call and then the traditional cell networks...CDMA...GSM...when the WI FI access is not available?

Secondly, VoIP is having...and will continue to have...an ever increasing impact on traditional telephony. Will WiFi wireless phones have the same degree of impact on the cellular carriers business?

Rob Pegoraro: There was a cell phone capable of just that on display--I didn't get to see it, but I think Yuki mentioned it in the blog.

I don't see VoIP being any real threat to wireless carriers anytime soon. When you can't find a WiFi connection, your only source of wireless connectivity will be... yes, your wireless carrier. (Also, given the rotten luck I have had with WiFi this week, I'm personally uninterested in entrusting all my voice communications to it just yet.)

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Washington, D.C.: Any new changes for the iPod?

Rob Pegoraro: According to the usual rumor sites, we'll see a bigger hard drive in the iPod mini--5 GB instead of 4. Also, a flash-memory based player, maybe 512 megs or a gig, that will sell for less than the mini.

Gotta warn you, though, that a lot of Macworld predictions don't pan out. Apple is fairly obsessed with keeping things secret until Steve Jobs makes a "there's one more thing" announcement at the tail end of a Macworld keynote.

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Alexandria, Va.: Has Bluetooth reached maturity? I've heard about a lot of new implementations that make it sound like it has found its stride.

Rob Pegoraro: It's usable, but it's not available on too many devices. One truly awful example: the new phone LG will make for Verizon, which supports its Broadband Access EV-DO service. That's the perfect case for building in Bluetooth, so you can use the phone as an external modem with any Bluetooth-equipped laptop. Instead, you'll have to fish out a cable, because some twit at LG or Verizon didn't think to include Bluetooth.

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San Francisco: Curious about your thoughts on whether or not Tivo is going to make it. I loved my Tivo, but I had to drop it when I switched to HDTV. The evil cable company offered me a DVR with two tuners that could handle HDTV -- for only a few bucks a months. Sorry Tivo, but I took it, and even though the cable DVR a more clumsy and less elegant than the beloved Tivo, it works, and being able to record two HD shows at once, with no big cash outlay, is just a no-brainer. I understand that Tivo won't have a non-satellite HD box until 2006. How did they get into this situation? Did the cable companies refuse to deal with them?

Rob Pegoraro: Could be that factor, yes. Many cable companies seem to want to control their entire customer experience--letting TiVo in would disrupt that. (Look at how many cable operators let you use another ISP over their cable-modem broadband: none around D.C., and I bet none around the Bay Area.)

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Washington, D.C.: Would you have any suggestions about purchasing an indoor HDTV broadcast antenna for a location just north of downtown DC, prone to ghosting, transmission interference and helicopter over flights. I have a Harmon Karden (sp) amplified UHF/VHF antenna and a useless Terk one with removable F shaped aluminum pointer arm.

Thanks for any suggestions.

Rob Pegoraro: When we did our testing of HD reception, we found that pretty much any old antenna would work fine--you don't necessarily need a new, HD-specific antenna. In a worst-case scenario, you'd need a roof antenna, but where you're at that should not be required.

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New York: Is there a place to watch things like Gates' speech over the web? Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: You can see the Gates speech here. The CES official Web site -- cesweb.org -- has more, as well as washingtonpost.com's Gadget Gab blog.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks. It is worth watching--having Conan O'Brien interview Bill Gates was a great idea. And Conan had some pretty good ad-libs when one demo or another didn't work.

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New Jersey: In your article today, "CES Notebook - Tips for HDTV Shopping," you mentioned that when considering the purchase of an LCD TV, one should look up the "refresh rate." I am trying to decide between the Sharp LC-32GD4U and the Sony KLV-32M1, and neither manufacturer mentions anything about refresh rate in the specs published on the respective websites. (a) Where else would I get that info and (b) do I really care anyway, given that I never watch sports and will primarily be using this TV in my exercise room for workout videos? Thanks - and you don't know how helpful your articles have been over the past year since I initially began thinking about this purchase (can you say "procrastinate"???).

Rob Pegoraro: They don't mention it at all? That seems unlikely. Try looking each up on Amazon, which generally does a good job of publishing the full stats on any product it sells.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm still confused about the HDTV!; I'm not looking for a flat screen, but something pretty thin. I've heard something bad about every HDTV type. But the new DLP sounds good. But I hear on the horizon is OLED.

What would you get that will last 10 years?

Rob Pegoraro: ??? Wish I knew! Do you mean "what's going to still be working in 10 years" or "what's not going to be obsolete in 10 years"? If you try to buy your tech based on what's going to be the One True Answer a decade down the line, you will go insane--you'll always find somebody or some company who will claim to have the solution that everybody else has overlooked.

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Raleigh, N.C.: My parents recently lost there rear projection Big Screen TV (56" I think). They have been looking to replace it with something similar in size, but want to get the most bang for their buck. They aren't really sure about HDTV due to the limited number of channels however, for the right price they would probably go that direction. Have any suggestions from what you saw at the CES or do you know of somewhere else I can direct them?

Rob Pegoraro: You're not going to find an analog set in that size range at all. I would steer your folks towards a micro display set like DLP or rear-projection LCD (JVC uses a different technology, LCoS, which it sells as D-ILA, but none of its sets sell for under $3,000). Have them look at both DLP and LCD projection sets and see which one they like more.

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Washington, D.C.: In shopping myself for a new HDTV, it seems that the consumer electronics industry has made it almost impossible to figure out which is the model that offers the necessary (not best) features so I can still get a marginally good value. In hearing about the digital TV transition and lack of HDTV adoption, don't you think that manufacturers should come together to develop more universal standards that make these products easier to understand for shoppers? I didn't buy anything because I am so confused and don't want to plunk down a few thousand to find out that what I have is obsolete in a year or two. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: I would like to associate myself with that statement.

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San Francisco Ca.: Any new PDA's that look promising on the horizon?

Also, did you get a peek at the Slingshot device?

Rob Pegoraro: Very little buzz or attention paid to handhelds at CES. It's like they were analog TVs or something--PalmOne had a smallish booth set well back in one of the halls, but they didn't have any new models to show.

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Washington, D.C.: I want to start off the New Year right - what is the best and easiest program I can use to backup my hard drives (C&D) on my desktop computer running Windows XP Home Edition and the laptop is running Windows XP Professional?

Thanks in advance and just want you to know that I love your column and look forward to it every week!

Rob Pegoraro: We've tried a few; I think the one we liked best in any recent tests was AlohaBob PC Backup (from the same company that makes the file-transfer utility we recently recommended).

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Rob Pegoraro: It's noon here, 3 in D.C., but I'll stick around a little to make up for the time I lost in traffic and tech troubles. Keep those questions coming!

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Washington, D.C.: Hey Rob,

Talking about TIVO... are there any plans to have TIVO programmable from outside the home (by phone for example). There is already a phone line hooked up to it, so this should be quite possible.

I just hate when I forget to set it, or a game goes into overtime and the recording stops!!

Rob Pegoraro: I believe online scheduling is already available on TiVo Series 2 boxes-- see http://www.tivo.com/4.9.6.asp

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Washington, D.C.: So are you expecting to hear anything exciting from the Apple folks tomorrow?

A new generation iPOD? Perhaps a George Bush edition this time (constantly playing the same message over and over)???

Seriously, what do you think they will reveal tomorrow?

Rob Pegoraro: [snort]. I expect to see news about cheaper hardware in general--a $500 iMac and a $150 flash-based iPod would both fall into that category. But I also expect to see a "one more thing" that nobody expected.

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Los Angeles: Hi, Rob,
I have an old Gateway tower (1998) that is no longer operational because, I'm told, it needs a mother board. I'm wondering if it's possible to view the stored data by hooking up the tower to my laptop. If not, what might be my (low-cost) options be to retrieve the files, short of replacing the mother board.
Thank you.

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, you should be able to unplug the old machine's hard drive and connect it to a newer desktop (you could do that with a laptop, but you'd need an external enclosure).

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Vienna, Va.: Hello. What's the latest news on Sony's new handheld, the PSP, on release date, price range?

Rob Pegoraro: Release date is March, but there's still no announced price. I don't know why that is, unless Sony is waiting to see how much farther the dollar will plummet. (It sells for Japan now at the equivalent of $200)

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Washington, D.C.: Who got more buzz at CES, Sirius or XM?
And just how sweet was that 102 inch plasma TV?

Rob Pegoraro: XM by a nose. Its "Connect & Play" strategy--a way for manufacturers of other stereo receivers to build in XM compatibility at what I'm told is "very low cost"--should get XM in a lot more boxes over the next few years.

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Washington, D.C.: For the person asking about whether they needed a tuner with their HDTV, it's important to note that the DirecTV/Dish HD box should have a tuner you can use to get local stations over-the-air. So you'll have a tuner you can use with an antenna even if it's not built into the TV.

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, you're right. Sorry, forgot that the Dish and DirecTV boxes both include the so-called ATSC tuner that will pull in DTV broadcasts.

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St. Louis: How does the new Kodak camera send pictures via e-mail with out a computer -- take a picture then send it to your e-mail address? Rob Pegoraro: It has WiFi built in, so if you're near a working connection--i.e., you are nowhere near the Las Vegas Convention Center and you're not using my woeful laptop--you can upload photos to Kodak's Ofoto site and also e-mail them through that site.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey Rob,

Any word from Delphi or XM Radio about the possibility of a wireless satellite radio/mp3 player? I could just be wishing...

Rob Pegoraro: XM's got that Delphi MyFi portable unit, and a couple of other portable radios (they look equally bulky) will join it on the market. Don't know of anybody doing any MP3 players that incorporate sat radio... the way the MyFi records XM broadcasts for later hearing, it essentially provides the same basic function you'd want out of an MP3 player, except XM's DJs have picked the tunes instead of you.

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Rockville, Md.: Hi Rob,

Two quick questions. One, when do you think major manufacturers will finally start selling 1080p dlp HDTV (rpt) sets? Were there any 1080p (of any kind) at CES? I love my 720p set, but can't wait to see the next iteration. And second, has there been any buzz at CES about VOOM? I'm a subscriber but have heard dire rumors of their eminent demise.

Thanks,

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, there were some 1080p sets on display. But, as I wrote on the blog today, I don't think they're worth the extra money unless you will be buying a *huge* screen.

Not much of a buzz about Voom. It's developing a DVR of its own, which it badly needs, but it's got a tiny subscriber base, and from a report I saw, has major "churn" problems (subscribers dropping the service after the free trial ends)

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Warrenton, Va.: When shopping for a radio, how do I find a good FM receiver? Out here in Warrenton, we have only a handful of local stations, so I like to listen to some from DC. But many radios can't pick them up, and I can't see any rhyme or reason to which can and which can't. I have a 1960s vintage clock radio which can get most anything and a modern one (~5 years old) with digital tuning that gets so much interference from the Warrenton stations that I can't listen to anything else.

My current stereo, which is about halfway between these two extremes, is failing. When I look for a replacement, is there something I can look for in the product description to have an idea how well it will pick up distant FM stations? Or are there any ratings web sites that test this?

Rob Pegoraro: I haven't seen any, sorry. You'd have to go to a store and try tuning in a particular faraway station.

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Ithaca, NY: Any cool internet radio products?

Rob Pegoraro: Not any specifically focused on Internet radio, but I did see a lot of media-receiver gadgets that can play Internet radio as well as the MP3s on your PC. Somebody's gonna get that category so right that products ought to fly off shelves, but I don't know who or when.

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Washington, D.C.: Are there any vendors on the horizon for a combined unit?

This is a follow-up to
Washington, D.C.: What is the future of combining into one unit a home stereo; wireless speakers, headphones and remote; streaming as well as broadcast radio and music from a hard-drive which is uploaded from CDs and downloaded from the Internet?

I suspect that hardest part of that is the market survey.

Rob Pegoraro: Nah, the hardest part is deciding what to put into this universal receiver thingy. What about: DVD recorder, digital video recorder, satellite-radio tuner, HD Radio (digital AM/FM) tuner, SACD or DVD-Audio capability, or even Blu-Ray or HD DVD support?

Rob Pegoraro: Lots, but none of them are combining *everything*. For example, it's going to be relatively easy to buy a DVD recorder or DVD that receives HD content and also plays the music and photos on your computer, but I'm not aware of anybody also building in support for, say, wireless speakers into such a thing. At best, you might have two boxes from the same manufacturer that, combined, offer 95 percent of your wish list. And 200 percent of the remote controls you'd like to have on the coffee table.

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Washington, D.C.: Rob - What is the best backup software for the Mac?

P.S.: - I just got my iMac G5 20 inch - I LOVE IT

Rob Pegoraro: The Backup program Apple gives with .Mac subscriptions is OK, given that it's "free" with purchase. Otherwise, I'm not sure. There are various backup utilities that have been converted from traditional Unix command-line utilities, which may or may not be that easy to run, and there's the granddaddy of Mac backup software, Dantz Development's Retrospect. I use Backup myself, but that's because I already pay for .Mac service for other reasons.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: Some years ago I swore that I would never again do business with AT&T, but now that their cell phone business has been acquired by Cingular, I'm willing to consider it.

When do you think the consolidation of the technology and back-office operations (my problem was with AT&T billing) will be far enough along that it is worth the risk to give Cingular a try? Does the combined coverage match that of Verizon?

Rob Pegoraro: Matches in some places, exceeds it in others, falls short in still others (one big example being the subway in D.C.).

If your complaint was with ATT billing, I don't think you'd have to worry about it with Cingular (esp. if you signed up directly with Cingular). I don't think many of ATT's back-office stuff will be kept around.

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Anonymous: On LCD TV ... While browsing at CompUSA, salesman there recommended you don't use the TV as a computer monitor for extended periods b/c it will burn out quickly. I thought it was bull 'til someone here made comment that LCD TV was deteriorating

Rob Pegoraro: That earlier comment was about rear-projection LCD, not conventional LCD. And I would question that sales guy's opinion; if using an LCD as a computer monitor burns it out, where are the millions of ticked-off laptop owners?

(It *is* possible, but not easy, to burn out a LCD if you abuse it the right way; I've talked to an engineer at ABC News who has a few LCDs that have gone bad in this manner.)

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Fairfax County, Va:. I recently purchased a TV B Gone, the gadget that acts like a mini universal remote control to turn off any television. How has the recent media attention for this gadget affected the consumer electronics world?

Rob Pegoraro: Nobody mentioned it at CES! Maybe it would have been in bad taste...

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Verona, Italy: Any new developments on replacing traditional batteries for laptops, PDAs, cell phones, etc? Something lighter, less bulky and longer lasting?

Rob Pegoraro: That would have been great to see. But no, the only battery news I saw was a new line of non-rechargeable AAs by Panasonic that are supposed to last longer and/or provide more power than usual.

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Los Angeles: What was the single most impressive handheld convergence device at CES? I am looking forward to the day when I don't have to carry a blackberry, cell-phone, and mp3 player just to stay connected.

Rob Pegoraro: Thinking about it, I would say the Treo 650 I carried around. I've had no problem taking all my notes on it, taking pictures, checking my e-mail and looking up stuff on the Web. Oh, and calling people on it. Verizon had better off this thing quick, and it better have data-service prices competitive with Sprint's.

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Laurel, Md.: You seen (m)any simple-to-use, reasonably-price products for us late-adapters to make our lives easier?

Or is everything directed at those who don't know what to waste their money on, except gadgets that will be The Latest Thing for the next three months?

Rob Pegoraro: That's what CES is all about! The money will always be in tech toys for the rich--like that $75,000 plasma set I mentioned. But some of these toys get cheaper and even cheap. Once that happens, you can bet they won't be at the centerpiece of some massive booth exhibit at the center of CES.

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Rob Pegoraro: Alright, I've gotta hit the road to make this Intel appointment. Thanks for all the questions, and for putting up with the technical difficulties.

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