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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, October 4, 2007; 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Thursday, Oct. 4 at 2 p.m. ET to answer your personal tech questions and discuss his recent reviews and blog posts.

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The transcript follows.

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Rob Pegoraro: Hi there. It feels like I've been away from this chat for longer than two weeks, but maybe that's just because of all the tech news since the last one--an Apple iPhone update that nukes third-party hacks (and in some cases, iPhones themselves), new Zune players from Microsoft, Amazon's MP3 store, and all the random stuff I saw at DigitalLife in NYC last week.

So: Let's talk.

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TV shows streaming to computer (Wash DC): your article this morning is just what my college son was talking about when I went to visit him last weekend. He said that there are TV shows on the web they can stream when they want (obviously college kids don't have a TIVO in their dorm, and anyway it's not in their brains to plan ahead to record it). (Or maybe he was really thinking about movies etc. on the web.)

Anyway, your article was on the "back end"-- receiving media from the web. What about the "front end"-- actually watching it on something besides a laptop screen. College kids now have 30" flatscreen TVs in their rooms (some do, at least). Great for cableTV, DVD/xbox, but not for using as a monitor for streaming media. Why not? seems there is no cable you can buy to go directly from a laptop to a TV, you have to buy a $100 box from radio shack to convert the signal, and the quality is only adequate at best. (the salespeople at Best Buy have no idea what I'm talking about tried to sell me various cables that didn't work; I had to research it myself and found that these converter gizmos are not widely available)

So what's the answer? watch all the streaming TV shows crowded around one person's laptop? (no...) use the $100 pc to tv converter and suffer worse quality than when the show was originally broadcast? Buy a large PC flatscreen monitor? ($250 plus, but not much room in a cramped double dorm room, and seems a silly duplication)

Why does this incompatibility exist, anyway?

Thanks, and great column as always. (and I've sent some emails to you in the past, and you always reply. Way to Go!)

washingtonpost.com: Networks Are Streaming Into Prime Time Online

Rob Pegoraro: Note to all the readers who have e-mailed me and never gotten a reply: Sorry, I was busy replying to this person!

The output issue of which you speak is, I'd say, a lot easier to solve these days. On one hand, most computers are laptops, not desktops--so it's not hard to park the PC next to the TV. On the other, an awful lot of new TVs are high-def models that already have the proper computer-compatible inputs. So you don't need any kind of funky adapter box; you just need a $5 VGA cable.

(BTW: 30-inch flat-screen TVs in dorm rooms?! Back when I was an undergrad, you could spot the rich kids because they had a TV, period, in their dorms.)

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Falls Church, Va.: Kudos to NBC and the other networks that don't require viewers to download a browser plug-in to watch shows. I'm never keen to introduce a potentially junky and insecure media player to my computer.

However, when I was watching "The Office" on NBC's website last week, it frequently paused to rebuffer. Either the minimum resolution (fairly high for a Web broadcast) was too much for my 768 kbps DSL, or NBC's server couldn't push out the data fast enough. Either way, they should offer a lower-res version that's viewable without frequent interruptions to rebuffer.

Rob Pegoraro:768 kbps is slow for DSL--the show stream itself doesn't need nearly that much, but if you're doing enough other things at the same time you can quickly max out that bandwidth.

It would be nice if the stream automatically downgraded to match your bandwidth, but I don't know if Flash video can do that.

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Washington, D.C.: I am not interested in watching TV at all on my PC, I am not that comfortable and my old 36 inch tv has what looks like 3x the size of this 19 in monitor. The only person I know who watches TV on their PC all the time lives in a dorm room. What I want to be able to do is watch ABC TV shows like Lost on HDTV quality on my PC until I buy an HDTV itself. How can I do that?

Rob Pegoraro: Easy--go to abc.com, install their player plug-in, and select the HD option. You are going to need a ton of bandwidth for that, though. (Well, maybe not a ton, but at least a few hundred pounds: 2 Mbps is faster than most DSL and many cable services.)

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Laurel: Rob, are any essential parts or design elements of the iPhone protected by patent or trade secret? Or should we expect knock-offs by Christmas?

Rob Pegoraro: When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone and talked about the "multi-touch" interface, he said something like "And boy, have we patented it!"

Then again, even if the iPhone's parts were all in the public domain doesn't mean that anybody would be able to put together a good, attractive knock-off. Notice how well all those non-iPod music players are doing?

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Washington, D.C.: My dad's birthday is coming up, and I want to buy him a flatscreen tv. I've found that one can save a lot of money (and thereby afford a significantly larger tv) by getting a tv that is 720p instead of 1080p, has no tuner (external tuners are affordable), and has no HDMI input. My question: is an HDMI input the best way, or the only way, to watch in high-def? And are any of these inputs as good, or close? "PC IN: Mini D-sub 15pin x 1 (Female)/Analog RGB/Components AUDIO IN: M3 jack x 1 SERIAL: D-sub 9-pin x 1 (Male)/External control, RS-232C compatible." Thanks, Rob!

Rob Pegoraro: I concur on buying 720p instead of 1080p. But I disagree about the tuner--external tuners are neither particularly easy to find nor particularly affordable, and once you do get one you'll have another device and another remote to contend with.

The only high-def inputs you'll see on an HDTV are HDMI, DVI, component and VGA. And if you're talking about plugging in other video sources, like a DVR or an upconverting DVD player, you're pretty much limited to HDMI and component.

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Alexandria, Va.: I know I probably shouldn't complain, but I can't help myself

While the updates to iTunes and QuickTime are welcome in comparison to how often MS provides updates, has anyone else noticed that these programs have been "updating" just about every week for what seems like two months? It's highly annoying, mainly because each time I have to go back into msconfig and dig out the portions of these programs that set them up to run in the background when I start my computer!!!!

At least they've stopped throwing themselves into my systems tray uninvited.....

Is there a way to tell them, "I'll start you when I want you, now bug off, leave me alone, and I DON'T want to have this talk with you AGAIN!!!"

I swear, it's like having a child.....

Rob Pegoraro: Yeah, it doesn't seem like the iTunes and QuickTime programmers have gotten much rest lately. The iTunes updates are somewhat skippable if your copy has been working fine--the 7.4.x releases have all been bug fixes. But QuickTime updates are not avoidable: Most include fixes for some fairly serious security problems. See Brian Krebs' Security Fix blog for more on that.

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Tina in Falls Church: I bit the bullet and finally ordered a laptop. It pays to shop. I buy Dell stuff and once I decided on a configuration I started shopping by entering all their portals. The same config was priced four different ways depending on how I "entered" the site. I found an Inspiron with all stuff I wanted for 250 less than the AFFILIATE price (discount price for union members and others) by entering through the Dell Store locator...they were promoting "featured" configs on desktops and laptops. It was a robust config for my purposes but I was still able to upgrade the processor, add bluetooth and save 250 at the end...and I was able to order it on the phone after I put it in my cart.

Rob Pegoraro: I hate that part of shopping at Dell. Reminds me way too much of some used-car dealerships that I've been in.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I think on your advice (!) I bought a Sony Clie PEG T615-C PDA about five years ago. I especially love its memos, address, and calendar functions. Some years ago Sony quit making PDAs at all. Eventually mine quit synching and charging and I replaced it with an identical used one from eBay. Now this one quit synching by cradle and I can see the handwriting on the casket. I don't think any of the smart phones is PDA-y enough for me. What should I replace it with? Please please help me! I am already grieving for the old one.

Rob Pegoraro: The closest thing to your Clie would be one of Palm's remaining handhelds, like the Tungsten E2 or TX. Bear in mind, however, that both of those products are really old. Palm has pretty much given up on the standalone PDA business.

And if you do have a cell phone, your life is going to be a lot easier and simpler if you get a smartphone instead of a PDA. If you don't want to switch from the Palm OS, get a Treo or maybe the new Centro Sprint will be launching in a week or so.

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New York, N.Y.: What would be a desirable Processor Speed for running Windows Home Premium? Many of the specifications for notebooks on attractive discounts at the big box stores have speeds of 1.5 Ghz, and I have the feeling that's a slow speed by now. What do you consider optimum for everyday home/home office use? Thanks if you can get to this, but also thanks for all the help in the columns.

Rob Pegoraro: With Vista, processor speed isn't the important number. You need to focus on memory (2 GB) and the graphics card (make sure the computer is certified as "Premium Ready.")

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Arlington, Va.: Help! My PC died and I'm having trouble getting the songs loaded from my nano to my new hard drive. I know you wrote about this 6-8 months ago, but can't find the article in the archives.

washingtonpost.com: Fast Forward's Help File (Feb. 11, 2007)

Rob Pegoraro: That link should set you straight.

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Laurel: RP: "Notice how well all those non-iPod music players are doing?"

Do you mean if you added up all the sales of other MP3 players, they wouldn't come close to the total of iPods?

Rob Pegoraro: Um, yeah, that's what a 70-80 percent market share--sustained over several years--will do for you.

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Hopefully telecommuting: Hi Rob, I have the chance to telecommute more often, which I would jump at except for one thing: I have a Mac at home. Work uses Windows. In particular, I was told I can't use a VPN to access the network and I need to use Access for certain things. I know about Virtual PC. Are there any other options now that Macs are using Intel chips? I'm willing to retire my 4 year eMAc. I really don't want to buy a PC. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: There are VPN clients for Macs, and you can also run Windows apps remotely--I use the Citrix ICA client to write and file stories from home all the time.

As for running Windows apps directly on your Mac, forget the now-abandoned Virtual PC. Try either Parallels Desktop or VMWare's Fusion, each of which will run a complete Windows system--far faster than VPC ever did--in a window on the Mac OS X desktop.

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Chicago, Ill.: Why would anyone in USA want to unlock a GSM Iphone? So you can use it on the T-Mobile network? Ooooooh. Big improvement.

Rob Pegoraro: Because they might want to travel overseas at some point? Because they're taking it someplace where AT&T might not have service?

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Miami, Fla.: New Mac user; What antivirus for Intel based Macs would you recommend in addition to DiskWarrior? Thank you

Rob Pegoraro: First, there aren't any Mac viruses to catch. Unless we see some drastic change in the security situation, you're only going to see Windows viruses landing randomly in your e-mail. They can't hurt a Mac.

If you do want to make sure you don't pass on any of those Windows viruses by mistake, try the free, open-source ClamXav: http://www.clamxav.com/

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Sherman Oaks, Calif.: comments on the Jitterbug phone:

my wife ordered this phone for her technology challenged 80+ year-old father. while the people at Jitterbug were very nice, they were a little odd.

she ordered the phone for her dad's birthday. when my wife ordered it, there were a few days until the birthday and she got the idea the phone would be shipped right out. not so. the Jitterbug people used the phrase 'order in process,' which my wife falsely interpreted as 'order shipped.' it took over two weeks for the phone to arrive. it was puzzliing to my wife that in the two or three phone calls to Jitterbug, the folks who answered the phone weren't able to 'track' the order; all they could say was that the order was 'in process.'

the phone numbers my wife had asked to be loaded on the phone were there, so once the phone arrived, it worked as advertised.

one of the features is that you can add additional phone numbers to the phone via a website. so after familiarizing himself with the phone, my father-in-law sent us some more numbers he wanted added to the phone book. my wife went to the website and added the numbers.

a few days later my father-in-law called to say the new numbers weren't available. so, my wife called Jitterbug to find out what the problem was. it turns out that when you upload the new numbers to the website, the phone has to be 'on' to receive the numbers. this information turns out to be in one of the companies FAQs, but buried. and my father-in-law doesn't leave the phone on - that didn't occur to him. i know it may sound silly, but for the technically challenged, this kind of requirement isn't so obvious.

my wife says the people at Jitterbug were nice, but, although not out-sourced, they seemed to be on another wave-length. good technical idea but the phone service people don't quite get who there customer base is? maybe they should hire some 'retired' people who could empathize with people calling with questions.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the report. (Sherman Oaks is talking about the ultra-simple cell phone that I wrote about a couple of months back.)

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Rockville, Md.: Does anyone know when to expect FiOS in any particular location? I don't get much from Verizon other than "we don't do apartments."

Well, my brother was a senior AT&T person and he said it is easy - just put one wireless unit on each floor. What is going on?

washingtonpost.com: Fios in Your Neighborhood? Don't Ask Verizon

Rob Pegoraro: I got *so* many e-mails and comments along these lines after last week's column. I wish I knew what was "going on"; this doesn't seem like anybody's idea of good customer service, but Verizon persists in telling would-be Fios customers to talk to the hand.

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Arlington, Va.: I take a lot of digital pictures when I go on trips, but I don't want to lug my laptop with me. I have a Nikon SLR, and on my Mac I can drag the photos right from the camera's folder to my desktop. Is there another device that will let me download the photos directly from my camera to storage, so I don't have to buy multiple memory cards? I was thinking about an external hard drive, but would I need a screen? I also thought the new iPod Touch might allow it, but it doesn't have much space, and no "desktop"?

Also: with a plug and power converter set, would I be safe recharging my camera battery in Europe and Central America?

Rob Pegoraro: There are quite a few specialized hard drives built for this task; they add a set of card slots and, in some cases, an LCD. Another option would be an iPod Classic equipped with Apple's camera connector kit--you'll be able to plug your Nikon into this thing with its USB cable, then dump your photos onto the iPod's hard drive.

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Apple question: I have an Apple eMac running OS 10.3.9 -- I've never updated to 10.4 because I still have some old stuff in System 9 Classic, and I understand that I wouldn't be able to access it anymore if I upgraded. (But I have been updating iTunes and other apps.) I'm planning to get an iPod Touch, and Apple's site says you have to have at least 10.4. I guess my options are (1) to upgrade to 10.4 and lose the old files, or (2) to use this as an excuse to buy a MacBook (which I'd like to do eventually for other reasons, but not immediately -- i.e., not at the same time as the Touch). But I wanted to ask you first -- is there any other option I'm missing? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: First, you were misinformed whenever anybody told you that 10.4 breaks Classic. That still works on any PowerPC-based Mac, while Intel Macs can't run Classic regardless of what version of OS X they run.

At this point, I'd suggest you wait another few weeks for Leopard to ship... assuming your eMac meets whatever Leopard's system requirements might be.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: I am a novice with computers. I have a Dell 1705 laptop and suddenly I have no sound when I play a video, it is not muted that much I know, but there ends my knowledge. What can I check? If I get no results should I be talking to Verizon (my ISP) or Dell? Any and all help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Can you be a little more specific here? Video on a computer can come in dozens of different formats--Flash, QuickTime, Windows Media, Real, DVD, etc.

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Greensboro, Md.: We have two G4 eMacs, a flat screen G4 iMac (the one that looks like a lamp). Is there any way to add USB 2.0? Perhaps a hub that plugs into the firewire port?

Rob Pegoraro: None that I know of. If you had a PowerBook, you could get a PC Card that added some USB 2.0 ports, but I can't think of any way to do the same with a desktop Mac. This is why I got on Apple's case a couple of times about taking so long to support USB 2.0 back when those machines were shipping. (If somebody knows, please chime in now.)

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Reston, Va.: Hi, novice HDTV owner here. I just bought a Samsung this week, which I am loving. My question is this: the salesperson at BestBuy told me there are differences in HDMI cables--that some support 1080p, and some do not...is this right?? I thought those cables carried whatever signal was being output by a device (ie, if I had a full 1080p HD DVD player, that signal would carry and if I had a 1080p TV it would be all good).

Second question: I bought a home theater-in-a-box system from Philips last year which does not have an upconverting DVD player/receiver (just progressive scan) and no HDMI output. The system has funky output to speakers (receiver connects to the subwoofer which has all the speakers input into it via what looks like a serial port vs. audio cables)...know any way I can replace just the DVD player/receiver and get around that? Is an upconverting DVD player worth it, vs. progressive scan? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: I believe it is true that not all HDMI cables support 1080p--but if you don't have any video sources that output 1080p, who cares?

Either way, don't buy the expensive name-brand cables. Cheapo generic HDMI is fine. You've got a digital connection, so either the entire signal will get through or none of it will.

As for the second question... your Samsung may be able to do the upconverting for you. The catch is, you may need to select the right option to enable that for whatever input the DVD player connects to on the TV. I'd try that before adding a second DVD player to your home-theater stack.

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Burlington, Vt.: Is one of the HD DVD formats going to "win" any time soon?

Rob Pegoraro: No.

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Silver Spring, Md.: The biggest catch in your article is the requirement for 2 Mbps broadband. Right now, despite being in one of the richest counties in the nation, I have only three choices for broadband: Verizon (or another ISP using Verizon DSL's architecture), Comcast, and RCN. I'm limited to 1.5 Mbps download by Verizon's lines; our neighborhood has had persistent problems with RCN; and Comcast has a lousy general reputation for consumer service (and is pricey, to boot). We'll be lucky to see FiOS by end-2008, from what I can tell. And WiMax is being rolled out in Richmond, not DC. When I read about a Hong Kong ISP offering 100 Mbps to 1 Gbps over fiber to residents, I feel like I'm in a backwater.

Rob Pegoraro: The WiMax rollout location is odd--maybe Sprint doesn't want to have its first try flop in full view of all the policymakers in D.C.?

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Sherman Oaks, Calif.: a follow-on to your suggestions about buying a new PDA: maybe someone can comment on what i might be able to do.

i've been using a Sony CLIE for a number of years and, knock on wood, it's mostly been working.

the main reason i use it is i can upload a FileMaker database to the Clie using FileMaker Mobile. it's a way for me to travel without a laptop and have information more detailed than a phone book readily available. (i think older Palm PDAs would also allow this.)

i'm still wanting to be able to do this. is anyone doing this with a newer type of PDA/smart phone?

Rob Pegoraro: Sure--like I said, just get a smartphone running the Palm OS, and reinstall all the apps you're running on the Clie. You will almost certainly have zero issues doing this, since the Palm OS has seen only one major update since your Clie was a newborn.

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Bethesda, Md.: Just got a new Dell with Vista home premium. Having problems with Windows Mail. I transferred settings from Outlook Express to manage three Verizon email accounts but Windows mail does not treat these as separate identities as OE did. This requires establishing all kinds of rules for handling possible email scenarios which is cumbersome and aggravating and I still have not figured out how to get each email account to send deleted emails and sent emails to separate deleted and sent folders - it persists in sending deleted and sent email to the deleted and sent folders for the main email account. What would you suggest? Vista evidently wants the user to set up separate user accounts that would be tied to each email account under Windows mail even though I use all three accounts.

Rob Pegoraro: I have to confess that I haven't spent much time in Windows Mail--I use Thunderbird in Windows myself. Can anybody suggest a workaround for Bethesda?

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Northern Va.: DVD burning software: Is Roxio better than Windows DVD Maker provided with Vista? I'm not going to be doing any fancy editing work. I have pics and videos I take with my cell phone that I'd like to edit and put on DVDs.

Rob Pegoraro: I'll throw this one out to the audience--which do y'all prefer?

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Wait for Leopard to ship?: Rob, pretty sure Leopard won't include support for Classic.

Rob Pegoraro: You may be right--I somehow missed the reports earlier this summer that I just found in a quick Web search.

Well, there is the other option--find an OS X replacement for whatever Classic apps you're still using. Mac OS 9, after all, has been dead for about 5 years by now.

And then there's the other other option: Use an emulator program to run Classic apps inside OS X. SheepShaver is supposed to be good for that...

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Eugene, Ore.: Rob, will OLED large screen TV's ever arrive?

PS: why is it that on PCWorld articles linked to WaPo there are odd text errors, for example, in the past AT&T has appeared as AT&T.

Rob Pegoraro:"Ever" is a mighty long time, so I will answer "yes." But if you're looking to get them in the next two years at a price competitive with LCD or plasma, I will answer "no." (Sony just announced an 11-incher that will retail for $1,600 or so, as I recall.)

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Philadelphia, Pa. - again: Re sound - not DVD - haven't tried that. I had gone to a website with a video presentation and could see it but not hear it. When I tried the same site from my office I could see and hear. I then tried (at home) different things (Verizon site, MSN, etc.) and achieved video but no sound. I just don't know what to try or who to try (either Dell or Verizon FIOS). Any, any suggestions - please.

Rob Pegoraro: I'll bet you've got an older version of the Flash player. Go to adobe.com/flashplayer and get the current release.

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Wash., DC: I recently fried my laptop hard disk and the Geek Squad had me buy a new hard disk and Windows XP. I installed all that but I cannot make the wireless connection to my Cable modem/router. There is not even an icon to look for wireless connections. It turns out I purchased Windows XP Home SP2 upgrade. The only wired port appears to be a firewire port (how do I tell for sure) but it won't make the connection to the router. Any ideas? Need more info?

Rob Pegoraro: My guess is that you need to get the right drivers for your laptop's WiFi receiver. Try using the "Add New Hardware Wizard" to find them automatically, or go to the laptop manufacturer's Web site and get them there.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Roxio suffers from feature bloat. Each new version gets harder and harder to use.

Rob Pegoraro: Here's a vote against Roxio's DVD-authoring software

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Herndon, Va.: My old DirecTV/Tivo box (Series 1) is dying. Is is worth looking at FIOS for TV and internet? I have an HDTV and would like HD channels besides the OTA antenna. I pay $30 for DSL (Earthlink) and $55 for DTV (Tivo is paid up thru lifetime on Series 1 box).

Rob Pegoraro: Your monthly bill would probably be about the same with Fios if you don't go crazy with premium channel packages or whatnot.

One thing you should seriously consider is asking TiVo to transfer your lifetime subscription to a new TiVo HD. (A friend of mine did that a couple of years ago.) According to some of the people who have e-mailed me about their Fios experiences, you can use the CableCard slots in new TiVos to connect them directly to the Fios input--no set-top box or Verizon DVR needed.

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Wireless router and/or firewall: Rob, I am looking to purchase a wireless router for my Comcast cable laptop connection. My questions are:

1. Currently, I am using XP SP2 and use only the Microsoft software firewall (along with the McAfee antivirus/spyware) and no hardwall firewall. Do I need a hardware firewall? If so can I get one already configured in the router?

2. Do you have a favorite Router to suggest with my cable connection? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro:1) No, because the wireless router will include its own firewall.

2) Not really, but that's mainly because I haven't done a thorough comparison of them in too long. From what I hear from readers, most of them make networking way too difficult--but I've yet to have too many people say "this one made everything else" (aside from Apple's AirPort Extreme, which is also a lot more expensive than most other routers).

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Falls Church, Va.: Hi Rob, As you probably know, WAMU public radio is banking on its two HD-only radio channels to diversify its programming. I suspect at this point the HD channels are only reaching a minuscule portion of their listeners.

Are the HD radios any better than they were the last time you wrote about this? Is HD radio a technology of the future, or will it fade away? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: The selection of HD Radio hardware has gotten better in *some* categories. You can now choose from several different high-end alarm clocks, along with a decent set of car stereos. But there still aren't any A/V receivers that include HD Radio tuners, which is why I still have one of the world's oldest surround-sound receivers in my own living room.

The neatest thing I've seen in HD Radio lately is the new iSonic ES2 model from Polk Audio. It has an iPod dock instead of the CD/DVD player of the first iSonic. It also has a "tag" button on the front--if you hear a song in HD that you like (and which was broadcast with the right "metadata" about the title and artist), that song's info will be copied to the iPod. The next time you sync the iPod to your computer, you'll see that song show up, with a link to buy it on the iTunes Store.

That strikes me as a really smart way to use HD Radio's capabilities. The Polk Audio rep who demoed this to me at DigitalLife said the company has an exclusive on this feature through the end of this year, which hopefully means that we'll see a lot of other HD Radio models in January with the same feature.

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Madison, Wis.: Windows Mail did indeed drop identities. The only options I'm aware of are to use separate windows logon user IDs for each account or filters (rules) to manage the mail.

Consideration of a different email client, like Thunderbird, as you mentioned, is another option and may be best one if only one logon is desired.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, Madison. (But I'm not sure that Tbird will keep separate sent mailboxes for multiple POP accounts... for that, our friend might want to use Eudora, which explicitly supports multiple identities.)

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Ashland, Ore.: Hi Rob, thanks for your great chats. I have a Macbook that has been refusing to accept the firmware update that Apple issued last week. It always says "An unexpected error occurred (0). Your firmware cannot be updated. See www.apple.com/support for more information" That webpage is unhelpful so far as I can see.

I've tried probably ten times now. I've downloaded it several times, logged in as the root user and tried it. Nothing seems to work. I've tried googling the issue and the only guidance that I've seen is from an old firmware patch that says the error message I get may sometimes be linked to a RAM problem. Do I really need to start pulling my RAM to patch the firmware, or can I just ignore it and get on with my life?

Rob Pegoraro: Tread carefully--if a firmware update goes wrong, you can easily "brick" the entire computer.

I would try removing any third-party memory, but you might also want to take the MacBook to the genius bar at an Apple Store and have them try to figure out the firmware update problem.

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Help!: Rob, After a year of having the home computer with little to no problems, I am now dealing with a machine that is infected with virus. I'm constantly getting pop up ads (mainly through IE but occasionally from Firefox), my machine is crawling at a snails' pace and even one night the machine started playing music for some unknown source. I've been using the Avast antivirus software you've mentioned in the past which has eliminated about 40+ virus but I'm still having problems. What should I do next?

One of the things that complicates this is the fact that even though I religiously use Firefox and check to make sure not to download anything strange, my partner keeps using IE and who knows what else. What can I do to eliminate this problem and secure the machine?

Rob Pegoraro: That sounds like a deeply compromised machine, Help. You will probably spare yourself some drawn-out debugging if you just back up whatever data you value on that machine, then wipe the hard drive and reinstall everything. Like I said two weeks ago, that's the only way to be sure that you've cleared out the problem.

When you reinstall everything, upgrade IE 6 to IE 7, so that even if your partner insists on running IE the danger of a drive-by download will be reduced.

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Rockville, Md.:"Not really, but that's mainly because I haven't done a thorough comparison of them in too long. From what I hear from readers, most of them make networking way too difficult"

Network Magic is some pretty cheap software (I think it was about $25) and made networking the system (and troubleshooting issues that pop up) EASY!!

I'm using it with me D-Link network.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!

(I suspect D-Link won't be flattered by this endorsement, since Rockville basically said "this $25 program fixed all the problems I had with my router.")

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Comment on iPod Touch vs iPod nano: I have an iPod touch. I did not want an iPhone because I would have to pay for service, whereas my company covers the blackberry. What I love about the touch over the other iPods is the wifi browsing....particularly at conventions. While there, I often drag my laptop (which gets heavy after 10 hours) just for wifi.

Also, the video screen is large enough to see for us middle age types. I can not see the screen on either a nano or classic....my eyes will not focus on something that small. The nano might be great for a teen or 20 something, but not for 40+.

Rob Pegoraro: I appreciate your comments

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At Wit's E, ND: Rob, I bought a Dell Inspiron 1521 laptop back in early August and it FINALLY came at the end of September. I've only used it a few times, and then one day it gave me some hard disk error, so I rebooted it and it was fine. Now, when I start up the computer, the Dell screen comes up but then it goes to a black screen and a window pops up with a prompt (I can't remember what the window heading is off the top of my head). But when I try to type, nothing happens. And if I close the window, the screen remains black. Do you know what could cause this or do I turn to the abyss that is Dell customer support?

Also, once I get this fixed, I want to use an external hard drive to put all my music files on. Can you recommend one? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: If you can't get to *any* part of the Dell's software, you need to turn to Dell's tech support. No way around that.

For an external hard drive, I'll stick with my earlier advice--as long as you get a "bus powered" model that doesn't need its own power brick, you can't go too wrong.

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Silver Spring: I am taking the Mac plunge. But I don't wanna spend a lot of money.

Should I pick up a used G4 used for a nice beginner set-up? How much memory and speed do I need to run Windows on a Mac?

Rob Pegoraro: Since you used the phrase "run Windows on a Mac," I will tell you to skip the used-G4 purchase. You need a Mac running an Intel processor, and one with enough hard drive space and memory to accommodate two separate operating systems at once--say, 80 gigabytes and 2 gigabytes, respectively.

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Rockville, Md.:"(I suspect D-Link won't be flattered by this endorsement, since Rockville basically said "this $25 program fixed all the problems I had with my router.") "

No not at all. My D-Link is wonderful. But instead of having to name the network printer and install that printer on all my computers, Network Magic took care of it easily.

Rob Pegoraro: Ah - so maybe it's Microsoft that should take offense instead :)

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Nashville, Tenn.: This may be more of a vent than a question, but here goes: as a Netflix subscriber I'm allowed to stream 17 hours of movies each month, but I'm stopped because I use a MacBook instead of a PC. As a local library user I could download a multitude of audiobooks -- if I didn't use an iPod, which won't allow the WMA format. I haven't decided if it's worth it to buy a copy of Windows to use on my MacBook simply to watch a movie. And wouldn't I have to find a copy of XP instead of Vista? Do they still sell XP? Any thoughts appreciated, Rob. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: This is a longstanding gripe. To a certain extent, it's Apple's fault: Apple doesn't share its own copy-control software with anybody else, and even if it did FairPlay doesn't support time-limited downloads anyway.

To a greater extent, it's Microsoft's fault: The company has never supported Windows Media "DRM" on the Mac.

The Silverlight software from Microsoft that I recently blogged about might wind up solving this problem. See the comment from "Todd" on that page, which matches what I've read at some other places.

(It probably wouldn't hurt to ask Netflix when they might have a Silverlight-based system for their movie streaming.)

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Washington, D.C.: Thanks, Rob, for the advice about not getting a tv w/o an internal tuner. I have a tv w/o a tuner, and it's fine. But I don't want my parents to have to remember to use an extra remote, and I wouldn't have even thought about that if not for your advice. You rock. Thank you!

Rob Pegoraro: No problem. (I hate extra remotes too--not that I've had any luck with cutting down on them in my own home--so I try not to give readers advice that will wind up increasing their own remote collection.)

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Alexandria, Va.: Rob, Has Apple lifted the veil of secrecy surrounding screen problems with the iPod Touch? (probably not)

I'm currently on my 3rd one (all N/G) and waiting for a 4th. These so far have all been out of the earliest batches. Firmware updates don't eliminate the problem: blacks are "shimmery" head-on, and you get the best picture only by tilting back and left. For a $400 gizmo, it's too much to accept.

Rob Pegoraro: Last I'd heard, Apple had publicly acknowledged issues with some iPod touch screens--I believe the WSJ's review included one such admission. I mean, if Apple were denying anything, I doubt they would have exchanged your three earlier iPod touches.

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Bethesda, Md.: So, do you have a view on the whole hacking-the-iPhone thing? FWIW, I think folks are getting... a little overwrought over it.

Rob Pegoraro: This will probably be tomorrow's blog post, but I'll try not to make this answer as long as most of my postings.

1) Any time you're hacking a device to do what its manufacturer didn't intend, you incur some sort of risk of things going wrong. You shouldn't start any hacking projects if you're not prepared to own the consequences of those actions.

2) Nobody makes anybody buy an iPhone, and its not like its closed nature hasn't been covered at length.

3) BUT: Designing the iPhone to be the world's only permanently locked GSM phone does not strike me as a wise thing for Apple to do, or for AT&T to insist on. Neither company can be surprised that customers are trying to get around it.

4) Then there's the issue of people adding their own apps or ringtones to iPhones. That doesn't endanger anybody's network or cut the iPhone's ties to AT&T. So Apple is a little out of line in trying to stamp out on that practice with the latest firmware update.

5) Apple apologists--you're not talking to one here--can say, correctly, that Apple is within its rights in doing these things. But if a customer has to say "well, this company was within its rights to do what it just did to me," I would submit that you don't have the healthiest customer relationship.

(Sorry. This *is* as long as most of my blog posts.)

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Gaithersburg: Rob, I know this is kind of off-the-wall and general, but could be kind of fun, too... What are the best tech values on eBay?

Today you can get a camera cell phone for $25 that works with 10 cent prepaid minutes. A $300 PDA five years ago is about the same. What's dirt cheap if "just working" is the standard?

Rob Pegoraro: How about the lightly used Pentax digital-camera battery--with charger--that I've got listed on eBay RIGHT NOW! :)

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Bethesda, Md.: Although I'm no technophobe, for a variety of reasons I have never had a cell phone. However, I've decided it's something that I can no longer do without but I don't know where to begin! Are there cell phone features you find to be very useful and features you rarely use? Phone styles that are especially user-friendly? For a first-time cell phone purchaser, is the iphone (or something similar) overkill? Right now I'm just thinking about making and receiving calls, but since I expect to have my new phone for several years I'm trying to anticipate what functions I'll be wishing I had if I went with just a basic phone. Also, if phone service on the metro is desirable, is Verizon my best/only choice? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: I would suggest that you not overlook text messaging and Web access.

Texting is *not* just for MySpace-addicted kids; it's an extraordinarily useful feature, in that it works even when you barely have a signal and lets you "talk" even when it's too loud or too quiet for a normal conversation.

Web access, meanwhile, is terrific for pulling down little tidbits of info on the go--the score of the Nats game, the waiting time for the next train to Shady Grove, the departure gate for your flight, the forecast.

If you want to use your phone in the subway parts of Metro, you can only use Verizon or Sprint. Verizon has transmitters down there, but Sprint phones use the same airwaves and can roam for free.

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Bethesda, Md., - re Windows mail: It seems like you're saying to use Thunderbird rather than Windows mail. How do you suggest making the change to Thunderbird? Would I still have access to the email that has been downloaded to Windows Mail?

Rob Pegoraro: I'm glad you asked that--but you may not be glad about my answer. Last I checked, Tbird did *not* automatically import mailboxes and address books from Windows Mail. (It can do that quite well with Outlook Express.) That's a dumb omission in this product, one that would force you to export individual mailbox files from Windows Mail.

You might be able to do a direct import with a developmental version of Tbird... haven't tried any of the recent builds, though.

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Gaithersburg: re FIOS in Montgomery County. Does Verizon have dates that go along with that map you linked to on your blog?

Rob Pegoraro: Nope.

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Laptop to TV (streaming TV shows): Hi, me again-- it was my question you answered first. Thanks!

I haven't seen a TV that has a VGA input.

My son's Dell laptop has only a VGA output (like for a monitor). And the TV does not have a VGA input-- only coax (cable TV); composite (yellow RCA plug); S-video; component (3 RCA plugs); and HDMI. No VGA input (neither does my Panasonic flatscreen at home).

Am I missing something?

Rob Pegoraro: A lot of HDTVs do have VGA inputs, but yours evidently does not. You'd need an adapter cable--VGA to component ought to be cheaper than VGA to HDMI, but shop around.

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Chevy Chase, D.C.: Rob - Just got a MacBook Pro and am gradually migrating over from my Windows PC. Trying to decide on Quicken 2008 for Mac, or running Quicken for Windows within Parallels or VMWare Fusion. Any recommendations?

Rob Pegoraro: If you've got a paid-for copy of Quicken for Windows and you were already going to install Parallels or Fusion, stick with Quicken for Windows. The Mac version of Quicken is insultingly bad--it doesn't even download account data from the same set of banks as the Windows version. (If Intuit designed the Web, washingtonpost.com would have to come in separate Mac and PC editions.)

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Seattle: Rob, As a user of Vista and WMP11, the Zune looks good to me. Luckily, I didn't lock myself into iTunes and iTunes Music Store purchases, so I have a bit of flexibility when it comes to new mp3 players.

As much as I want to want the Zune, I can't. I've always felt that if mp3 players want to compete with the iPod, they have to do so on price. The 80GB Zune being the same price as the 80GB iPod simply isn't enough incentive for me to replace my quickly aging SanDisk Sansa. Ditto the mini-Zune (whatever they're being called).

I think that the Zune stacks up VERY well on features, but unfortunately, not as well on price. Do you see Microsoft budging on this?

Rob Pegoraro: No - Microsoft is generally not a company that competes on price. At most, it will offer temporary discounts, like the (very good) deal it recently offered college students on Office 2007.

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Mike, London: apple firmware issues:

Has the user changed his hard drive? That seems to be the cause of the problem.

Rob Pegoraro: Hmm...

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Falls Church, Va.: Tell us more about some of the "random things" you saw at the Digital Life show.

Rob Pegoraro: OK, let's see... besides the things I blogged about and that Polk Audio HD Radio I wrote about earlier this chat, there was:

* A $100 set of sound-isolation headphones from Shure that I briefly tried at a reception. They really did blot out the noise--it was as if I'd sat in the backseat of Lexus and then shut the doors. But when I took these headphones out--let's just say that until then, I had thought my ears were clean. Yuck.

* Ceiva, the company that makes those digital picture frames, said they're going to embed one frame in an upcoming Whirlpool fridge.

* HP has a new line of iPaq handhelds coming out, one of which will be HP's first phone to run the "smartphone"--er, "professional" version of Windows Mobile. It looked fairly slick.

* At Microsoft's booth, a company called Momento showed a networked digital picture frame that can display RSS feeds and run little software widgets.

* Gateway had its One all-in-one desktop on display, which basically looks like an iMac done up in black, but with a huge external power brick that doubles as a USB hub. The Ones on display were free of stickers, so I asked the Gateway rep if they had really dispensed with that silly habit--and he told me that they weren't able to negotiate their way out of their existing sticker obligations. Amazing.

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Rob Pegoraro: And on that note--I gotta go. Thanks, everybody! See you here in a couple of weeks.

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