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Fast Forward's Help file: Blaring TV commercials

By Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 2, 2010; 5:59 PM

Q: I'm tired of having to adjust the volume when some commercials come blaring in louder than the program I'm watching.

A: The surest sign that this has become a real problem came when some electronics manufacturers began trying to sell a feature to fix it.

At January's Consumer Electronics Show, Toshiba representatives touted an option on some of their HDTVs called Dolby Volume, which tries to equalize the loudness of programs and commercials. It's also available on some higher-end audio/video receivers.

Since then, help has come from another direction-Washington. On Wednesday, the Senate unanimously approved a version of a bill already passed by the House that would require commercials to air at the same volume as the programs surrounding them.

This Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act-"CALM Act" for short-would require the Federal Communications Commission to write rules preventing "commercials from being broadcast at louder volumes than the program material they accompany."

But even after the two bills are reconciled and passed into law, the FCC will have to get those regulations through its usual rulemaking process. So you'll have to keep a finger on the volume buttons of your remote control for a little longer.

Q: Why doesn't anybody offer a CableCard tuner for the computer?

A: One company does-but that's it. Kirkland, Wash.-based Ceton Corp. sells the InfiniTV 4, a $399 add-on for Windows 7 computers that can tune into four channels at once through a CableCard.

It requires an open PCI Express expansion slot and digital-video outputs that support HDCP copy-prevention technology. It also demands a cable operator that will provide and install a CableCard on request, which many have had trouble doing.

A newer cable-industry standard, Tru2Way, is supposed to make it easier for manufacturers to build hardware that can tune in digital-cable signals. But it seems to be taking the same slow, halting path to the market as CableCard.

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