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Personal Tech: Holiday Guide 2007

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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, December 20, 2007; 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Thursday, Dec. 20, at 2 p.m. ET to answer your holiday tech questions and discuss his recent reviews and blog posts.

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Browse the 2007 Holiday Tech Guide.

A transcript follows.

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Rob Pegoraro: Here we are: my last Web chat of 2007.

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Baltimore, Md.: This isn't a gift question, but relevant to your column today. My new Compaq laptop (WinXP) didn't come with a system backup CD, but rather had the built in program which creates backup CDs for you. I don't have a DVD burner, so this program is asking for 12 CDs in order to back everything up. This seemed a little excessive to me, so I put off doing it with the result that the computer is now a year old and I haven't backed it up at all.

I consider myself fairly computer savvy, but I don't want to risk my computer on something this big. My question is this: can I just backup the extra drive (D: i believe) that holds this information (I think that is where it is, since I didn't create this myself) to an external hard drive and then delete (or remove some other way) that drive, or is going through whatever program that keeps bugging me to make CDs essential? I want to make sure that I am covered in case I need to reformat or whatever so that I don't lose my copy of Windows, as I have no desire to convert to the resource-hogging Vista.

washingtonpost.com: Fast Forward: 7 Steps to Get Your New Computer Running Right

Rob Pegoraro: We're talking about two different kinds of backup here, I think. I'm almost positive that the Compaq program is bugging you to make a backup of *only that system-restore partition*--not your own data. (Unless you've hardly used the PC, you'd need a lot more than a dozen CD-Rs to hold all your files and settings.) You should go ahead and make that backup copy (feel free to resent Compaq for not including a DVD in the box and making you do all this work).

But then you need to back up your own data, which is what's really important--you can always order a new system CD, but nobody's going to sell you a new set of your family photos. And for that, I strongly suggest getting an external hard drive.

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Birmngham, Ala.: What alternatives to ITouch that might rival the product? My kids think ITouch does not have enough storage to make it a useful gift.

Rob Pegoraro: It took me a second to realize that Birmingham's talking about the iPod Touch--the "iTouch" nickname has really taken off.

If your kids think the Touch is too small, the only other iPod option is the iPod classic, at 80 GB ($249) or 160 GB ($349).

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Worcester, Mass.: I have a new 37 inch Olevia HDTV that has good audio quality. It has provisions to add a powered subwoofer to the existing surround sound system. What is the least expensive powered mono subwoofer that would be worth the add?

Rob Pegoraro: I have no idea! But maybe somebody else in the audience does. Audience, what say ye?

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Cary, N.C.: Hi, thanks in advance for taking my question.

I'm in the market for a new digital camera and I'm leaning towards either the Canon SD1000 or the Canon A720, based on price and the generally good reviews both have gotten. My question, though, is this: I saw at least one review of the 720 that said it was "slow" to take pictures. Have you tried the A720, and if so, was your impression that it was "slow"?

Also, are there any other cameras in the same general range as the A720 and SD1000 that I should be looking at? (ie, less than $225, relatively lightweight, point-and-shoot) I've heard the Fujifilm cameras are nice, as are the Panasonic...

Rob Pegoraro: I haven't tested the A720, but I spent a lot of time the A710 last year and liked that camera very much. I didn't notice any particular lag, and I don't think the reviews that I read mentioned any either.

Of those two cameras, I'd get the A720, but my reasons for doing so might not apply to everybody--the A720, unlike the SD1000, offers a full set of manual controls. (The 720 also runs on AA batteries instead of a thinner proprietary battery.)

Canon's A570 is a cheaper option, but it's a little thicker than the 720 and doesn't offer as much of zoom.

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Followup on multi-CD changer from last time ...: As a techie who spent the time ripping 200+ CDs, I think that multi-CD changers have a lot of merits, especially for non-techies or luddites.

It seems that in principle you could load your 400-odd disks into your CD changer once, noting the CD titles in a computer file as you do so. Then just tape the printout of the title-list next to your CD changer.

Of course you won't be able to listen to the tunes on your iPod, but your time investment will have been minimal, and your financial investment won't be too bad either.

I've often wondered, though, why external multi-CD changers for COMPUTERS are so rare. This would make ripping a large CD collection much more palatable, since one could have the computer rip hundreds of CDs at once (over a period of a few days). The subsequent matching of CD tracks to titles would probably only require an hour or two of human intervention at the end.

Rob Pegoraro: I suspect the time spent "noting the CD titles in a computer file" would be much more than minimal if you need to do that for hundreds of CDs.

I hear what you're saying about multi-CD changers on computers--but that's a feature you'd only use once. If you're really in a hurry, you can pay a CD-ripping service to do the job for you.

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Vudu?: Rob, what do you know/think about Vudu? Worth the money?

Rob Pegoraro: I've seen a demo, which looked promising. But it can't get past the same problem that holds back all of these video-download boxes: Hollywood's consistent unwillingness to make movies available online in ways that might ever jeopardize its existing business lines. So you keep getting offered only a minimal discount off the rental or purchase price of a DVD, with a selection that's artificially constrained by "release window" timetables.

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Tulsa, Okla.: Here in oklahoma we just had a slight ice problem which knocked out everyones electricity and cable lines due to media consolidation, the vast majority of the radio stations were running national NOT LOCAL programming- sports and polotical ranting. Most useful! However the local TV stations were able to get local info on the air using generators.

Us citizens were then able to get important info using antennas and battery powered analogue television sets. My questions are: Are there battery powered HD television sets? Are there battery powered converters that will let analogue TVs recieve HD broadcast signals via antennas? Will the current TV-band radios be able to decode/recieve HD TV signal audio?

Is anyone considering emergency situations? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: There are battery-powered HD sets, but not in the way you might imagine--several companies make USB digital-TV tuners that you can plug into a computer. If that computer is a laptop, you've got your battery-powered HDTV.

I don't see any reason why you couldn't make a small, standalone DTV set, but I haven't seen one yet.

No, current TV-band radios can't tune into the audio portion of DTV broadcasts.

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Washington, D.C.: Forget what's available now -- is Apple coming out with the rumored ultra-portable laptop in January or not? If so, I'll save all my pennies for it and just whistle this Christmas.

Rob Pegoraro: I wish I knew, since a sturdy, ultralight laptop is only at the top of just about any journalist's wish list. The rumors have been consistent in saying that this thing is coming, but they've been wrong before.

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Hudsonville, Mich. : There are SO many external hard drives out there -- I think I want to spend about $100-140 and since I have an iMac, which does not have many USB ports, I think I would like to find one with firewire connection. I read your earlier columns about external hard drives, Time Machine, and more....but I'm wondering what size hard drive will be appropriate. My computer has 41GB of its 150GB used, so I'm wondering what is appropriate.

Thanks for all your great information -- just bought one of those digital frames based on the chat last week!

Rob Pegoraro: You do want a FireWire drive for exactly the reasons you outlined. And if you get a bus-powered model (which may be advertised as a "mobile" drive), you won't need to plug it into the wall.

I'd get at least a 120 GB drive, but I'd think about upgrading to 160 GB--the extra space won't cost that much.

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Arlington, Va.: Rob,

As I have been having some problems with the Firefox 2.0.0.11 update on my computer, and being wary of IE7, I started using the Opera browser. It has some unique features and I'm curious as to your opinion of it from a security and general usability point of view.

Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: Opera has improved quite a bit in recent years. I was happy when they dropped the ads, but I've been happier to see the developers work to simplify the interface (not that I think that work is done quite yet). As far as security goes, I think it compares well to IE and is roughly equal to Firefox--although I've read that Firefox is seeing more attacks as its market share has climbed.

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Cambridge, Mass.: Rob, I'm terribly torn between buying a new XP computer now versus buying a new Vista computer after SP1 is released. The rational side of me says that if I wait until SP1 is released, I should wait a few more months to see if that creates more bugs than it solves, which would delay the purchase until this summer, which is really too long for me to wait. But, I don't want to end up with a new XP system that Microsoft ceases supporting with security patches before I'm ready to upgrade again. What do I do? Do you think SP1 will itself be buggy? Will I need to wait for the bugs to be ironed out? I guess I've ruled out buying a new Vista system now, but if SP1 will be like the cavalry coming to the rescue (and if it is released soon), I guess I could tough it out a few months with a new Vista system and upgrade to SP1--unless there will be some benefit to buying a system with SP1 pre-installed. Can you tell I worry a lot? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: I could picture you rocking back and forth on a couch while saying all this, Cambridge :)

SP1--that is, the Service Pack 1 update to Vista--should be showing up on new computers in the next few months, as you said. It will have a few bugs, like any other big release, but it should fix far more than it creates... the Windows developers have had the benefit of a year of real-world use of Vista in creating this update.

As I've said before, I don't think buying XP on a new machine makes a huge amount of sense now. You almost certainly will want or need to install Vista within the life any new computer--and by getting Vista preinstalled, you eliminate a lot of compatibility issues right out of the gate.

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Out of the box: I hate that things don't come with hard copy manuals anymore. I don't WANT to visit the manufacturer's website and download a PDF.

GRR.

Rob Pegoraro: And yet most major hardware items come with only the thinnest of manuals.

(Oddly enough, Amazon's Kindle e-book reader itself comes with a nicely laid-out, well-written paper manual.)

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Silver Spring: My DVD player is dying. Do you think blueray is going to be the only game in town soon? If so, when? I need to decide if I should buy a cheap DVD player now or bite the bullet on an exensive blueray.

Rob Pegoraro: No, neither Blu-Ray nor HD DVD is in any danger of becoming the only game in town. Go ahead and get that cheap DVD player--or make it a DVD recorder.

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Fairfax, Va.: Looking for a last minute gift- Do you have any recommendations for a small (4x6) photo printer (dye-sub or inkjet) that produces high quality photos and can also be hooked up to a computer for printing out of Photoshop? I've heard good things about the Epson Dash but nothing about the Canon Selphy or HP units.

Rob Pegoraro: Here's another one I'll throw out to the chattering classes...

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Clifton, VA: Worcester, MA,

Look at sub's from Boston Acoustics, JBL,

and Klipsch. Serious doubts on the sound quality on the speakers in a Olevia. You might want tos spend a little more and a get a Home Theater in the Box from Sony, Denon, or Onkyo. You will be amazed at the real difference you cna hear.

Rob Pegoraro: Clifton's responding to an earlier reader query, about adding a subwoofer to a new HDTV.

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Washington, DC: Rob,

Thanks so much for the chats; they are really useful.

I just installed Mac OS X 10.5 - Leopard last night on my iBook G4. Everything was very smooth, but now I have no sound at all. Not from the laptop speakers or through headphones. In fact iTunes won't even begin to play and videos have no sound. The volume button won't adjust or mute, is greyed out and just has the circle with a slash through it.

I went to the system profiler and there is nothing in the output field.

Is this common with this new operating system?

Rob Pegoraro: No, that's not at all normal. There is a 10.5.1 update--try installing that, and if it doesn't work use an "archive and install" to put a clean copy of Leopard on the iBook (it'll leave your files, settings and almost all applications completely intact).

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Combos: Rob, How reliable are TVs with built in DVD players these days? I don't see many reviews really saying to stay away from them, yet I see/hear comments from people assuming they aren't worthwhile, but nothing concrete about it. Opinion?

Rob Pegoraro: For the primary set in the house, I wouldn't get one unless a TV with a DVD player built-in was only slightly more expensive than a comparable set without a DVD player--then it would be more like a "free" feature.

I could see how this idea would make more sense in bedrooms or dens.

The risk with any of these all-in-one sets is that if one component breaks, it's a pain to repair. But DVD players should be pretty reliable--especially compared to the component you used to see in an all-in-one set, a VCR.

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Laurel: Rob, timely column, my new Dell arrived a week ago. (Shopping hint for readers: don't pay $100/GB for memory. I got it for $28/GB on sale this week.)

One conundrum that comes up when getting a new PC is how much to transfer over vs. the chance to start afresh. The last two times I got a new computer, I solved this by keeping my old C: drive and installing it into the new computer as the D: drive. However, the connections on the new machine aren't the same as the old. If I just keep my hard drive at home and available, is there a way to re-connect and read it if I give away the old CPU?

Rob Pegoraro: You could put the old hard drive in a drive enclosure--a sort of sled that would allow you to connect it to a USB or FireWire port on your new computer.

The topic of what to bring over is something I'm probably going to address in Sunday's Help File, assuming I can write a correct, coherent explanation in the limited space available. The gist of what I want to say--and here's where you can correct me or offer your own suggestions--is that you should copy over every sub-folder of your Documents and Settings folder, then delete the folders you know you don't need once the new machine is up and running.

The downside of this approach is waiting for many more files to transfer than you'll actually need--but because most of the important sub-folders are hidden or in non-obvious spots, trying to be selective in advance risks your leaving some important files behind.

(The catch is, some poorly-written programs don't store user data in the Documents and Settings folder, like older versions of Palm Desktop. I don't know what to do about that, except excoriate stupid programmers who won't follow guidelines that Microsoft wrote in the previous decade.)

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Mark in PA: I've decided to jump in the iMac pool and know that I'm going to use Parallels for some Windows programs (such as MS Money that I'm not ready to let go of yet). Is the standard 1 GB of memory enough or should I just go ahead and get 2 GB, like I would if I was running a VM under Windows?

Rob Pegoraro: Get 2 gigabytes--you are going to be running two separate operating systems at the same time.

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For the Canon-customer: I have the SD450 and LOVE IT. And I know a lot of people who have the SD600-900 and all absolutely love their camera's as well, so I'd totally recommend the 1000. They're very versatile, offer a lot of options, are user friendly and small enough to fit in a pocket or purse.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!

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Washington, D.C. : I love my Treo 650, but I'm afraid it might be slowly dying. I read your review of the Centro, but you mostly just compared it to a Blackberry. How would the Centro compare to the 650? The price is much lower than I paid for the 650, so is it a "downgrade"? Any outstanding 650 features that are missing from the Centro? Thank you for any insight you can provide.

Rob Pegoraro: I am in the exact same boat, and have decided, with some reluctance, to get a Centro. I'm reluctant because this newer devices doesn't represent a huge advance over my own three-year-old phone.

It's slightly smaller and thinner, includes a better software bundle and has a faster data connection--but any competent phone manufacturer should have been able to do much more over three years.

The only thing you give up, compared to the 650, on the Centro is a bigger keyboard. The Centro's keys are packed much close together. I haven't had any trouble typing on them (somewhat to my surprise) but a friend of mine opted to get the Treo 755p because he didn't think he could deal with the Centro's keypad.

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Bethesda, MD: I love the idea of Leopard's Time Machine, but am tied to Windows (XP).

I've seen this possible solution ("TrackMyFiles").

http://www.trackmyfiles.com/en/home/

Have you or anyone out there tried it? I'd like something simple enough for my aging in-laws to use in conjunction with an external hard drive.

Alternatively, do you recommend any of the "one touch" external disk drives out there, where you can press a button to initiate your backup?

Rob Pegoraro: Never heard of this one until now. Comments, anybody?

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Silver Spring: For the person looking for better sound from their TV:

I just bought a Bose Cinemate system and love it. Even though my new LCD tv has good audio it is in an armoire and much of the sounds gets lost. It is $500 and well worth it - plus only takes minutes to set up.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, Silver Spring!

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Fairfax, Va.: Rob,

My 25" tube tv is dying. Right now I have Cox cable, regular service (the one that goes up to like channel 100, no channels like HBO, etc.) I have a Series 2 Tivo with lifetime service, and a regular old DVD player. No gaming systems. Given that most of the TV viewing is the kids (Blues Clues, the Wiggles, etc.), the adults only watch a few shows a week, is there a pressing need to get HDTV? From what I gather, I'd need to upgrade my cable service, get a new Tivo, etc. Is there any reason that I'm missing against getting another tube tv (other than the fact they are really heavy, oy!) Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: You don't need to get HDTV, but you do need to get a digital TV. Good news is, you would have a hard time buying a new analog set--you shouldn't be seeing any in the stores at all.

A digital set can use a CRT or an LCD. You might be surprised at how few CRTs you find, however--when I walked through the Tenleytown Best Buy last month, I saw maybe a dozen CRTs, all cooped up an aisle--presumably, the Aisle of Misfit Toys--at the back of the TV section.

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Washington: So why is an external hard drive preferable to a second internal hard drive for making backups?

Rob Pegoraro: If you need to recover your data to another computer, it's a lot easier to do that when you only need to plug in one tiny external drive.

Also, an internal drive can be taken out by any calamity that might render the rest of the computer useless.

An external hard drive can also be used to move files from one computer to another.

Finally, if you have a laptop a second internal hard drive usually isn't an option at all.

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Washington, D.C.: For the person who wants 4 x 6 dye sub printers, there is no value here as opposed to using Shutterfly, Snapfish, Winkflash etc...

However if you still want one try the printers from HiTi. I have two, they are great little printers that do full dye-sub printing.

http://www.hitouchimaging.com/

Rob Pegoraro: I think D.C. is correct in the math--last few times I've checked, it's been cheaper to order a 4-by-6 print from a photo-finishing Web site than to print it out on your own printer.

The equation flips around with bigger prints, like 8-by-10s, but most of the dye-sub (that's "dye-sublimation," how these things put ink on paper) printers sold for home use can't handle anything bigger than 4 by 6, maybe 5 by 7.

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Rockville, Md.: To the person running Windows and Mac on an iMac - get as much RAM as you can afford, it really makes a difference.

Additionally, make sure you compare Parallels and VMWare Fusion (another option for running Windows on a Mac). I just did the comparison and VMWare Fusion came out on top - it's faster, easier to use (I think), and has less known issues.

Rob Pegoraro: I've been meaning to write up a comparison of these two virtualization programs--the problem I've had is that they do much of the basic work of running Windows on a Mac equally well.

But... the good people at MacTech just did some performance tests of both Parallels and Fusion that offer some more concrete guidance. They found that XP ran faster in Parallels, while Vista was faster in Fusion: Virtualization Benchmarking

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Potomac: Don't waste your time with the "one touch" options. With Leopard's Time Machine, even one touch is one too many. If you are so tied to Windows, give one of the many virtualization programs a try. You're probably less tied down to it than you think.

I'm sure there are success stories out there, but I've just had bad experience with the Maxtor one touch series. They work well as external hard drives, but executing the "one touch" backup plan just didn't seem to work for me.

Rob Pegoraro: Potomac's talking about external hard drives--Maxtor has sold a line for many years that include a button on the front that runs a backup routine.

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FIOS and TIVO: I'm getting FIOS next month and am thinking of getting the TIVO Series 3 as everything I've read says TIVO is far superior to the Verizon counterpart BUT I've also read that TIVO is losing customers. Do you think TIVO (like rock and roll) is here to stay?

Rob Pegoraro: A year ago, I wasn't quite sure--but I do think that TiVo (not an acronym, BTW) is here to stay. The Series 3 is much more affordable than the Series 2 and TiVo is now selling boxes through Comcast. More important, however, the rest of the electronics industry seems to have abandoned the field to TiVo. Nobody else is trying to sell a hard-drive based DVR direct to consumers.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi. I'd like to be able to hook up my ipod to my existing stereo system. Do you have any recommendations on how to accomplish this? I'm not interested in buying a stand alone system for the iPod since I'm happy with my existing stereo. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Any Apple Store will gladly sell you an iPod dock to connect your iPod to your stereo, but you can also buy a simple, dirt-cheap patch cable that runs from the headphone jack to the RCA inputs of the stereo.

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Winston-Salem, N.C.: What's your opinion on digital frames? I want to spend under $100, but I don't want junk either. Are they all basically the same or is one brand/type better than another? Thanks for the information!

Rob Pegoraro: Have a look at this blog post from last week, including some informative comments from readers who have purchased these things lately: Focusing on Digital Picture Frames

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St. Cloud, Minn.: LCD response time question: Some reviewers say that slower response times on LCD TVs (as compared to plasma) can cause noticeable blurring in action films and sports broadcasts. Others say that such differences can show up in testing, but is all but impossible for most people to notice in practice.

I haven't seen much blurring in stores, but I haven't looked that carefully. Do you have any information on this question?

Rob Pegoraro: This is something I tried to see when I did a comparison of LCD and plasma TVs last year. I say "tried to see" because it is not, in fact, obvious in regular TV watching. The only time it jumped out at me was when I followed the text on a news ticker on ESPN; the letters did blur slightly.

I would not worry too much about this.

Here's that LCD/plasma comparison, BTW: LCD or Plasma? Consider Size, Weight, Glare

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Washington, D.C.: Hi there - I was initially really interested in the iPod touch but then realized that it doesn't allow the "calendar feature" except on the computer (and then sync-ing it up). I still have another year to go on my Verizon plan, so I can't re-sign up and get a good price on a phone+organizer. So, what would be a good organizer/PDA device for me to consider (I'll keep my separate cell phone)? Priorities are organization, calendar, address book - nothing too fancy!

Thanks and ... Happy Holidays!

Rob Pegoraro: Apple fixed the iPod touch's calendar--you can now edit and create calendar appointments on the touch. This came in a software update a month or so ago.

You still might not like the touch as an organizer if you take notes to yourself; unlike the iPhone, it doesn't include a notepad application.

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Re: The Series 3 is much more affordable than the Series 2: Do you mean the TivoHD? The "Series 3" still costs an arm and a leg, but the TivoHD does pretty much the same thing for less $$$.

Rob Pegoraro: Right--when I typed "3," I meant "HD"; "2" meant "3" in that post.

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Jacksonville, Fla.: HI! Rob! I have question about MP3 players with FM tuners. I want to know if I get an MP3 player that has an FM tuner. Do I need to plug-in to the computer to download some of my favorite internet radio stations? How does that work? Once I download the information to the MP3 player, do I need to stay plugged-in to the computer? I should be able to unplug an go anywhere, right until battery runs low. Please let me have some input or a website I can go to.

Your input is appreciated. Thanks! Dietra

Rob Pegoraro: An MP3 player with an FM tuner--either built-in or incorporated into an aftermarket remote--can only tune into FM radio, not AM or anything off the Web.

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Alexandria, Va.: I think I remember you mentioning that the Motorola Q9M didn't have a notepad/memo pad application built in. I just got one a week or so ago and the memo pad is under accessories.

Rob Pegoraro: Speaking of notepads--Alexandria has the new version of a phone that I reviewed in 2005 or 2006. (Does this notepad sync to Outlook or OneNote?)

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LCD prices: Hi Rob - Just a note of caution to those looking to buy HDTVs for the holidays. The price of a model at the same store can fluctuate wildly from day to day. I was looking at a 32" Toshiba at one of the big chain stores on Saturday for $699. After thinking about it overnight I went back on Sunday to buy it, but the price had jumped to $899. Needless to say I didn't buy it.

Rob Pegoraro: Ouch!

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Rockville, Md.: Wow, do I ever hate the new MS Office. MS technicians have totally change the screen views and functions from the last version. It is not an easy thing to find many of the functions. Is there a way to make the 07 version look like the 03 version on screen. Why does Microsoft keep doing things like this, planned obsolescence or do I smell monopoly?

Rob Pegoraro: I'm afraid we disagree on Office 2007, Rockville--I was happy that somebody at Microsoft had recognized what a mess Office's interface had become and tried to do something about it. There are parts of the 2007 interface that could be done better (for example, hiding the "Save As..." command under that Office button), but I think that in general it makes a lot of Office functions easier to discover.

Remember, one of my biggest gripes with Microsoft is its habit of leaving sub-par interface elements intact in update after update--you can see icons and dialogs in Vista that have barely changed since Win 95, despite clear possibilities for improvement.

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Washington, D.C.: Leopard installation again:

Thanks for the advice Rob! My sound problem occurred after I had installed the 10.5.1 update and another update.

I did a search in the Apple forums and see that this is a problem that several G4 users are having. They have suggested "zapping the PRAM" i.e. resetting it.

I will try that suggestion and failing that, try a re-install of the Leopard. Other than no sound, the new operating system seems to work much faster and is very visually interesting as well!

Happy Holidays!

Rob Pegoraro: I concur with zapping the Parameter RAM--although it cracks me up that this is still necessary. (Zapping the PRAM was one of the most common troubleshooting steps you'd have to do running Mac OS 7, 8 and 9.)

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Washington, D.C.: Hi me again.

HiTi do sell a dye-sub printer that prints 4x6, 5x7 and 6x8. Again not affordable when compared to the photo printing sites. but great if you really want to do your own. Note I am not affiliated with this company but have been using there printers trouble free for five years.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the follow-up

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Cody, Wyo.: Hi Rob, I've decided to switch from a Windows XP Home system to a Mac Book because Macs are so much more secure. However, being a writer, I have tons of Windows software packages on my computer. It would be a daunting task to buy and learn comparable software for the Mac.

I know Apple offers Bootcamp to run Windows programs on Macs. So here's my question:

Does Windows running in Bootcamp suffer from the same security vulnerabilities as Windows on a regular PC?

Thanks for all your great columns and advice. Happy Holidays! John

Rob Pegoraro: Windows is Windows, whether you boot it off a Mac, run it in a virtualization program or run it off a Dell or HP.

If you're not going to get a copy of Parallels or Fusion--that is, you're going to boot into Windows most of the time, using Boot Camp--I would submit that you're wasting your money on a Mac. You will get a better-designed computer than most PCs, but you'll be ignoring one of its chief strengths, Mac OS X.

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RE: FM Tuner: I bought an FM tuner for my iPod Touch for use in the car that plugged into the cigarette lighter (plus it doubled as a charger as well). Doesn't work so great around big cities (slight static interference, or complete radio interference). Cost me $70. Bought a cassette tape adapter that plugs into the headphone jack of my iPod Touch. Works perfectly. Cost me $7. Just my experience.

Rob Pegoraro: That's what I've seen happen myself.

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Columbia, Md.: A fellow passenger on a flight I was on showed me his Blackberry Pearl with WiFi, and it looked great. But when I checked Verizon Wireless' web site, I noticed their Blackberries don't have a WiFi option. (For the record, the passenger had T-Mobile). Any idea if Verizon Wireless will be offering a Blackberry with WiFi in the near future?

Rob Pegoraro: I have no idea. The company isn't opposed to WiFi on principle; some of its Windows Mobile smartphones have featured WiFi for years.

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Old Palm and USB: I have a 6-year old Palm V and the craddle has a serial connection. I recently upgraded my computer and it doesn't have any serial ports - just USB.

I bought a serial to USB connector (about $10) and installed the driver that came with it. I installed the Palm software and syncing software for Yahoo mail but it won't work.

Any ideas?

Rob Pegoraro: Unless there's some sort of voodoo that will get the serial-to-USB driver software to work, you might have to buy a new Palm.

Sorry, but serial ports stopped showing up on new computers years ago. (By the time the Palm V shipped in 1999, the rise of USB should have been obvious--Palm OS handhelds from Handspring already used USB.)

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi, Love your column and chat.

I just got a new Dell computer that doesn't have speakers.......but its supposed to have a speaker BAR for the monitor. The speaker bar wasn't included, so while I am enjoying the silence, I was wondering if you had any thoughts.

Rob Pegoraro: My thoughts? Well, I'm hoping I haven't forgotten to send anybody their Christmas cards, and that I have a lot of writing to do for the rest of today and tomorrow, and that I'm really going to enjoy sleeping in Monday morning.

Oh, about the speaker bar? I think you should call up Dell and ask them to send along the missing hardware.

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Washington, D.C.: I would love to get a WiFi radio for my kitchen, mainly to listen to some foreign markets. However, this is a niche market that hasn't really taken off over here. Ideally I would like a Soundbridge Radio, but this thing is stuck in 802.11b and I would really rather nor slow down my whole network just to listen to the radio. Do you know of any others that might work out? Have you heard if anything new is coming, with CES so close?

Rob Pegoraro: There are a few other items out there--I saw one small WiFi radio at the Digital Life show in NYC back in September called, I think, the Com One Phoenix.

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Dupont Circle: Rob -- For the poster facing replacing his Tivo series 2 box if/when he gets an HD TV -- it's not really necessary to ditch the old Tivo.

I continue to use my Tivo series 2 box with my HD TV, and it works just fine. Granted, it doesn't record the programs in HD, but then, given the amount of HD programming available, it's not a big deal. I've decided to wait another year or so to replace the Tivo, once the volume of HD programs increases.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, Dupont.

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NoLo, DC: Cassette adapters do work much better than FM transmitters...assuming the vehicle you're in has a cassette deck! I keep a cassette adapter in my own car, but when I travel I take an FM transmitter along with my iPod and/or iPhone because rental cars stopped having cassette decks years ago...

Rob Pegoraro: That is a problem. If only line-in input jacks cost only a dollar or so each to build into car stereos in volume... oh, wait, they do; the car companies just took a few years to decide that MP3 players weren't going away.

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Houston, Tex.: Regarding the Motorola Q9M, the notepad function does not sync to Outlook.

Rob Pegoraro: Well, that's not so useful. (I have the same complaint about the iPhone's notepad program.)

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Washington, D.C.: Rob - I've been seriously looking at getting an iMac. Apple and others praise the fact that the iMac can now do "almost" everything that PCs can do and then some because of the use of the Intel chips. Can you highlight what an iMac can't do that PCs can? For example, on the Internet, what websites and content cannot be accessed or viewed because you have an iMac? Is that simply remedied by using bootcamp or Parallels software and a version of Windows on the iMac? Is the compatibility really as good as they say it is? Thanks and Happy Holidays!

Rob Pegoraro: You might be misunderstanding things slightly--it's not that a Mac can do things that are impossible on a PC, it's that those things are easier on a Mac. (The only Web sites that are platform-exclusive these days either provide a specalized service of no use to people running other software--think Microsoft's Windows Update--or are run by idiots who think it's a good idea to turn away willing customers for no reason.)

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Washington, D.C.: I have just bought my first home computer, an iMac, and I have some embarrassingly basic newbie questions.

1/ I anticipate using it typically for an average of an hour or two a day. Should the unit be turned off when it's not in use?

2/ If the answer to 1 is no, should the broadband internet connection be disconnected when the unit is not being used? If so, is there an in-line switch available to do this, or do I just unplug the cable?

3/ What kind of surge suppressor do I need?

4/ From what I understand, Macs are rarely subjected to virus attacks. But "rarely" isn't never. Do I need anti-virus, anti-spyware etc. software, and if so what do you recommend for a Mac? (I realize that if I install Windows on it -- which I don't plan to do at the moment -- I would need to use Windows anti-virus software, too.)

Rob Pegoraro: 1) Let it go to sleep automatically--it will wake up within a second or two of you hitting the space bar.

2) Leave the broadband connection plugged in.

3) You don't need any special kind of surge protector.

4) See my column today. You don't need anti-spyware software, and anti-virus software is hardly worth bothering with also. Just turn on the Mac firewall, stay up to date with Apple's software updates and--as you would do on any computer--don't install new software unless you know what it is, what it will do, who's behind it and what other users have said about it.

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Joe from Annandale: I have loaded lots (100s) of photos onto my PC (1 yr. old) and would now like to download them to either a CD or DVD! Which disc should I use? How many photos will each hold? Are there any quality issues I should consider in buying either blank CDs or DVDs. Thanks.

And thank you for your weekly articles and these discussions, I find them very helpful.

Rob Pegoraro: How many photos will fit on each CD or DVD depends entirely on the resolution of those pictures. If you took them with a 5-megapixel camera, you could be looking at 4 megabytes per photo, which means a CD would hold about 160 shots and a DVD could store over 1,100.

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Washington, D.C.: Rob, you said "The only Web sites that are platform-exclusive these days either provide a specalized service of no use to people running other software--think Microsoft's Windows Update--or are run by idiots who think it's a good idea to turn away willing customers for no reason."

That's not entirely true - the music subscription services (Rhapsody, Napster and Yahoo) all want to be available on a Mac, but Apple won't let them. They are going more "web-based" to circumvent this.

Rob Pegoraro: You can use Rhapsody's Web site on a Mac--I've done so myself many times. I think you're talking about the DRM (digital rights management) software these sites use to lock rented downloads. The incompatibility of that with a Mac is not Apple's fault but Microsoft's: It hasn't provided a version of its DRM software for Mac OS X.

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Richmond, Va.: Rob,

After 18 months of "roughing it" watching only OTA HD local broadcasts, a few windy days of signal dropouts and a sluggish DSL connection, convinced me to try the FIOS triple play.

My TV has a cablecard slot and a QAM tuner. Shouldn't the FIOS technician be able to go directly to the set? The salesperson said I needed a box.

If I do get a DVR, I was also looking at the TiVoHD. Is it so much better than the FIOS DVR to justify a purchase?

Rob Pegoraro: The TiVo owners I've heard from would say that it's worth it (they can be a little cultish sometimes :)

Yes, Fios supports CableCards and QAM tuners.

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HDTV Contrast Ratio: I noticed that a particular manufacturer is putting out an 46 inch LCD 1080P with a 500,000 to 1 contrast ratio. (Yes five hundred thousand.) What are we to make of this? At what point does the human eye not know the difference? Suddenly, my 8000 to 1 contrast ratio bothers me. Help.

Rob Pegoraro: I share your sense of puzzlement. There are some figures out there that just can't possibly be relevant to the average user. There is such a thing as "good enough," and if you can keep that in mind you can keep a decent chunk of your electronics budget in your bank account.

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Clarksville, Md.: What's your opinion on having your car stereo retrofitted to take the input jack from an Ipod? I know some people who have done this with mixed results.

Rob Pegoraro: I've thought about that but have yet to do it myself.

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Washington, D.C.: For the newbie iMac owner, rather than just letting the computer go to sleep, set up the screen saver to show pictures from your iPhoto library (assuming you have digital pictures) and use the Ken Burns or mosaic effects. On the beautiful iMac screen, this looks fabulous (and is utterly distracting, in a good way).

Rob Pegoraro: True, but you'll also be running up the electric bill. What you can do, if you want to enjoy the screensaver for a bit, is set the screensaver to come on after X minutes of inactivity, then have the computer go to sleep after X+15 minutes of inactivity.

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Rob Pegoraro: I've gotta run, folks. (Those of you with tech-support questions, please e-mail them to me--robp at washpost.com--and I'll try to get to them later on.) Thanks for keeping me busy today, and all year long.

I should be talking to you next from Las Vegas, where I'll be covering the Consumer Electronics Show from January 6-10. See you in 2008...


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