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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, February 21, 2008; 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Thursday, Feb. 21 at 2 p.m. ET to discuss his recent reviews and blog posts.

This Story

Read the transcripts of past Personal Tech discussions here.

A transcript follows.

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Rob Pegoraro: Hi, I'm Rob. Thanks for showing up!

So.... looking at the comments on my blog and the e-mail I've gotten since my last chat, I suspect I've got a busy hour in front of me--there's an enormous amount of confusion over the digital-television transition that I covered last week. I will try to answer every question I get about that.

Today's column, meanwhile, involves a comparison of an Apple product with a Microsoft one, and that alone usually guarantees plentiful reader feedback.

Let's go!

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Washington, D.C.: With the high-def DVD battle now won by Blue-Ray, how will that change the market for Blue-Ray DVD players? The little research I did earlier this week seemed to show that there were reliability issues with many of the models currently on sale, and the price range of $300-$600 still pretty steep. Personally, I don't think I'd be interested in one unless it was reliable, included the ability to "up convert" standard DVDs, and cost about $200.

Rob Pegoraro: I agree with your conclusion, but I'd also want to be able to record onto DVDs and Blu-Ray discs, not just play them. We all waited way too long to get the ability to save movies and TV shows to DVDs, and I'm not interested in going through that delay again.

Also, upconverting DVDs look pretty good in their own right. For today's column, I did a little experiment about this. First I rented the same movie, "Ratatouille," in HD on both the Xbox Live and iTunes services. Both HD versions looked amazing. But then I played a DVD of the movie on the Xbox... and, y'know, that looked pretty good too on a 42-inch LCD. It wasn't that I couldn't tell you which copy was HD and which one wasn't, but the difference was not as obvious as some people would make it out to be.

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Washington, D.C.: Rob, I'm having trouble getting the signal for digital TV broadcasts in the DC area. I get NBC 4.1 just fine, but I can't even get a pixelated signal for CBS, ABC, FOX or PBS. Do you have any idea what's going on here? Is their antenna down?

Rob Pegoraro: Nope, all of the network affiliates you cite have pretty strong, clear signals. Whatever's holding you back has to be distinct to your location or your hardware. Questions:

* What's your analog reception like on 5, 7, 9, 22 and 26? (You didn't say if you were trying to tune in MPT or WETA, and I've found that MPT's signal can be stronger than WETA's.)

* How old is your digital tuner? Older models are not just not as reliable at pulling in somewhat weak digital signals as newer ones.

* Are you using a VHF-only antenna? A lot of digital channels occupy the UHF band (even though they're mapped to their analog spots on the dial.)

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Washington, D.C.: I have an Apple G4 Powerbook that's about four or five years old. I update the software regularly. It has become progressively more difficult to pick up a wireless signal. Someone has told me the airport on the G4 has a poor reputation. Is that true and if so, is it a hardware or software problem? I guess I should just take it to an Apple store and have them check it out but any thoughts you have on this would be appreciated.

Rob Pegoraro: I have heard people say that the G4 PowerBook had problematic wireless reception, thanks to its metal case, but that wouldn't explain your reception getting worse.

The problem could be that you're getting too much interference from neighbors' wireless networks (or devices that, like some older cordless phones, occupy the same wavelengths as WiFi).

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Burton-upon-Trent, UK: My pc was infected with virus's not long ago, the number of virus's have seemingly increased exponentially over the last ten years.

Is it possible to eradicate all threats of infection, by increasing sophistication of security, or will we have to get used to possible damage and live with the risk?

Rob Pegoraro: Successful virus attacks are *not* inevitable, and you should not ever accept them as the price of doing business.

But you also have to work to keep your own computer safe, because not all software is equally secure. For instance, if you're using Internet Explorer 6, you need to stop--NOW--and switch to Firefox. If you're shopping for a new computer, consider all of your options: Mac OS X is more secure than Windows.

(For more help on setting up a new computer right, please see the column I wrote in December: 7 Steps to Get Your New Computer Running Right)

But the most important thing you can do to keep your computer secure is to practice what the Ars Technica news site calls "skeptical computing": Be choosy about where you click and what you install on your machine.

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Charlotte, Vt.: Rob, what's your take on choosing A/V cables? Is the expensive stuff a waste of money?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, and especially if you're talking digital cables.

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Chicago: Rob,

What's up with the wireless network version "n"? Has the draft version been finalized? If so, why is it so hard to find computers that have 802.11n built-in? (At least, I am having trouble finding them, though I am concentrating on Dell.com for a desktop.)

On another issue, now that Vista SP1 has shipped to manufacturers, can I safely assume that a computer I order online custom-built will have SP1? I ask, because the manufacturers don't seem to be advertising "Vista SP1 Home Premium", maybe because it wasn't that great an update--but I've been waiting for it before buying a new desktop.

Rob Pegoraro:802.11n--the super-fast version of WiFi that many wireless routers now include--is not a final specification, but I'm pretty sure that all of the manufacturers of these routers have promised firmware updates that will bring them into compliance with the spec when it's done.

As for Vista SP1--that's "Service Pack One," a sweeping bundle of fixes--no, you can't assume that a new machine will include that right away. A PC vendor may want to perform its own testing to make sure that all of the drivers and third-party software it bundles on the machine work with SP1.

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A couple of Apple questions: Not about Apple TV, though. (I do like the iTunes movie rental option, though, and recently rented my first one for my iPod Touch -- worked beautifully.)

1. Any further word on how soon Netflix will enable instant play on Macs?

2. How about the rumors that Apple will add the new touchpad features introduced on the Air to its other MacBook lines? (I'm especially interested in when the lower-end MacBooks (not Pro) might be upgraded.)

Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro:1) No further word, but I wouldn't expect that to happen anytime soon. Microsoft would first have to ship a Mac-compatible version of its Windows Media DRM (digital rights management) software, and so far it's shown zero interest in doing that.

2) I wouldn't mind seeing a multi-touch trackpad on other Mac laptops, but I thought I just read a report--from a reasonably accurate Apple news site--that the multi-touch thing would be MBA-only for now.

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Falls Church, Va.: Verizon Wireless now has a phone that is supposed to be a competitor to the iPhone, doesn't it? Have you reviewed it? What do you think of it?

Rob Pegoraro: I think you're talking about the LG Voyager. Is it a threat to the iPhone? Well, I knew the iPhone. Voyager, you're no iPhone.

Here's the review I wrote of it on my blog: Verizon's Voyager

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Ashland, Ore.: Hey Rob, I know the damage is done, but I recall that just before HDDVD was spiked, Wal-Mart had agreed to stock only Blu-ray. How was that not an antitrust violation?

Rob Pegoraro: Wal-Mart, like any other store, can choose what it wants to sell. And although it's the world's biggest retailer, Wal-Mart still has plenty of competition. There's no antitrust case here.

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Washington, D.C.: It seems this analog cut-off next year is confusing too many people who use cable, and everyone who tries to explain it isn't explaining it well enough. Let me try.

If you have basic cable with the cable going straight into the tv without a cable box, the government is telling cable providers that they must still pass the analog version of your local channels for three more years after the cut-off.

However, they are not required to keep passing the analog signals for your other basic cable channels like CNN or TBS or TNT, etc. If they want to move those channels to the digital, you're going to need a box or a tv with a QAM tuner preferably with a CableCard slot.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for that! Based on what I've seen in my e-mail, though, I'd add another sentence:

The digital-TV converters you see in stores for $50 or so will *not* fix any cable-reception problems you have. They only work with over-the-air broadcasts, not cable, satellite or anything else.

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Vienna, Va.: Rob:

Regarding the movies rented through AppleTV - I am surprised by the comment in your article about how long it took for a rented movie to be playable. I have cable through Comcast and the movies I have rented on AppleTV, both standard and HD, are playable after just a couple minutes. I suspect most people have similar speed internet connections and will also be able to watch anything they rent within a few minutes. I have never heard of it taking as long as your article suggests.

Rob Pegoraro: Well, you just did :) Look, I know I don't have the fastest DSL connection--but mine is still faster than what many other people have at home. (Verizon's entry-level package only advertises 768-kbps downloads.)

I did the math for how long it would take to download an SD and an HD title--SD titles are usually about 1.25 GB on iTunes, and Apple says HD movies are about 4 GB--and the download times I saw make sense for the connection I used.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob,

You wrote a column once about getting people off of AOL. I have finally convinced my Father to move to gmail. Hooray! Could you link to that article? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: There's actually a couple of columns: here and here.

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Arlington, Va.: Does the digital television transition essentially kill the portable TV market? I've noticed that you can't even find a Sony Watchman anymore. Are manufacturers working on ways to make digital television portable, or is it just a lost cause?

I remember when they put a TV in a wristwatch, but it seems that this digital transition has actually regressed the portability of televisions.

Rob Pegoraro: Digital TV doesn't kill portable television, but it does put in carbon freeze for a few years. Nobody has yet made a portable DTV, but companies are working on that--Samsung showed off a chipset designed for portable use at CES, as I recall.

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Wireless Cards?: HI, Rob--I'm trying to figure out whether I can take advantage of an opportunity to spend some time in the mountains. There's really good cell service where I'm going (near the Olympic ski runs in Utah), but I need internet access.

Are any of those wireless cards worth the money? Is there a "normal" speed expectation? I don't expect "cable modem fast," but are they, say, "DSL fast"?

Rob Pegoraro: They're about half of DSL fast. You can certainly check your e-mail and do a little remote work, but it would be a mistake to download huge files.

But do you actually need one of these cards? Most hotels offer some kind of in-room broadband, and often that's free.

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Alexandria, Va.: hi rob! i just bought a great new hdtv. my question is about the best way to play my regular old dvds with the tv. I've heard something about an upconvert dvd player, but is that the same as one of the hd dvd players that is supposed to be obsolete? what does the change to blue ray mean for my 100s of dvds? thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Upconverting DVD players electronically amplify the picture of a regular DVD so it looks more like high-def. They're not Blu-Ray; they are, however, a much more cost-effective way to view movies on an HDTV, since they don't require buying new copies of all of your movies.

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Arlington, Va.: Finally upgraded from an iBook G4 to a MacBook and wanted your insight on what to do about software I used on the old iBook that gets mixed or poor reviews in their current versions. What should I do about using Quicken and the Microsoft Office suite?

Since I've relied on this software previously, should I just get the new versions despite their faults? Should I try to transfer the old versions? Should I make the switch to something else?

Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: I've been (slowly) putting the new Office 2008 through its paces, and I'm not sure that you need to upgrade right away. Its interface is certainly nicer than Office 2004's, but it's not like you get some huge set of new features. And even though 2008 has been rewritten for the Intel chips on Macs, I've seen it be slower than Office 2004 at some tasks (like starting up--Word 2008 has been slower than Word 2004 in some tests).

Quicken for Mac is an embarrassment, but at least your copy is paid for. Don't reward Intuit's lackadaisical Mac development by paying for a new version that doesn't offer much of an upgrade.

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Richmond, Va.: re: A/V cables. I picked up an HDMI cable at Big Lots for only $12. It was a "monster" of a deal!

Rob Pegoraro: Heh.

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Beltsville, Md.: Why do cable/satellite converter boxes continue to be gigantic monstrosities? We have a computer that can fit in a manila envelope and a camera that can fit in your wallet, yet converter boxes continue to be the same size they were 20 years ago. Isn't there demand for these boxes to take up less space, especially with the increasing number of televisions mounted to walls?

Rob Pegoraro: Cable/satellite boxes are big and ugly because the market for them is broken. The companies that make these suckers don't have to sell directly to customers; they only need to convince a Comcast or a DirecTV to buy the next model--usually tens of thousands of boxes at a time--and resell that to their own subscribers.

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Hudsonville, Mich.: HI Rob, You did a great job of explaining about the big digital changes on the Kojo Nnamdi Show this week. Here is the link-- it was a very worthwhile listen to those of us who have some questions.

Thanks for all your help!

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!

(I was on WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi show on Tuesday.)

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Woodbridge, Va.: Rob - After the switch to digital TV will cable operators like Comcast continue to offer an analog service or will they force everyone to switch to the more expensive digital package. It sounds like they are not required to offer the broadcast networks in analog if they do not offer the other cable channels in analog.

Rob Pegoraro: Please see the earlier answer on this topic.

BTW, even if the U.S. had never decided to switch to digital TV for over-the-air broadcasts, you'd still be forced to upgrade to digital cable at some point. Digital is so much more efficient than analog--you can fit something like six digital channels in the bandwidth occupied by one analog channel--that every cable operator will need to shut off analog service eventually.

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Gallery Place: I recently got a 750GB external hard disk to add to my Mac. It has both firewire and USB 2.0 ports, and I've used both (separately) to try and connect the drive, but whatever I do, the drive isn't recognized.

I vaguely remember something about drives larger than 500GB need to be partitioned (or some extra step) to make them usable for a Mac.

Is that true? Also, could this explain why the drive isn't recognized?

Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: I'm not aware of any upper limit on how large a hard drive can be before a Mac will recognize it.

Try opening the Disk Utility program--even if the disk is in some format that the Finder can't speak, the device should still appear in Disk Utility, where you can then reformat it for your own use.

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Lake Ridge, VA: My neighborhood will not be receiving Verizon high speed internet for 3 to 5 more years. What are my options besides Comcast? Will a Wi-Max service like Clearwire arrive in the near future?

Rob Pegoraro: Funny, I just ran into my PR contact at Sprint this morning. (If you were wandering around the Tysons Corner Marriot from 8 to 10 a.m., you could have ducked into one of the conference room to hear me, along with three other local journalists, talking about how we deal with PR types). He said the WiMax rollout is still happening, but didn't give me a date for when it would be available here.

I do think that WiMax or some other wireless service represents your only immediate hope for competition in broadband service.

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TV bands on radio: Here's an odd question: I have a Sony shower radio that picks up network TV signals, as well as FM, AM, and weather bands -- will the digital conversion next year eliminate the TV bands? (I suspect yes.)

Rob Pegoraro: You are correct.

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A/V cables: Oppo INCLUDES an HDMI cable with their upconverting DVD player. Even if their player weren't great, this little piece of customer service is worth driving me, at least, to that brand. Why can't other companies do the same?

By the way, avoid the big box electronics retailers if you want sensibly priced interconnect cables. Sears usually has good prices....

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the tips!

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Washington, D.C.: Is there a way to deauthorize a computer from listening to iTunes purchases when not using that computer? For example, let's say my old machine dies. I have all of my music on a new machine but the old computer is still authorized to listen to music and taking up an authorization slot. Since I can't access the old machine, I can't deauthorize it the normal way?

Rob Pegoraro: No, you can't. But what you can do is deauthorize *all* of your machines--open iTunes, sign into your account and click the button with your account's e-mail address, at the top right of the iTunes window. That will bring up your account page, which should have a button that lets you deauthorize every machine.

You can then reauthorize the machines you still have.

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Dover, N.H.: Rob, I am still confused about the switch over to digital TV. We have two analog TVs plugged directly into cable from Comcast. There are no boxes. When the switch to digital happens will we need any kind of box for these TVs to get the channels that we currently get?

washingtonpost.com: Faster Forward: Deciphering Digital TV

Rob Pegoraro: And another question about basic analog cable. I'll point you to my previous statements here--but remind everybody in this situation that *you have to ask your own cable company to know for sure.*

I've been really surprised, BTW, at how many people do say they watch cable without a box. That used to be easy--for a year or so, I watched HBO without a box! (Then again, this was the bad old days of District Cablevision.) But it's gotten much more difficult lately.

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Ashkelon, Israel: Dear Rob:

I recently installed Skype in order to be able to converse with my son who is living in the US. I can hear him for the most part but he can't hear me. The same problem occurs with MSN Messenger. He is able to converse with others on Skype freely.

My OS is XP-SP2 with a hardware router and Zone Alarm firewall (permissions for Skype granted). The microphone (Logitech) is configured properly. There is another computer attached to the router but the problem persists even after I turned it off.

According to the Skype website the problem may be inadequate uploading capacity.

We have the standard household broadband internet (1.5 MB). The ISP tech support person said that our upload is 18kbps (if I got it right) but he couldn't confirm whether or not this is adequate and whether I would need to upgrade.

I emailed the support service of Skype and am waiting for a reply. In the meantime I would appreciate any advice.

Thanks for your very informative columns.

Rob Pegoraro: Eighteen kbps?! That's not only wildly inadequate, it's also grotesquely slow uploading even on dial-up.

You can do your own test of your connection at broadbandreports.com/tools ... if that confirms this slow speed, you need to have a long chat with your ISP.

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Rockville, Md.: I've been thinking of reinstalling XP on a machine so I can have a cleaned out environment, but don't want to download SP2 and all of those updates again. Is there a way to produce an updated install CD?

Rob Pegoraro: I've been trying to write a simple, concise Help File on this topic for some time--but there isn't any simple way to do this. You can try a few utilities that will "slipstream" Microsoft's patches into a stock copy of XP, then let you burn a a new CD... but I've never gotten them to work.

The best you can do is download the "for IT administrators" offline-install version of SP2, which is designed to patch every possible Windows configuration and so is bigger than what you might download through Windows Update. It's at http://support.microsoft.com/gp/windowsxpsp2it

If you can wait a little longer, though, Service Pack 3 for XP should ship--and that, too, should include its own offline installer.

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From Daniel Greenberg, Technology Correspondent: Hi Rob,

Portable digital TV has already rolled out in Korea and is starting up in Europe. I tried it out on a Samsung phone during my last trip to Korea and it worked fine.

I think the real question is why Korea and not in the US? And why does Korea (and a lot of the rest of the developed world) enjoy Internet access that is much faster and cheaper than here in the US? Inquiring minds...

Rob Pegoraro: Hey, Daniel!

You may have used a Korean version or equivalent of the Verizon mobile-TV service I tried out in December. That's not quite the same as digital TV, since it's something you pay your wireless carrier to use.

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Arlington, Va.: Thanks for the insight on Word2007 and new Quicken. What if I still have Office 2000 or whatever the pre-2004 version is?

Rob Pegoraro: That'd be v.X. That justifies upgrading, I think... Office got a lot better with the 2004 release.

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RE: Wireless Card: No hotel this time--a free deluxe remote cabin on the side of a mountain, courtesy of my wife's cousin. Sweet--I can drive into Ogden for Kinko's if there's anything important.

So "half-DSL" means I could still read the Post, but not send files, right?

Rob Pegoraro: Free lodging at a ski resort in Utah... I hate you :)

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Arlington, Va.: Do you know if it is safe to use Nanoscan? I read the end user license but did not understand it. If I use Nanoscan does that allow the company to access my computer in a way that can cause harm?

Rob Pegoraro: If you're talking about the service at nanoscan.com, that's safe--Panda is a real, reputable security-software firm. That page links to a favorable review at PC Magazine's Web site, and they're a pretty credible source in their own right.

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DC: I'm not exactly what you would call an "early adopter": I still use an old Mac iBook G4 and watch an old 20" Magnavox analog TV. I don't even have a digital cable package, partly (mostly) because I'm just that cheap. But I know I'm going to have to upgrade the TV in one way or another in the next year, and despite my new hard drive, my computer is making funny noises that make me nervous enough to contemplate replacing it in the next year as well.

It's occurred to me that I can save some money, save some space, AND get a really cool set-up by replacing the iBook with a Mac Mini and, instead of getting a regular monitor and then a TV on top of that, get one of those 22" PCTV's (if that's what you call the TVs that can also serve as a computer monitor). Can I get that kind of package for less than a thousand dollars--especially if I put it off until the last minute before the digital switchover? Is it practicable? One plus is that I watch a lot of downloaded digital shows on my computer already, and such a set-up would (if it works) let me watch them on a big, pretty, HD screen without having to burn discs and play them on my DVD player. One disadvantage that's been mentioned is that the computer monitor would be so much farther away than monitors usually are that I'd have a hard time reading text.

Any thoughts?

Rob Pegoraro: Your idea isn't as crazy as you seem to think--not least since you don't need to buy a hybrid computer/TV monitor at all. A lot of digital TVs include VGA and DVI inputs that work with any computer, and you can also buy DVI-to-HDMI adapters that work with the HDMI ports on all new HDTVs.

Buying this rig for less than a thousand would, however, be tricky. The Mac mini costs $600 by itself, and 30-inch LCDs (the minimum size I'd recommend for reading text from couch distance) are going to cost at least that much by themselves.

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Falls Church: I hav a Win98 PC that I have set aside for my kids to use with loading up kids learning games. Unfortunately, the computer is really slow even though I have removed most of the software that I installed when it was my computer. If I choose to reinstall Win98 and clean out the computer, I won't have the updates because this computer is not hooked up to the internet and MS doesn't support Win98 anymore anyway. What would you do?

Rob Pegoraro: First, "not support" doesn't necessarily mean that you can't download Win 98 updates from Microsoft's site. (But please don't ask me where to find these updates!)

If none of these games require an Internet connection, you could just run the machine in an offline mode. Disable the floppy and CD drives in the BIOS settings, and the kids won't have any way to get a virus on it.

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Cody, Wyo.: Hi Rob,

I have a peculiar problem with my relatively new Dell laptop with Windows XP, SP2. I maintain it religiously with antivirus, antispyware, and other security software. I use Eudora 7.0 for my email software.

When I have the laptop connected to the internet via an ethernet cable, Eudora works fine. But when I connect the computer wirelessly, Eudora receives email, but it cannot send it. It simply says it cannot connect to my mail server. Everything else on the laptop works fine with either ethernet or wireless connections.

Any ideas? It's driving me nuts!

Thanks!

John

Rob Pegoraro: The only obvious way you could have that problem is if you're connecting to somebody else's wireless network. Your Internet provider's SMTP (outgoing) mail server will see you connecting from somebody else's network--normally, a guarantee that a spammer is trying to abuse the server--and refuse to relay your mail.

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Vienna, Va.: Just an FYI- antennaweb.org is the site to send people to check out what sort of antenna they need for their digital TV up grade. It will help them select an appropriate antenna for their location and give them an idea of what channels they can expect to receive from different directions. It sounded like you needed to know about this from your appearance on Kojo Tuesday.

Oh and FM receivers that have an antenna input can get better signals from a roof top antenna if it picks up FM. FM is just off the VHF TV range next to channel 6.

Curt

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the advice! I've been meaning to revisit antennaweb.org; in the past, I've found it to be overly conservative in estimating what kind of antenna you need. For instance, it's told me that I'd need a rooftop antenna at my home, when tabletop antennas work fine.

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Rockville, MD:"I've been really surprised, BTW, at how many people do say they watch cable without a box."

I have a remote for my VCR, I have a remote for my DVD player (fortunately also my CD player), and I have a remote for my AV tuner/receiver (also turns the TV on/off). Why would I want ANOTHER remote for the cable box? If I'm happy watching the 70 or so channels I get with Comcast on my TV, why bother?

I've never been able to get one remote to work all (even though they are supposedly programmable). And those "wonder" remotes you can buy, they never have the correct buttons for one or more of the components.

Long story short, I'm running out of space on the coffee table and it will soon get worse.

Rob Pegoraro: What I mean is, I'm amazed that you can get a full 70 channels from Comcast without getting a box. (I've heard a lot of complaints from people around here about analog channels--AMC, TCM, for instance--getting moved into the digital tier.)

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Washington D.C.: I'm not sure the post earlier about cable companies being required to provide analog service for three years is accurate. The following is from the FCC's DTV transition website. It seems to say that for the next three years cable companies must provide analog broadcast channels if they provide any analog service.

If the cable company goes all digital, though, it looks like customers may need to get a box.

Like you said, call your cable company.

------------------------

Will cable customers with analog TVs have to buy or rent a set-top box from their cable company?

Cable companies are not required by the government to transition their systems to digital, and can continue to deliver channels to their customers in analog. Cable companies are actually required by FCC rules to continue offering local broadcast stations to their customers in analog as long as they offer any analog service. This requirement will continue for at least three years after February 17, 2009.

However, for business reasons (among other things, digital is much more efficient than analog), cable companies may be interested in transitioning their systems from analog delivery to digital delivery. If a cable company makes the business decision to go all-digital (meaning it will stop offering any channels to its customers in analog), it must ensure that its analog customers can continue to watch their local broadcast stations. This may require customers with analog televisions to get a set-top box. If the cable company provides the customer with a set-top box, any costs related to it will be determined by the cable company.

Rob Pegoraro: That's correct. Last week's column included that detail--but in practice, the "as long as they provide analog service" means "all the major cable companies." The Comcasts and Coxes (Coxen?) of the world have a ways to go before they switch to digital-only service.

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New York, N.Y.: I have a 5-yr-old Sony Plasma TV. I want to buy a BluRay disc player but I don't have an HDMI connection (female) on the TV. Am I out of luck? Will the BluRay still work? If It can still be used, what will I loose?

Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: You are out of luck. Don't buy the Blu-Ray player; look for an upconverting DVD player that offers component-video output. (That may take a while!)

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Eugene, Ore.: I hear that standard definition cable broadcasts look worse on high definition TV sets than they do on non high definition TV sets. True? Just what is the difference? Since my only interest in hi-def is to get a BluRay player in the future, and I have no desire to subscribe to high definition cable till it's programming choices equal those of standard def cable, why would I buy a high definition set if 99 percent of what I would watch might look worse?

Rob Pegoraro: First, almost every big-name channel offers HD programming--even the Weather Channel does now, as somebody pointed out not long ago.

Second, how SD content looks on an HDTV depends a lot on the actual HD set used. Most reviews do cover that aspect--see, for instance, the cover story on HDTVs in the March issue of Consumer Reports.

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Cable without a box: It shouldn't be that surprising. I have one big TV with a box, for digital and premium channels, On Demand, and DVR, but I have a few smaller TVs in other rooms of the house that are plugged into the wall, for watching networks, CNN, Comedy Central, etc. when I'm not sacked out on the couch. Many people, especially with multiple rooms and family members, have more than one TV, and not all of them are fully equipped with the bells and whistles. It will be interesting to see what happens when the cable providers nudge us off of analog cable over the coming years.

Rob Pegoraro: The annoying thing about this aspect is that if the cable industry hadn't spent years blocking the progress of an open standard for digital cable reception, digital-cable-ready TVs could have been on the market long ago. Instead, it's only been in the last few years that sets with these "QAM" tuners have become commonplace.

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wiredog: Is there any way I can find out, online, if my Dad in Cedar City, Utah, will get dtv service over the air other than calling up each TV station? A dtv tuner doesn't work if there are no dtv signals, and I don't think the Salt Lake stations are going to broadcast digital outside of SLC.

Rob Pegoraro: All broadcasters, except for some low-powered local stations, are required to transmit digitally by now. And these signals are supposed to cover the same territory as analog... not that I can say either way what might happen in your dad's case.

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Antennas: Here in Florida, we get about 70 analog channels from Comspaz, but we also have a set of rabbit ears for those rare days when we get interesting weather...plug the little TV into the generator and hook up the antenna to watch trees blow around and all.

So, should we add one of those digital converters to our Hurricane Supply Pack?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes.

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Gaithersburg, MD: With the proliferation of iPods, why has Apple still not made it easy to sync two different iPods to the same computer through iTunes? My household has three iPods, and each one of them has to be synced to a different computer if I want them to have different music (all devices are different sizes). Does Apple expect you to just discard your old iPod just because you buy a new one that has a bigger capacity or more portability?

Rob Pegoraro: There's no magic to that--set iTunes to sync only designated playlists to each iPod. Then create different playlists to reflect each person's tastes.

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Arlington, VA: I've been reading about Blu-Ray players now that the war has been decided. I keep hearing about Blu-Ray discs not working and requiring a firmware update. Are there are any Blu-Ray players out there where this isn't a problem? I love with VHS and DVD that I place it in the machine and it plays, why can't they do that with blu-ray?

Rob Pegoraro: Because they hadn't quite finished the standard when they shipped the first machines. A new Blu-ray player should work fine, but the best bet is one that allows for (somewhat) easy firmware upgrades. The PS3 would be one such option.

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Washington, DC:"I've never been able to get one remote to work all (even though they are supposedly programmable). And those "wonder" remotes you can buy, they never have the correct buttons for one or more of the components."

It's called a Harmony remote from Logitech. I used to have 7 remote controls, and now only need 1, and those 7 remotes haven't been pulled out of the drawer in over a year. By far the greatest $200 I've spent on my home theater!

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the suggestion...

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Tampa, Fla.: Re G4 Powerbook and wireless reception: I recall reading that one reason Apple stopped using titanium shells was that they hurt wireless reception more than aluminum. That may explain part of the poster's problem with poor wireless reception.

Rob Pegoraro: I believe I remember hearing the same thing myself.

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Denon S-52: Rob,

Can you give me any insight into how the S-52 sounds? My Bose iDock in my bedroom died and I would like to replace it with something that plays CDs. The concept of being able to play CDs, plus dock my iPod, plus play internet radio off my wireless network without a computer, plus stream music off my CD over the wireless network seems great! It's WAY expensive, but seems like a neat piece of gear. Any idea how it sounds?

Rob Pegoraro: Honestly, I hadn't even heard of this thing until your post. Has anybody else tried this gadget?

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Fairfax, Va.: have to submit early! I have looked forward to buying the MacBook Pro but the more I read Brian's security fix (terms that are Greek to me) the more nervous I get about having to learn the security fixes I will need for the pc side of the computer. Any hope for someone who does not want to major in all the different approaches to avoiding viruses/ID theft issues?? Thanks for any help.

Rob Pegoraro: Sounds like you want to run Windows in Boot Camp or Parallels. I'd ask: Are you sure you need to do that? If you're willing to learn a different program, you should be able to find Mac equivalents for everything you run in Windows today.

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Annandale, Va.: Rob I love WP online's resize text feature, but it is not available on the whole online site. For one its not available for your IT blog. Could you please ask the web people if the will make it available to the whole WP website. Thank You.

Rob Pegoraro: I'll post this so the management here can see it.

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Oklahoma City: Rob;

Is there any word an whether AT&T, my current provider, will remove or motify the two-year service agreement requirement to get an iPhone? I'd like to get iPhones for my family, but am not currently under contract and like it that way. Will other carriers support iPhones anytime soon? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: No and no. Sorry...

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Hhtv, DVR: Rob, love your reviews! Have you looked at options for recording and playing off-air HDTV? Is Tivo still the only DVR for this? How does it compare to using a PC or Mac with a Tuner?

Rob Pegoraro: There aren't many ways to record HDTV, as opposed to plain old DTV (for which you can employ any number of DVD recorders).

I've been meaning to try some of these PC/Mac DTV tuners, but I'm still trying to get the one Pinnacle model sent my way in the fall to work. It has some of the worst driver software that I've ever seen in Windows.

Provided you could get one of these tuners to work, however, they'd be far superior to TiVo--they cost much less (since they use your computer's hard drive--and carry no monthly fee.

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Mays Landing, NJ: Rob, I bought a 32 inch Olevia LCD HDTV that has a VGA input for $477 before Christmas.

It's regular price was listed at $599. I'm very happy with it

Rob Pegoraro: That's a hell of a price. Good job!

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Washington, DC: Rob -- my impression of this analog/digital tv converter coupon program is that it's horribly designed. First they put a cap on the number of coupons, so everyone rushes to order them. Then they put an expiration date on them of 90 days, so a lot of them won't be redeemed (why buy 6 months early).

I can understand a limit--it caps the total obligation of the government. But why an expiration date? If they expire it should be, say, 90 days after the conversion in February 2009 so they can close down the processing office.

If I were cynical, and I am, someone designed this program to get it over with as quickly as possible.

Rob Pegoraro: There is a cap on these things, but it's ridiculously high--something like 30 million households. Remember, only a tiny minority of home viewers rely on over-the-air broadcasts at all.

FYI, there was a lot of debate as to whether this coupon program was necessary at all, and some earlier proposals would have applied a means test to it.

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wiredog: Well, Cedar City, like most of the intermountain west, receives transmissions via translators. IIRC, the local transmitter is 10W.

So I guess this means that most of Utah, Idaho, and Nevada, will lose TV next year. I wonder how their elected representatives will react?

Rob Pegoraro: Wrong--as my colleague Kim Hart wrote, translator and other low-power stations have been given a waiver on the digital deadline.

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Washington, DC:"Digital TV doesn't kill portable television, but it does put in carbon freeze for a few years."

So what am I supposed to do with my 3" battery-powered TV after February 2008? Does the government have a coupon program for me? Can I turn in my portable TV for a tax credit or something?

I feel that perhaps there's a whole niche of people that don't realize that this transition is REAL, and A LOT of televisions that people don't think about or use really often will no longer work. I know my football stadium experience will be drastically affected by this transition.

Rob Pegoraro: I think you're right about the potential for confusion.

I don't know if you're kidding about asking for a coupon or a refund on your portable TV, but I hope you are. I'd argue that the government doesn't owe you anything there, inasmuch as:

1) it didn't make you buy that;

2) nobody has a right to a TV set in the first place;

3) we have slightly bigger problems to solve, like the war in Iraq, health care, the budget deficit, Social Security etc. etc. etc.

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Fair Lakes, VA: Rob, Silly question, but will there be any way to play my old DVDs on a new Blue Ray player? Do we need to ditch our old DVDs or attach Blue Ray and DVD players for now?

Rob Pegoraro: You can play DVDs in a Blu-Ray player. Most should also upconvert those discs to near-HD quality (the PS3, however, does not)

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Upconverting through component: Those players can be difficult to find. After a lot of research, I bought Zenith DVB318 from amazon and then updated the firmware to rollback to a prior version to allow the upconversion through component.

Rob Pegoraro: Ugh. That sounds like fun...

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M Street NW, Washington, D.C.: The best method for distributing the DTV converter box subsidies was debated endlessly. The coupon program with expiration dates was decided to be the best way to implement the program. Once the issued coupons expire unredeemed, than can be put back into the queue. Also, there is legislation to authorize additional coupons upon a showing that the household relies upon OTA exclusively.

Not a perfect system, but considering that the people who most need the coupons are the hardest to reach, it was implemented with good intentions.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, M!

(I think I know of a few telecom law firms on that street...)

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RE: Digital Cable Switch: I only have one box as well on the "big" TV that does all of the "heavy lifting" (DVR, on-demand, digital tiers, and non-broadcast HD) while my four other televisions are plugged straight into the wall. The other TVs have QAM tuners, so I get the broadcast networks in HD (bonus), but I wonder if the cable companies will allow access to digital cable signals with a QAM tuner once analog signals end. Will I loose all of the channels I currently get on these TVs except for the broadcast channels and be forced into buying boxes to watch ESPN in the bedroom?

Rob Pegoraro: Unless I'm missing something, your cable company would have to encrypt all those channels. But why would it want to do that, unless it's laboring under the delusion that everybody likes their cable box?

(Don't answer that one right away...)

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HDTV DVR : Last fall I bought a Panasonic dvd recorder with a built-in tuner for OTA digital broadcasts. Got it at Costco and have been happy with it. It's also my player for regular DVDs. Will I be able to play Blue-Ray discs in it?

Rob Pegoraro: No

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Spotsylvania, Va.: Despite your high regard for Windows Vista, I'm not about to switch from Windows XP service pack 2 anytime soon. First, Vista would run very slowly, if at all, on this 39 gig hard drive with 758 ram. Second, even if one could get it to run satisfactorily on this computer, none of my Windows XP based software would function. Third, I'm not about to spring $600.00 for a new computer plus several hundred more for compatible software.

I just might consider Vista if it were fixed so that I could load my current software.

Rob Pegoraro:"High regard"? Compared to what? :)

You're making the right call, BTW. Vista would be horribly painful to use on your hardware configuration.

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Detroit, Mich.: quick digital tv question: Will radios that can tune in tv stations be affected by the switch to digital? If so, do you know of any radios on the market that will be able to tune in tv stations after the transition? I'm looking to purchase a radio for emergency use that can tune in tv, weather, and maybe shortwave. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: For emergency use, the best thing you can get is one of those handcrank radios with an AM and FM tuner.

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Rockville, MD: If you have the latest updates, the PS3 does upconvert DVDs.

Rob Pegoraro: Ah. Thanks for the update! (Why did it take so long to offer that feature?)

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Boring Question: So, on a host of tech devices, I find there are no instructions regarding when to charge the battery. Sometimes, when there are instructions, they make a big deal that to maintain the greatest life of a battery it ought to be run down each time before charging; other times, it ought be kept at max charge as much as poss. Specifically, Palm Treo 755p --- my manual says nothing about the battery??? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: I don't think there is any special formula for recharging you need to follow--the Treo has a replaceable battery, true, but it will also probably become obsolete before that can become a factor anyway. Just recharge it when the battery runs down.

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Washington, D.C.: Rob, enjoy your chats! I have a 4-year-old Toshiba DLP that recently went dead. Was told $800 in repair costs to fix, so I am considering upgrading. Since I have a built-in and do not need to mount the TV would a Samsung DLP with the new led light engine be a good choice, or should I look at Plasmas and LCDs instead? Thanks and any advice would be appreciated!!

Rob Pegoraro: Depends on the size of the set. A plasma or LCD should offer a much wider viewing angle; if the TV room gets a lot of light, the LCD will have fewer problems with glare.

But at bigger screen sizes, microdisplay sets are much cheaper than flat-panel sets.

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Brookland - Washington, DC: Thanks for the article on the AppleTV Rob. I'm almost sold on the device, the missing key being that there is no easy way to install quicktime plug-ins (like perian) that will allow the device to play back other formats such as Divx.

On another note, do you think that now that HD DVD has dropped out of the race we will begin to see Blu-Ray drives included in computers? I'd hand over my charge card now for a Mac Mini with a Blu-Ray drive!

Rob Pegoraro: I'm not so sure about Blu-ray drives in computers. That format's DRM requires some non-trivial modifications of a computer's video hardware and software. I don't like the idea of that kind of artificially-induced complexity... computers have enough trouble running reliably without movie studios telling programmers to muck things up further.

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Silver Spring, MD: Actually, the PS3 does upconvert DVDs, but ONLY if you're using an HDMI cable. It's actually much better than my stand-alone upconverting DVD player, and looks amazing.

If you're using component cables, though, DVDs look horrible on the PS3 hooked up to an HDTV. I'm not even sure it was in progressive scan.

Rob Pegoraro: More details on DVD playback on the PlayStation 3. Thanks...

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VCR after Feb 2009: I've asked this before but never had a good answer. Am I correct that my analog VCRs will no longer work as before? I think it means that although a VCR is connected to the converter box that it will be the box that sends station info so the VCR will only be able to record the same station I am watching. AND that I will only be able to record one channel when time recording. And that I will have to change the converter box manually to the channel I want to record in timer mode.

If the above is true will I need to buy an expensive DVR with tuner included to do time recordings on more than one channel and to watch one channel while recording on another?

Rob Pegoraro: The assumptions in your first paragraph are all correct.

But the second graf (to use some journalese) is not. You could buy a DVD recorder--many of which include a VCR--with its own digital tuner. That would do everything your VCR does, but with better video quality. It wouldn't come with any monthly fee. And it would take the place of two separate units, your VCR and DVD player.

You will, however, need to make sure that a DVD recorder has a tuner. A lot of them don't.

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Washington, DC: Just wait till summer if you want to record over-the-air HDTV. This product will be perfect.

Rob Pegoraro: That mysterious link points to a writeup of a digital video recorder for over-the-air broadcasts from Echostar, the Dish Network people. (Having used one of their DVRs, I wouldn't call it "perfect"; the on-screen interface is not exactly going to put TiVo out of business.)

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Denver: Rob, I'm finally ready to make the move to HDTV. I'd like to buy it at Costco because of their return and warranty policy. Are the "off" brands they carry - Vizio, Sceptre, etc. - as good as the name brands? And what does the dynamic contrast mean?

Rob Pegoraro: I've been testing a 42-inch Vizio LCD at home and hope to have a writeup of it on my blog next week. Short answer for now: It's good, but the video doesn't quite match up to the picture quality of the Sony and Sasmung LCDs I've tried.

Dynamic contrast, if I'm remembering my terms right, is the full range of lights and darks a screen can reproduce in any different number of scenes. It's somewhat fake, but as long you compare dynamic contrast to dynamic contrast on different sets, it's a valid metric.

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Washington, DC (again): I was kidding a bit about my questions about a tax credit or refund for my portable television. I don't mind spending money on upgrading my technology, but the problem is that technology is not available to replicate existing technology after the transition (government required) takes place. There are NO replacements for my handheld television, so essentially the government is taking a perfectly good piece of equipment out of my hands and offering NOTHING to replace it. Even if I wanted to go out a buy a new TV to replace my portable TV, I couldn't because they don't exist.

It's as if I owned a Walkman cassette player, and the government forced record companies to sell all music in a digital format, and i-Pods, portable CD players, and the like did not exist. They're taking AWAY technology before new technology can be developed to replace it.

There's something very un-American about that.

Rob Pegoraro: I understand your point. But: The Walkman *is* useless today. Have you tried shopping for new music on tape lately! At least the digital transition yields tangible benefits to society at large--new wireless broadband service in the old analog frequencies, $10 billion or so in auction revenues to the Feds from selling off those frequencies, and better TV reception (in most cases) on digital sets.

I can think of many worse ways to use our airwaves.

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Puzzled about downloads, Nashville: Apart from instant gratification, I don't get the appeal of movie downloads that impose restrictions on my viewing habits. I often view 3 films each week from Netflix but value the idea of keeping one around for weeks with no penalty. Another factor is price: less than $20 a month unlimited with Netflix, versus $3 and $4 per movie with downloading, not to mention the investment in an AppleTV or other hardware. Is this correct: with downloading, I'd pay more per film, select from a smaller database, get poorer quality, and would lose it if I couldn't watch it in a prescribed time? Still don't get it.

I'm not a Netflix shill, by the way. I sometimes rent locally or use the library. We have a great library for DVDs: check-outs are 7 days and are renewable.

Rob, did you try the Netflix downloads? I haven't, because they don't work on Macs. Grrr -- but since that's Apple's choice on the DRM issue, it would hardly push me toward AppleTV!

Rob Pegoraro: If you watch DVDs often enough to make Netflix worthwhile, then of course a la carte rental downloads make no financial sense. But not everybody watches movies that often! Otherwise, Blockbuster stores would have vanished from the Earth long ago.

The Netflix incompatibility, BTW, is not Apple's fault. Microsoft created that problem when it made Windows Media DRM a Windows-only product.

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Georgetown: I've got a 5-year-old Dell 8500 laptop that's hanging by a thread.

I discovered that Dell has a program to refurbish such machines for $299.

Are you familiar with this program? Good idea or bite the bullet and spring for a new laptop?

Rob Pegoraro: Get a new laptop. Even a refurbished five-year-old laptop is going to be pretty hopeless for a lot of computing tasks--and there's always something else on it that could break.

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23060: About today's column . . . First, I'm not sure "Hollywood" really wants to offer a movie download service. Considering the MPAA's fear of "piracy" and thus the burden of DRM, I'd say they still want too much control to support a good download service.

To use Apple's or Microsoft's offerings, I need an extra box (which by the way is not necessarily cheaper than a BR DVD player, check the WalMart prices). And then I download a movie, but don't get any of the DVD extras (some of us like those a lot). And then the movie self-destructs like a reel to reel tape in a Mission Impossible opening. So, not like an online music purchase at all.

And what about TiVo in conjunction with Amazon's Unbox? No computer required there, but still an extra box, of course. Before Amazon ruined my Christmas shopping and got added to my personal blacklist, I grabbed a couple free shows that way and thought it worked out well. There are still stupid restrictions on viewing time and all that, of course. Not sure if they do HD, but that should only be a matter of time.

washingtonpost.com: Fast Forward: Waiting for a Blockbuster

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I hope you're not right about Hollywood's motives, but I don't have too many concrete reasons for that hope.

For rentals, I don't have a problem with DRM per se. That seems to me a more honest approach than DRM on purchases--who really owns the video you bought if it can be rendered inert remotely? Also, most movies don't justify repeat consumption in the way that most songs.

I didn't talk about Unbox on a TiVo because that doesn't include high-definition content, which I think has to be part of any movie-download offering by now.

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Potomac, Md.: A comment on your review of the AppleTV this morning.

I recently acquired the AppleTV and think it is fantastic. While the high def movie rental aspect of it is a nice addition to the high def rentals already available through cable via OnDemand, the real value of it lies with the ability to use it to store and access all the DVDs you already own. I am far from a technical person, but by using the free, very simple third party download "Handbrake," it is incredibly simple to convert all your existing DVD movies into small, 1-2 GB files on your computer. By simply adding those files to your iTunes library, the AppleTV gives you immediate access, with the press of a button on your remote, to all the DVDs in your collection, without ever having to handle the actual DVD disc again. And Handbrake is incredibly easy to use - all you really need to do is load the DVD into your computer, press a couple buttons on Handbrake (it has presets for each of the various types of devices you might plan to watch the DVD on), and watch it go. Once you put the movie into iTunes, you can even add the appropriate artwork, designate it by genre, etc. just like all your other stuff in iTunes.

While it takes some time to load everything, once it is done it is done forever (just like when you loaded your existing CDs into iTunes). And then you can have immediate access, via AppleTV's on-screen menu, to hundreds of movies and hundreds of episodes of TV shoes (I already have converted most of the 180 episodes of Seinfeld). You are limited only by the size of the external hard drive you choose to store the movies on (I am using a 750GB drive). And using the "Apple TV" preset on Handbrake, the picture is great - about equal to the original DVD - and you can now even have 5.1 audio. It is especially great for people like me who have kids. You no longer have to worry about them scratching and smudging the DVDs and, when you choose the movie on AppleTV, the movie itself starts right up with no previews to sit through.

Before this, I had hundreds of DVDs but rarely watched them. Now my entire collection is available to me at anytime. Apple TV is the first affordable option to achieve this type of capability. Previously, the only options were high end systems like Kaleidoscope (costing $10-$20k) or lower end systems like Control 4 which would still cost more than $1000 and typically require professional installation and setup. I think if more people realized that this was possible with AppleTV (and easy to do), it would be a huge seller.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the detailed report. I really like Handbrake (handbrake.fr) too... it's too bad that the Windows version can't rip commercial DVDs like the Mac release can.

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Syosset, N.Y.: Hi Rob. Your chats are indispensable...

So in December, my wife and I are traveling to the Amazon and Galapagos. One of the things with digital cameras is that the batteries need recharging, rather than just slipping in more AAs.

So our ability to recharge MAY be limited, so wondering what you'd suggest -- if we buy extra lithium batteries and charge them at home (and then whenever we get the chance) will the charges hold? Or what other options are there?

Thanks! We're going in December, so we have plenty of time, and I'm willing to buy a new camera (thinking of Canon SD 850) if needed.

Thanks again.

Rob Pegoraro: Almost done here, I promise :)

Rechargeable batteries will lose a charge if left on their own, but it shouldn't be a huge drain over a week or three.

But pack your charger anyway. You might be surprised how many places include a U.S.-style outlet, even if it's only one in the bathroom meant for use with a shaver.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: Thanks for the discussion today. I'm happy to see the so-called "format war" finally over. I'm typically an early adopter and now I'm excited to enjoy movies in HD like I have with sports programming the last year. Would you predict the prices of Blu-ray players to go down soon (ie, this year)? I'd like to buy one for 250-300, and I'd like to avoid buying a 1st gen one. Are there any 2nd gen players currently available? Any predictions or educated guesses about pricing in 2008 for the players and movies?

Rob Pegoraro: We're arguably on the second generation of Blu-ray players by now. I would expect them to hit $300 by the end of the year; if they don't, there's something seriously wrong with the production process involved in making these suckers.

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Dupont: Rob, perhaps a dumb question, but perhaps you can help me. My boss has a Blackberry. Now, all of the sudden, she just HAS to have an iPhone because "they're so neat." She's not going to use the music and video and all those other nifty features that iPhones come with, so should I convince her to stick with the Blackberry (and save myself from doing the research on just what an iPhone does and plan costs and all that)? And how do I do that? She's techno-challenged, too, so the prospect of having to spend all that time teaching her how to use it, only to have her forget 5 minutes later, strikes fear into my heart!

Rob Pegoraro: If you use and don't like some closed groupware system like Outlook or Lotus Notes--definitely let her get the iPhone! She'll soon realize that the office's proprietary mail system won't work on the iPhone, at which point you can argue for a a standards-based IMAP mail setup.

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Cable modem/wireless router acting up (Wash DC): recently (2 months) my RCN (Starpower)/wireless router network has been acting up. the router seems to drop the connection, and is sometimes fixed by rebooting the router. I have replaced the 13-month old Netgear wireless router by a Belkin, then a Linksys (all "g mimo"), and they both drop the connection, albeit less frequently than the prior Netgear.

Do routers just "go bad"? and need to be replaced? I haven't yet replaced the cable modem- it's about 3 years old. Is that the next step?

Of course, calling Starpower, or the router manufacturer, or talking to the salesman at Best Buy doesn't really help-- they just pass the buck.

In general, how does one go about keeping a home network up and running smoothly? buy all products from one source and buy a service plan? pay the Geek squad $200 to come to your house and try different devices (hey I can do that myself)? computers have become like a utility-- you ought to expect it to work continually-- like your household water, electricity, or TV.

PS thanks for the chats, your blogs, and your email replies. Whatever the Post pays you, it's not enough!

Rob Pegoraro: Here's the last one of the day...

Routers, like anything else, can break. But they shouldn't do that often. They don't have any moving parts, after all.

You can see if the cable modem is the culprit by plugging one machine directly into it; if that connection is steady, the flaw is in your WiFi.

Then, you should try experimenting with different settings, like which channel your network uses (they go from 1 to 11, and if a neighbor's WiFi is on the same channel you can have problems).

I hope your problem isn't caused by a neighbor with some old, leaky, interference-prone cordless phone or microwave. A friend of mine has had that problem, and I don't know of any solution short of bribing the neighbor to upgrade (assuming you can ID them at all).

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Rob Pegoraro: That's all, folks!

Thanks again... I'll see you here in a couple of weeks.

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