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Holiday Tech Buying Guide

Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Monday, November 22, 2004; 2:00 PM

Fast Forward's Rob Pegoraro was online to discuss The Washington Post's holiday tech buying guide and answer your personal tech questions.

A transcript follows.

Rob Pegoraro (The Post)

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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.


Rob Pegoraro: Good afternoon... I'm back, only a week after my last appearance here, to talk about holiday gadget shopping, the subject of yesterday's business-section cover. I see there's also a bunch of questions about the Firefox Web browser, the subject of my previous column.


New York: HDTV is as confusing as a madman's funhouse. After you sort out LCD vs plasma and DLP, you then have EDTV v HDTV, "HD-ready" v "monitor, requires tuner" v full receivers, etc. That's bad enough, but then there are all the questions about what stations are transmitting (not all 1080i) and what my cable provider actually provides. Where can a buyer -- especially one not buying for sports -- turn to find out exactly what's really needed, how to get it, and what it will provide?

washingtonpost.com: Decoding Digital TV

Rob Pegoraro: Here ya go. BTW, we're planning to run a few extra pieces by yours truly about consumer-electronics shopping, including digital television--look for them on this site in a week or so.


Duluth, Minn.: How to choose a DVD recorder. Best Buy. What's important what's not. Hard disk?

Rob Pegoraro: The most important factor is disc compatibility--whether the recordings you make will work in other DVD players and computers. In this respect, there's only one clear winner, DVD+RW. DVD-RAM is the least compatible format around, and DVD-RW is in the middle; in its standard recording mode, it's as good as DVD+RW, but in the "video recording" mode that offers greater recording flexibility, it's not much better than DVD-RAM.


Twentysomething Penny-Pincher, Columbia, Md.: If I have only $350 to spend on 27-inch tv for my living room, what would you recommend? I'm going to create a low-budget home theatre system, hopefully by purchasing a receiver and some decent speakers separately, but I don't want to break the bank on this...

Rob Pegoraro: A 27-incher shouldn't even cost that much; HDTVs at that size only cost $150-$200 more. At this point, I'd strongly consider paying a little more to get HD compatibility... if you keep your TV as long as most people do, it will be around well past the end of analog broadcasts (scheduled for the end of 2006 but likely to slip a year or more).


Manassas, Va.: What do you recommend for a 5MP or above digital camera? I'm stuck among the Kodak LS 753, Sony Cybershot 150, and Cybershot W1.

Rob Pegoraro: Get the Kodak. The SD Card storage it uses costs less than the Memory Stick required by most Sony cameras.


Durham, N.C.: I am submitting early...

Other than the digital SLR cameras, are they any digital cameras that are a little better about the shutter lag? I hate that lag but I don't really want to spend the money for a digital SLR and I don't need all the other features. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: The two Kyocera Finecam models I mentioned in my camera-advice story also beat shutter lag. They have some special "RTUNE" circuitry that has yet to show up in other cameras, AFAIK.


Washington, D.C.: Have you tried or are you familiar with the device that pairs the iPOD with the BOSE stereo system? The iPOD fits into a carrier that plays the music through BOSE speakers I believe. Do you know the cost and if it is worth the cash? Cheers!;

Rob Pegoraro: That "SoundDock" costs $299. That's a bit much--for that kind of money, you could get a half-decent entire stereo system. Unless the iPod is the only thing you'll use to play music in a room, I don't see the point here.


Philadelphia: Re: The GRIFFIN light accessory that snaps onto an Apple iSight camera----does it work well and is it worth $39.00.

Rob Pegoraro: Never tried it. If anybody has, pls speak up.


Portland, Ore.: Post's guide gets better each year.

For a college-student daughter, USB storage device do you recommend for her to use to take data between computers? Any options to avoid? Cost is a consideration.

Second question: The "duds" article was useful. What other item(s) should we resist the hype (more pixels?) and throttle back on our more/bigger is better impulses? Thnx.

Rob Pegoraro: I talked about some of these in the other stories... I was actually thinking this morning that at some point I could probably get an entire column out of debunking some of the bigger fallacies in consumer electronics. Here are a few:

* Faster is always better (see my computer column for why that's not so)

* More megapixels is always better (not as long as memory cards are not free)

* HyperThreading in Pentium 4 processors. Makes no meaningful difference in most day-to-day use, despite hype that suggests this is necessary to run multiple apps at once.

* Anything less than perfect is not good enough (this is the overriding myth of the industry, perpetually used to "upsell" consumers on a new TV, stereo or computer that offers some new feature that will somehow elevate your listening/viewing experience above that of poor schlubs who only buy "entry-level" hardware.


Washington, D.C.: What's the difference between xp home and professional?

Rob Pegoraro: Nothing most home users need to worry about. The two big things XP Pro adds are the ability to join a network domain (you might need this if you log into your office via VPN) and the ability to let other people log into your machine remotely using Microsoft's remote-desktop software.

More info from Microsoft: http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/pro/howtobuy/choosing2.mspx


washingtonpost.com: Fast Forward 3-Point Shopping for the Right Computer (The Washington Post, Nov. 21, 2004)


Laurel, Md.: I'm near the point of making a choice between making my next camera digital or chemical. Looks like I can get film developed the old-fashioned way for about half the cost of digital prints. (I live near a photo lab that's only $2.99/24.)

For the one's I want to save on my computer or share by e-mail, how fine a resolution are scanners these days, compared the number of pixels in digital cameras?

Rob Pegoraro: Get a digital camera. The money you save isn't in the per-print cost, it's in all the pictures you don't ever pay to get prints of, since you can delete them on the camera or on the computer. That's not possible with film.


Washington, D.C.: Rob - Not a question but more of a suggested hint to those of your audience who are even thinking about transferring over to a Mac from a PC. I just bought a ibook and a imacG5 (that 20inch display is great). My wife and I had been PC users for five years (before that, we had a quandra and a MAC SE) but switched over because it was cheaper to maintain.

I have found the migration to be really easy. Our ITMS purchase and ipod (which was formated for the PC) moved over with no problems, in fact, the Mac just recognized them with no problem. Moving over our email from MS Outlook to the Mac Mail program was a breeze because we used a program called Outlook2Mac (www.littlemachines.com) and all of our office documents opened in Office 2004 with no problem. And if you use Eudora (which we did as well) or other apps, it really is no problem at all!

I was hestitant to do this change but it worked out great!

PS - I am not shilling for Apple at all - they just took me for a $$$

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the suggestions!


Arlington, Va.: Other than the channel lineup, are there any other major considerations in choosing between the two available satellite radio providers?

Rob Pegoraro: Reception is the big one. I tested both XM and Sirius when they first began offering service in the D.C. area, and XM did much better. The difference seems to be how each system works; XM has two satellites plus a lot of repeater antennas, while Sirius has three and very few repeaters.


Waco, Tx: to be off the subject, I installed foxfire after your column last week, and I haven't been that thrilled with it. It's very slow and balky with some of the online games I like. The tabs are okay, I guess, but I already have a taskbar in windows, so I'm used to having multiple copies of IE open there. The tabs just mean more lost screen space. Neither program seems to have a way to work around my main annoyance with having multiple sites open--i start a window on a task of calling up a page and switch to another window to do something there. Blam--the first screen pops back up--it's found the site!; (not painted the screen, of course, just connected to the site.) I go back to my 2nd window, poise the cursor to click on a function there, and poof--i'm jerked back to window one--it's painted a banner!; back to window 2, find my spot, start to click-- blam, again to site 1. It's loading a program.

Is there any browser that will let you have multiple windows open, all of which will stay quietly in the background until the USER clicks on them and brings them into the foreground?

Rob Pegoraro: I'm sorry, I totally don't understand what you're saying. Tabs equal more lost screen space, but taking up an entire separate window does not?

Let me put it this way: With tabbed browsing, keeping 10 pages open at once is a piece of cake. (I have seven open right now--no, make that eight.) Without it, keeping 10 pages open is impossible, because they all show up as identically named taskbar icons ("Wa...", "Mi...", "Sl..." and so on), unless XP has grouped them together (in which case you need to click on the taskbar icon to see a pop-up list of all the open IE windows). This is not even close in terms of usability.


Alexandria, Va.: This is a comment, not a question. I tried Firefox when you mentioned it back in the Spring. As I told you in June, I was initially underwhelmed. But inertia kept me from deleting it, & the more I've used Firefox, the more I like it. You're right that once you get used to tabbed browsing you wonder how you lived without it. Firefox is now my default browser, & Thunderbird is my email client. No more IE vulnerability, & a much quicker browser response. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Here's another comment on this browser.


washingtonpost.com: Firefox Leaves No Reason to Endure Internet Explorer (The Washington Post, Nov. 14, 2004)


Alexandria, Va.: I see you "panned" the 4 x 6 portable printers as "duds" ... Most all of them are. But did you really "test" and explore the new HP PhotoSmart 375 with "battery" ?

It's the only truly portable printer that will print photos that have fade resistance up to 82 years according to Wilhelm Research (www.wilhelm-research.com)


Rob Pegoraro: No, I haven't tested this model. Is it the portability that appeals to you, or the fade resistance of the prints? Because general-purpose inkjet printers also offer the same fade resistance.


Bethesda, Md.: Rob, I'm considering DSL vs Cable modem for my internet connection. For an average user of the internet, not downloading huge files(movies, etc) which would be my best choice?

Rob Pegoraro: DSL is cheaper by $10 to $20 a month, but you may have a harder time getting it, especially in rural areas. Cable is faster, but it's not a difference you're likely to notice in practice. If cable makes you wait 5 minutes to download a Windows security update and DSL makes you wait 8 or 10 minutes, how much is that difference worth to you--especially when either connection lets you do other things online while that file arrives?


Dupont Circle, D.C.: You made an interesting point on buying 'too much' of a digital camera. But the camera companies want to drive more sales so they teach us that more megapixels is better.

What is the limit in megapixels that is useful? What are much larger images not of higher quality (why not a 20 megapixel camera?)?

Rob Pegoraro: I think 5 is the practical upper limit, assuming you won't be cropping the bejeezus out of photos and making 8-by-10s of the results. Maybe 6 if you want some insurance.


Vienna, Va.: On the digital camera choice, it is better on the environment b/c film uses harsh chemicals.

Rob Pegoraro: Good point. Thanks...


Raleigh, N.C.: Sorry, dumb question, but where can I buy music for my mini IPod other than the ITunes store? They don't have many things I want.

Rob Pegoraro: You mean, online? Real's music store sells iPod-compatible songs, but this is done through an unauthorized workaround--you need to run RealPlayer on a Windows PC to buy the songs and xfer them to the iPod. Also, Real's selection is a bit worse than Apple's; if you don't like what the iTMS carries, you probably won't like Real's inventory either.


Rockville, Md.: For Portland's first question, if his daughter has an flash or HD based MP3 player, most also double as external HDs. Obviously whether the size is big enough depends on what she plans on transferring between PCs (and whether she'll fill the thing up with MP3s).

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the followup.


Takoma, DC: I'm trying to encourage my parents to make the switch to a DVD. What's your take on the DVD/VCR combo? Having a cable TV box makes hook-ups difficult, so I was thinking that one DVD/VCR combo would make their life easier - is that right? Any particular DVD brands to avoid for folks who aren't particularly tech-savvy? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, the fewer boxes, cables and remotes needed to watch TV, the better. (Just getting a satellite box with its own built-in DVR--thus getting the VCR out of the picture--made a huge improvement for me.)

I don't know of any don't-buy brands, but I would stick to a name brand, on the (perhaps off) chance you'll get reasonably clearly written manual.


Baltimore: How do you tell what extensions are really useful for Firefox? They almost all are described in a pretty technical way, or do things like: "Filter the extensions of all the links present in a page and download the selected files in just a click!" which sounds good, but what does it mean, and do you really need it?

Rob Pegoraro: Most of these extensions are written by browser geeks for other geeks. I'd look at the "most popular" listings, which should come to reflect what appeals to average users as more of them adopt Firefox.


Wash. D.C.: What do you think of the PalmOne Tungsten T5? And does it have voice record capability?

Rob Pegoraro: Not impressed, and no, it doesn't record voice.


Need help with my HDTV question: Can you provide a link to your HDTV report? I was shopping for one yesterday and again was confused as to which was best between DLP, HDTV, plasma etc. There was a 65" Mitsubishi for $2200, but it was "just" an HDTV monitor, don't think it was DLP or anything.

washingtonpost.com: Defining Digital TV

Rob Pegoraro: Hope that helps!


Arlington, Va.: Rob, please deliver this guy from his misery, wilya?

Re: "Is there any browser that will let you have multiple windows open, all of which will stay quietly in the background until the USER clicks on them and brings them into the foreground?"

There is and it's called Firefox. What you need to do is to make sure you select "Open link in new tab," not "Open link in new window." New tabs always stay in the background, whereas new windows always jump to the fore when the page is done loading.

Rob Pegoraro: I'm trying, him and a lot of other folks... thanks for the tip.


Computerland: We're considering buying a high end computer, solely for video editing (no games). Do we need a high-end graphics card for this? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: No--graphics cards on a PC only handle drawing 3D graphics in games. Make sure this computer has both FireWire and analog video (composite and S-Video) jacks, so you can grab video off both a digital camcorder and older video devices, and a DVD-recordable drive.


Oklahoma City: Here's what MacAddict said about the Griffin SightLight - not impressed.


Rob Pegoraro: Appreciate the link...


Millersville, Md.: Actually, formatting a hard drive doesn't get rid of the data. It only wipes out the entries in the FAT or NTFS tables, destroying the linkages between the logical addresses and the physical addresses and making it harder to access. A knowledgable person can search the hard drive and retrieve your data. If you want to properly erase your data you need to write over the hard drive with alternating zeros and ones or some psuedo random data. Rob, do you know of any utilities that will overwrite hard drives?

Rob Pegoraro: We wrote a story on this topic last year--almost exactly a year ago--and we will certainly revisit it again. FYI, most drive-reformatting programs do allow the option of overwriting the drive and/or zeroing out all data.


Herndon, Va.: Our 12 year old vhs video camera died just in time to miss our son's senior night marching band show. We don't want to miss any other important occasions but did not budget for this for this Xmas either. I am assuming we should be going to DVD? We don't know what to look for. Technology has changed faster than we can keep up. What do you think is the best value for a family documenting those milestones in life? We have a graduation coming up. ThanksQ

Rob Pegoraro: Get a miniDV camcorder; it will be lighter and cheaper than one with its own DVD-recorder drive built in, and you can always transfer your recordings to DVD later on. Many DVD recorders include a FireWire input for this purpose, and some computers do as well.


Jericho, N.Y.: How do I decide how much additional tech support / at-home service I need when buying a laptop? On most models Dell includes 1 yr mail-in with one year tech support. What do you recommend to start with? At what point will I be better off just paying the $39 per call rather than the big upfront payment for additional years?

washingtonpost.com: Home Is Where the Help Desk Is

Rob Pegoraro: That depends almost entirely on your own aptitude at diagnosing and fixing problems on the PC yourself.


Bethesda, Md.: I live in a highrise, lots of cement and metal wall studs. Thinking of WiFi for two computers in two rooms separated by a kitchen. Can I expect it to work or have a problem between the two rooms?

Rob Pegoraro: You should be fine--unless your high rise is unlike most, the reinforced concrete holding up the building should run through the middle of your apartment.


Please help!- Two quick questions - IPOD and wireless router: 1 - I bought an IPOD recently and on some songs I bought from Itunes, it sounds as if the headphones are crackling during heavy bass portions of the songs. The songs do have a strong bassline, but that shouldn't cause the headphones to crackle or sound like static like that. Is this a known problem? Most of the songs I ripped from CDs are not a problem, or at least I am not noticing it.

2 - Had an older (not G) Linksys 2.4ghz wireless router and just bought a new house. Due, I think in part, to the old construction on the house, I am not getting good signals from just one floor below. Is it worth upgrading to the newer Linksys G/SuperG router, or even to one of the Dlink routers which is supposed to be above even that one - the designation is escaping me, its -$120 at best buy? Will either of those upgrade improve signal strength or are they merely improvements in bandwidth?


Rob Pegoraro: 1) If the headphones were a problem, you'd hear this effect on every song of the same basic genre. OTOH, the point of buying from iTunes is supposed to be getting a clean, professional copy of a song... so something's wrong one way or another. Try listening with another pair of headphones?

2) Do you have the access point on the first floor, or the second? Last we checked, the advice was to put the access point upstairs. That's what I have at home, and it seems to work well--until I take the laptop to the front porch, at which point the walls (84-year-old plaster construction) attenuate the signal pretty dramatically.


Rob Pegoraro: One question I'd like to throw out to the audience: If you've upgraded to AOL's new "9.0 Security Edition" release, how is it working for you? Drop me a note when you can: rob at twp.com


XP, WV: One BIG difference between XP Home and XP Pro is you don't get IIS with XP Home!;

Rob Pegoraro: I can't tell if you mean the lack of Microsoft's Internet Information Service is a plus or a minus. I would say not having it is a plus; you can't run your own Web server on most consumer Internet connections, and not having IIS means you don't have to worry about the extra security updates of maintaining that program.


New York: I'm looking to buy a big screen HDTV this holiday season in the 50"-56" size. Do you have any recommendations for a rear projection TV (DLP or LCD) which do not have the side speakers. I'm very space limited, and putting the speakers on the side will make these TV's too large for my space.

Rob Pegoraro: Most of the "microdisplay" sets--DLP and rear-projection LCD--put the speakers below the (already quite wide) screen, so that shouldn't be an issue.


Silver Spring, Md.: I want to purchase a Sharp Acqous 26GA4U 2, 16:9 26 inch LCD TV. The description indicates it can decode 720p resolution. Does this mean that I won't be able to view channels that transmit using 1080i? If I -can- view these channels, will it 'revert' to 720p or dreaded analog? Any other thoughts on this model? Thank you.

Rob Pegoraro: I wouldn't use the word "revert," just "convert"--a lot of people in the TV business feel that 720p, one of the two primary forms of high-definition television, is better than 1080i, the other form. That's because in 720p, the entire picture is redrawn ("p" is short for "progressive scan"), while in 1080i every other line is redrawn in each refresh of the screen ("i" for "interlaced"). Progressive scan is said to be better for fast-moving images, which is why ESPN picked 720p instead of 1080i.


Washington, D.C.: Did I understand you correctly to say in your article "How to Pick a Winning Computer?" that Intuit's Quicken runs better on Windows that the Mac?

washingtonpost.com: 3-Point Shopping For a Computer

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, I did. Intuit, for some idiotic reason, adopted a different format for financial-statement downloads on the Mac. This means that banks and credit-card issuers need to work extra to support Mac users; most do not. Until Intuit fixes this and lets the Mac version support the Windows version's downloads, it's going to be at a permanent disadvantage.


Washington, D.C.: Rob,

I'm looking for a digital camera to give my fiance to take on our honeymoon. I've looked over what I can find on the Post's web site and it looks like the Kyocera SL400r might be the best choice. I'd like something with some zoom capability. Is there something else in the 4-5 mp range I should consider?

Rob Pegoraro: Have a look at our recent review of 5 MP cameras.


Ocala, Fla.: I have used "Mozilla" for 3 year's as a back-up browser to IE and now, after reading all you're revew's about "Firefox",I have a formal question: "SHOULD I DOWNLOAD" it and remove the old Mozilla or NOT? I do not use Mozilla's e-mail; I use IncrediMail(POP3) for my daily average friend's e-mail and use "Yahoo"(web mail) for official spots like Bank's,ect.,ect..

Rob Pegoraro: If you like Mozilla and regularly use its non-browser components, no. Otherwise, switch to Firefox.


Belated Mozilla Firefox Question: Rob, how is Firefox's compliance with DHTML/DOM standards for Web coding? I've been testing the browser for a week (love it!) and it seems to mimic Netscape 7/Mozilla's behavior.

washingtonpost.com: Firefox Leaves No Reason to Endure Internet Explorer (The Washington Post, Nov. 14, 2004)

Rob Pegoraro: Firefox and Mozilla use the same Gecko HTML-rendering software underneath.


Anonymous: IIS

but for people that develop, or want to learn to and you want Microsoft technology its the only way to do so and you can't run it without a lot of fiddling on Home

Rob Pegoraro: The good thing about writing on a page with "Personal Technology" at the top is that I don't need to worry about that sort of thing: I can focus my efforts on how people use their computers at home, where a computer purchase has to justify itself without benefit of a tax writeoff, and where things have to be easy enough to use without a help desk down the hall.


Vancouver, Wash.: Will installing Firebird compromise the functionality of Internet Explorer which I currently have installed? Or can they co-exist on my drive and allow me to use either one?

Rob Pegoraro: No, it doesn't do anything to stop IE from working. I mean, the entire Department of Justice couldn't dislodge this browser from Windows...


Washington, D.C.: I have an aunt and uncle I think would enjoy satellite radio. It seems at first this was marketed for use in the car--might an "in home" version be appreciated just as well? Not sure what the best way to "give" this gift would be.

Rob Pegoraro: I think so as well. But the only option for now is to buy one of the convertible satellite radios, like the Delphi SkyFi for XM, that can be plugged into either a car stereo or a home stereo.


Federal Center, S.W.: Rob,

Looking for a digital camera for a 13-year-old girl. I'm inclined to think 3 mp is plenty. Probably no need for the kind of fancy manual overrides I like; she's pretty much of a point-and-shoot kid.

I like the Minolta Dimage X-31, which is tiny, or the new and more conventional Canon A400.

Any thoughts? Will the Minolta play well together with a Canon printer?


Rob Pegoraro: Shouldn't be any problem--all digital cameras use the same JPEG format. If the Canon printer has an SD Card memory-card reader, you should be able to eject the SD Card from the camera and pop it right into the printer.


Lake Ridge, Va.: When will Comcast begin offering HDTV to Prince William county subscribers? I'm getting antsy having an HDTV without getting any shows in HDTV. Prince William County is hardly the boonies - we're only just south of Fairfax!

Rob Pegoraro: They *still* don't offer HDTV there? That's really odd. Don't blame you for being annoyed. If you can get HD broadcasts over the air, you might want to think about voting with your feet--DirecTV and Dish Network would be glad to sell you HD service, but since they don't send out local networks' HD signals, you need to "bring your own" with a traditional antenna.


Washington, D.C.: I have a cable modem and want to host my personal website. How can I use my computer with DHCP for my domain name?

Rob Pegoraro: There are Web sites and services that will map a fixed Web address to a changing Internet protocol address, but 1) your cable provider's terms of service most likely do not allow this, 2) your connection probably does not have enough upstream bandwith to allow this, and 3) keeping a Web server open will double your computer-security troubleshooting. So I don't recommend this course of action.


McLean, Va.: Rob,
My current camera is a K-1000 (thus fully manual, no batteries required) and I usually use my f1.2 50m lens, sometimes the 70-210 3.5 lens. I also have a good flash that uses 2 AA batteries. I've had this setup for over 15 years.

To buy, develop (including get on CD) and print film runs about $1/frame. (Slides are more expensive to get on CD, but don't require printing, so that's pretty much a wash.) So I'm spending $700 to $1000 per year on film. What I want is a digital camera that will replace my current setup. It needs to have lenses, preferably interchangeable, equivalent to the two I now have.

The built in flashes, even on high end digital cameras, are terribly underpowered (somehow this never seems to get mentioned in camera reviews these days), so it needs a hot shoe to attach a Real Flash.

I sometimes do 8X10 prints, and often slides, but usually 4X5s.

I'm looking at the D-70 but, ye gods, the cost! If the camera will last, say, 10 years, then it's worth it to pay $2000 for the minimum setup (body, 50mm equiv. lens, flash) I need. Will it last?

All my friends have computers, and e-mail, so I don't really need to do prints, but I do need a way to show shots to them when we're hanging out at Starbucks, the way I now do by bringing over the packet of prints. Can the portable/hand held DVD players handle CDs with jpegs on them? Possibly with a pan and zoom capability? Because that looks like a very good solution. Or is there some dedicated device that's just an lcd screen+card reader?

Rob Pegoraro: The other D-SLR we've tried (and liked) is Canon's Digital Rebel, which is much cheaper. $2,000 for a complete D-70 system seems like a lot, BTW; I saw body-plus-lens packages go for more like $1,200.

Yes, some of those portable DVD players can read JPEGs off data CDs.


Ijamsville, Md.: Regarding the earlier question about shutter lag, when I shopped for a 4MP camera last Christmas, I found the Kodak models had MUCH shorter shutter lag than most competitors. Excellent point-N-shoot picture quality too.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the comments.


Arlington, Va.: Hi Rob,

I appreciate the chats. This may by too low tech for you, but do you (or anyone out there) have a recommendation for a good portable CD player to use while exercising? I'm looking to spend about $50-$60. (It's my mama's Christmas present).

Rob Pegoraro: Haven't shopped for one of those in a long time, but $50 or $60 should cover just about all of them. Make sure it has the longest shock-protection buffer possible.


Arlington, Va.: Re: Firefox extensions

My favorites:

- <a href="https://update.mozilla.org/extensions/moreinfo.php?application=firefox&id=219">FoxyTunes</a> - Control iTunes from the status bar of your browser

- <a href="https://update.mozilla.org/extensions/moreinfo.php?application=firefox&id=268&vid=979">Weather Fox</a> - Display the current weather in your browser status bar

- <a href="https://update.mozilla.org/extensions/moreinfo.php?application=firefox&id=60&vid=645">Web Developer</a> - I design sites, so this extension, which lets me do everything from disable stylesheets to highlight images without ALT tags, is invaluable

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!


Germantown, Md.: Regarding the new iMacs. I was thinking of getting the 20" to complement my old PowerBook. Ideally I would like to mount the iMac on the wall over my desk, to free up space. Is that possible? And is there any solution for putting a TV signal on there, either through USB or FireWire? Right now standard TV is fine, but would it be able to display a HD picture in the future?


Rob Pegoraro: The iMac can be wall-mounted; Apple will start selling a $29 adapter for any "VESA" arm (whatever that means) in mid-December.

You can get a TV signal into an iMac with an external box called the eyeTV (www.elgato.com).


RE: shutter lag, harsh chemicals: Some of the higher-end ($400-600 street) Panasonic and Leica digital cameras have very short/almost no shutterlag. All use SD cards.

I am skeptical of a previous participant's claim that digital cameras are more ecologically sound than film cameras. Some INCREDIBLY harsh and dangerous chemicals are used for the production of integrated circuits - and let's not forget the energy used to produce IC-grade silicon wafers (or to power your CRT monitor as you tweak your digital images).

On the other hand, one can develop and print film safely in one's home. In fact, Weegee used to develop his iconic images of New York City in the trunk of his car.

Conventional (analogue) labs (including minilabs) frequently have silver recovery units installed, as they usually pay for themsleves after one year's use.

Personally, I would use different criteria for selecting a digital or film camera than the ones you propose, but that's just me. Your advice is (generally) superb.

Rob Pegoraro: This is bringing back the aroma of my college newspaper's darkroom... mmm, chemicals.


Germantown, Md.: Are the Palms good for playing music?

Rob Pegoraro: They're OK. You can do it, but it taxes the battery much more than you'd think, and you do need to budget for a big SD Card to carry all this stuff (fortunately, they've become ridiculously cheap).


Cell Phones/PDAs: Is there a cell phone that has a calendar/address book that will synch up with MS Outlook? My current carrier is Cingular, but I would switch carriers for this functionality.

Rob Pegoraro: There are third-party programs from companies like FutureDial that are designed to do this, but you need to make sure they support your model of phone.


Beautiful Silver Spring, Md.: Rob: Hi. I am confused. If I have an AirPort Express what can I do from the following?

1. Stream songs bought in iTunes to my stereo

2. Stream songs acquired via other (non-illegal) means to my stereo

3. Stream Internet radio to my stereo

4. Stream Internet radio to my stereo if I capture it as an MP3 and put it in iTunes

Any guidance you can provide is much-appreciated, especially since I have an AirPort Express sitting unopened in my apartment right now.

Rob Pegoraro: 1. Yes

2. Yes

3. Yes, as long as the radio station plays in iTunes itself (i.e., it offers an MP3 stream)

4. Not necessary, but if save the stream as an MP3 you can send it over like anything else.


Washington, D.C.: My folks live in Los Angeles while my kids and I live here in DC. I'm looking into webcams so we can video conference over the internet. My parents are PC users, and I'm a Mac guy.

Do you have any suggestions for web cams and software that will bring us all together?

Rob Pegoraro: Get yourself an iSight Webcam and (assuming you're running the current version of Mac OS X, which includes a video-capable iChat AV program), get the folks in L.A. to install AOL Instant Messenger and a cheap Webcam of their own. Then you two can chat all you want.


Lake Ridge, Va.: Thanks for the chat, Rob, your's are one of the best. You answer so many questions, I know everyone appreciates it!

I have a five-year-old Hewlett Packard Pavilion PC with laughable low RAM and Megahertz. I'm fairly good with technology, but not great. I'm a fan of Macs and would like to save up for a Powerbook, which would be used for internet browsing, word processing and CD and DVD burning. My brother says that it is a waste of money as Macs are too expensive and cost too much to upgrade. He thinks I should just upgrade the computer that I have. I grew up with a Mac and have missed it these last few years - but the price is daunting. Any thoughts?

Rob Pegoraro: If the computer is five years old, forget upgrading it. The expense (in dollars and time) you'll put yourself through will not be worth it.

PowerBooks are not cheap, that's true. But I would submit that, for a laptop with a 15-in. widescreen that only weighs five pounds and change, this is a reasonably priced machine.


Arlington, Va.: I don't know why I thought I needed a USB keychain drive, but I got one anyway (and I barely use it). Now that I have one, I'm wondering if there is an MP3 player that I can plug it into and play songs stored on it.

Rob Pegoraro: Creative makes a line of MP3 players that are built around USB keychains (you can remove the part with the LCD screen and controls and you get just a regular USB keychain). But I don't know of any MP3 players that can use USB keychains as a form of removeable storage.


Baltiomore: Please, please, please, one quick question before you leave!!I love the photos of the Zen Micro. Do you have an opinion on it on way or the other? Should I wait until after christmas to try to get a deal on one, or should I just try to get one now?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't have an opinion of it either way--I haven't tried it or even seen it beyond pictures on a Web page, and that's not enough for an informed judgment. (Even on a Web chat :)


N.C.: I have about $1000 to spend on a digital camera that allows you to change lenses. We have a macro lens for a standard camera, as well as a few other lenses that we'd like to use on a digital camera... can we afford the Nikon D1 or is there something else that allows us that level of versatility (and will the bases of most digital cameras accept "regular" lenses?) Many thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: The only digital cameras that will accept regular 35mm lenses are D-SLRs, and even then you may not be able to use your existing lens. Take a look at the Canon Digital Rebel and Nikon D-70.


Downingtown, Pa.: My husband wants a PhatBox for his VW.

He already has satellite radio and a portable MP3 player. I'm not sure what advantages there are for him?


Rob Pegoraro: None that I can see. The PhatBox--a trunk-mounted hard drive--sells for $800 or more. That's a *lot* for what it does, especially when you can just connect his existing MP3 player into the car stereo with an FM transmitter or a docking kit of one sort or another.


Rockville, Md.: Not a question, but a tip for Waco, Tx about preventing browser window from moving to the front, which I also find extremely annoying:

In firefox, go to Tools/Options, Web Features tab, and click Advanced button next to Enable Javascript. Then deselect "Raise or lower windows" and you shouldn't see that anymore.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the tip!


Fairfax, Va.: HI, Mundane I know, but I need a suggestion on an MP3 for teens. Not overkill, price is important as I need three. Thanks, Lesley

Rob Pegoraro: How much do you like your kids? :) If price is the big concern, I'd get them a 128 to 256-meg flash-memory-based player, which will carry 2 to 4 hours of music and should be cheap enough to allow buying in bulk. At this level, they're pretty much commodities.

FYI, I've been reading fairly credible reports for a few weeks now that Apple will start selling a flash-based iPod sometime soon--yes, despite the time Apple has spent saying that nobody really wants flash-based players.


Alexandria, Va.: In reply to the query for a cellphone with Outlook synch capability -- there are several models of Pocket PC/phone combos. I've got an Audiovox PPC4100 from AT&T Wireless (I guess that'll soon be Cingular) that does both.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks


Charlottesville, Va.: I think I know what the poster who was asking about tabs and windows switching around was talking about.

Some websites, when they finish loading, move the cursor to a text box, such as a "username" form. This will often cause the window or tab that is displaying the website to "steal the focus" from the window that the user was viewing. So it might happen like this: 1. I go to my ISP's email portal. 2. I open a new browser window/tab with washingtonpost.com. 3. Email portal finishes opening, steals focus from washingtonpost.com. 4. Email portal window pops in front of washingtonpost.com.

In Firefox, tabs that steal focus (Gmail is one example) may not cause Firefox to switch to their tab. So I might still be seeing washingtonpost.com, but anything I type will be sent to the Gmail tab.

As for the separate issue of how Firefox decides whether newly opened tabs will come to the front or load in the background: the default setting (which can be changed) is that tabs opened from hyperlinks will be loaded in the background, but tabs opened fron the bookmarks will become the active tab when opened.

Rob Pegoraro: I got the sense the original poster had something more basic in mind, but in case I'm wrong, here you go...


Washington, D.C.: Rob, I'm looking to buy a new desktop PC. Am thinking about the Dell Dimension 8400 for the box -- any experience with this unit or other recommendations? We are heavy documents/spreadsheet/PPT/Internet users with some digital photos/MP3 but not gamers. Many thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: The 8400 would be massive overkill for what you're talking about. Nothing you describe couldn't be accomplished just as effectively by the cheaper lines of desktops Dell offers.


Alexandria, Va.: Rob: What do you know about Delphi's new MyFi? It sounds too good to be true -- a portable XM radio (about the size of an iPod) that has WiFi and allows you to connect it to your car radio/home receiver/ etc.? If it works, it will be at the top of my Christmas list, but wondered if you have anything to say about it? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: We're planning to have a review of this in the near future. Watch this space!


Washington, D.C.: Rob,

The info you provide in the newspaper and on this chat is extremely valuable, and thank you for it.

I'm a novice to the iPod/mp3 world, and am buying iPods for my daughters for Christmas. I want them to be able to use them on a trip we're taking the next day, so I'd like to download some of their CDs to my computer in advance. Do I need a special add-on to convert the CDs to mp3 files, or will Windows Media Player automatically do that? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Don't use Windows Media Player--download iTunes from Apple's Web site and install that. It will also handle copying the songs to each iPod, which WMP can't.


Falls Church, Va.: Rob:

Do you have any idea what's going on over at Verizon with the Motorola V710? I just saw a note on Phone Scoop that a SECOND recall for this phone was announced over the weekend. This appears to be another problem with the camera.

Aside from the basic question "why do people insist on using a cell phone to take pictures?", I was wondering if you knew of this type of issue happening at other carriers? This phone was months late being delivered and then Verizon really --- insert bad word here --- loyal customers by making the Bluetooth essentially useless.

They never had enough inventory to replace my 710 and now it might be another month before I get a new one. My new mantra is becoming I REALLY HATE VERIZON WIRELESS!!!

washingtonpost.com: Special Report: Cell Phone Plans

Rob Pegoraro: You're not the only person out there who's wondering what went wrong at Verizon (or Moto) with this model. I hope the fact that so many Verizon customers have expressed an interest in this phone makes Verizon realize that there's a market for Bluetooth, and that it needs to get this technology right.


Washington, D.C.: My grandmother has broadband and children stationed in all four corners of the country. I thought VoIP service might be a good gift (I've been handling her phone service for a while). Do you think it is easy enough for her to handle? If so, I've heard Vonage and Verizon both offer good service. Any thoughts?

Rob Pegoraro: I have tried Vonage, but not Verizon. The setup of these systems is not hard, but you can't be intimidated by doing things like typing in server addresses. Afterwards, they're pretty much self-maintaining. If your gift includes having somebody set up VoIP for your grandmother, I think she would be quite happy with it.


Wash D.C.: Rob: I am a huge fan of your column. I need a laptop ASAP for a family member in grad school. Can you recommend anything (Toshiba, Dell, Apple) for around $1,400-$1500

Rob Pegoraro: Offhand, the Dell Inspiron 600m and Apple iBook come to mind. Toshiba's got some decent machines too, but since the bozos behind that company's Web site don't list each laptop's weight anywhere but in a series of spec-sheet PDF downloads, I don't have time to narrow that choice down.


Charles Town, WV:

I am looking for a recommendation for a new camcorder. I have looked at the Sony D8 - TRV260 and 460 as well as the Mini DV Sony HC20. I am not sure if I should go with the D8's or the mini DV. I really am not interested in a whole lot of editing on the computer. Basically an entry level into the digital market. Also what can I do with my old VHS-C tapes.

Thank you.

Rob Pegoraro: Get MiniDV; the tapes are smaller, so the camera is as well. With the old tapes, I recommend archiving them in digital form. You could plug the VCR into a new MiniDV camcorder and duplicate the tapes that way, or you could use a DVD recorder or a computer with a DVD+RW drive to archive them.


Rob Pegoraro: That'll do it for today. I'll be off next Monday, when I'll probably still be stumbling around in a typtophan-induced haze. But I'm going to be here every Monday after that until Xmas, the 6th, 13th and 20th. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!


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