Personal Tech

Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, April 3, 2008; 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Thursday, April 3 at 2 p.m. ET to discuss his recent reviews and blog posts.

Read the transcripts of past Personal Tech discussions here.

The transcript follows.


Rob Pegoraro: If you've been looking for guidance on digital TV, you've come to the right place. I just got back from the Consumer Electronics Association's "Washington Forum," a multi-day gabfest now wrapping up at the J.W. Marriott a few blocks away from here--at which the digital transition was Topic A.

If you need help on hanging drywall, sorry, you've got the wrong chat.

Anything else, I'll see what I can do!


Cleveland: I recently bought a 42 inch LCD TV. I keep reading that I should have it calibrated. Do you know of an inexpensive calibration DVD? The picture looks fine to me so it doesn't seem worth spending $40-50 on a calibration DVD (forget about paying $300 for a pro to do it), but if I could find one for $10-20 that would improve the picture I'd be willing to give it a shot.

Rob Pegoraro: The one I always see suggested--which is also the only calibration disc that I can remember--is called Video Essentials. That's in your price range, if the Google price search is talking about the same disc that I've got in mind.


Fairfax, Va.: I have recently started getting solicitations for FIOS service. How does it compare in price and services with cable services such as Cox?

Rob Pegoraro: It compares very well. Fios undercuts comparable cable packages by a substantial margin and, last we checked, also beat equivalent satellite packages by a few bucks. Friends who have it seem very happy with it overall.


Washington, D.C.: Rob,

Just a quick thanks for your advice and emails on picking HDTVs over the last few months. Got one of the new 720p Panasonic plasmas and love it (ten feet? You're right, who needs 1080p?) Also happy with the anti-reflective screen, which seems to work pretty well - it was one of these chats, many moons ago, that turned me on to that feature and the brand in general. Thanks again!

Rob Pegoraro: You're welcome!


Alexandria, Va.: Rob, Did you go to the FOSE exhibitors this year? I thought it was a little disappointing.

Rob Pegoraro: I spent about an hour and a half at FOSE, the government-computing trade show, yesterday afternoon. As ever, it was pretty thin gruel for anybody interested in consumer-level technology. I had a good chat with a technician at the DriveSavers booth about data-recovery topics, but otherwise the primary benefit of my visit was the exercise I got in walking to and from the convention center, then making oen lap around the floor.

(FOSE, I'm told, was short for "Federal Office Systems Exhibition." It rhymes with--but is definitely not--"saucy.")


Herndon, Va.: My Dell desktop (Dimension 4550 w/XP SP2), about 4 years old, is taking longer and longer to startup to reach the point where I can start programs. Running programs like Firefox and Thunderbird also take a while to start up. I also had problems with slow internet (DSL) responses but it seemed to improve when I had FIOS installed this week (faster) and removed my Earthlink software, which had some problems. Where should I look to improve performance when starting up and tuning internet speed?

Rob Pegoraro: It sounds like you're suffering from the generalized problem of "Windows rot"--the computer gets slower and slower for no single discernible reason. A complete reinstall of Windows will fix that, at the cost of a massive amount of time spent backing up your data and then reloading all of your programs.

(Speaking of rot, Jamie Moyer is getting shelled in Philly, where it's Nats 6, Phillies 1 in the middle of the fourth)

In the meantime, though, you should look at upgrading your machine's memory (go from 512 MB to 1 gigabyte, for instance), uninstalling programs you don't use and shutting off items that run at each startup (Microsoft's Windows Defender is helpful for that).

A lot of people also recommend using registry-cleaning utilities to optimize this massive, systemwide (aka, single-point-of-failure) database, but I'm a little leery about issuing a general recommendation to do that. You can easily cause other problems with the system.

I'll throw that one out to all you all: Have you seen a meaningful, noticeable improvement in a PC's performance from running a registry cleaner? Can you isolate that from the placebo effect--"I just cleaned the registry, so the machine feels snappier now"?


Washington, D.C.: This month's Consumer Reports has a little blurb about a new OLED TV. It's something like $2,500 for an 11-inch screen, but it's 1/8" thick (ignoring the substantial base on which it sits) and apparently offers spectacular quality.

As someone who still watches TV on a tube (!), I'm curious -- how long till OLED technology is mainstream and affordability? I'm not currently in the market to replace our tube TV anyway, but now I'm wondering if OLED gives me an excuse to hold off even longer. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Don't hold your breath. OLED is going to take a long time to become as affordable as LCD and plasma, especially at the bigger screen sizes we're seeing now. 40 inches is apparently now considered "small," in relative terms.

OLED TVs did look terrific at CES in January, but so did most of the LCD and plasma screens I saw there. I would say you'll need to find another excuse to postpone getting a new TV.


Silver Spring, Md.: Rob, I'd like to watch digital channels over the air with my new HDTV. I live in a high-rise apartment - I can connect a coax cable straight into a wall outlet to use the building antenna. However, the reception is very poor to non-existent for digital channels - only two or three are visible, and they flicker in an out. Analog reception is full of static and not watchable. However, I've visited friends in an apartment seven floors higher in my building, and their reception is much better (digital and analog) from their connection to the building antenna.

Any suggestions for how to improve my over-the-air reception? Are there any portable antennas available in stores designed to work well in high-rise buildings? Is it worth the trouble of bugging the building management to try and improve my connection to the building antenna?

Thanks for your help.

Rob Pegoraro: You could run a really long coax cable from your friends' apartment to yours, but the building management would probably object.

You could ask the management to fix the wiring going to your place, but they may not care or even know how to do so.

What I'd do instead is try a tabletop antenna plugged right into your set. You're not far at all from most of the transmitter towers, without any geographic obstacles in the way. Any old UHF/VHF antenna should work for you.


Crystal City - Arlington, Va.: I have photo CDs made when I have 35mm film printed. You say in today's review that picture rotation is one of the tools in the Adobe photo editing Web application. I am using MS Picture Manager and when I rotate a photo to straighten a horizon, I believe I lose photo resolution - the file size (bytes) becomes smaller. Is this true for Adobe and all digital photo applications?

One more thing - have you noticed that the 90-degree rotate icons in MS Picture/Fax Viewer and the same icons in MS Picture Manager have their positions reversed? Rotate left is replaced by rotate right. Why do I always have to re-learn which button to click? Adobe pdf reader and Adobe Acrobat do the same trick with their page count displays.

Rob Pegoraro: It's those little inconsistencies in computer interfaces that can really bug you--learning one program ought to make you smarter when it comes to the next one, but in these cases it makes you dumber.

As for picture rotation, I think the real reason why the file size might shrink is that part of the picture gets cropped in the rotation process.


Washington, D.C.: Rob:

Two things. First, is there any rational explanation why Apple uses different external video interfaces for the iBook, MacBook, and MacBook Pro? A colleague is presenting at a conference using her MacBook. She borrowed my MacBook Pro DVI adapter, only to discover on-site that she needed something else--I believe S-Video.

Second, in reference to your Adobe Photoshop Express column this morning: Other than Google Apps and OpenOffice and their siblings, do you foresee a time when all software packages will be available on the Web, with the same features as come in present-day shrink-wrapped boxes?

Rob Pegoraro:1) All of Apple's laptops include a DVI port, although the MacBook Air includes a miniature version of that. If you're only going to offer one kind of output on a laptop, I think DVI is the right choice--you can always get adapters for other, lower-quality connections such as S-Video.

2) It's possible. Some of these use cases, like video editing, would require much more bandwidth than we have now, but in many other cases, I don't see much holding them back besides the established market share of existing, disk-bound programs.

What I don't know is how people will feel about that. Will they be happy at not having to gunk up their computer with extra programs? Or will having their data stored on somebody else's Web server bug them too much?


Reston, Va.: Is it worth it to replace the logic board in an otherwise sound G3 iBook to avoid buying a new laptop? Money's tight, but I can't decide if this is a stupid move or not. Would be for a backup computer, not a primary one. I'm assuming this is something best sent off to Apple, as I don't know of any local Mac repair people. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: If your only option is shipping the machine back to Apple, don't bother--you will spend a large chunk of the cost of a new MacBook. A local Mac repair shop might give you a better deal, but even then the math might push you to get a new computer... a G3 iBook would be, what, four or five years old by now?

This would be an excellent time to suggest good Mac repair shops in or near the Dulles corridor, BTW...


Brookland - Washington, D.C.: For the person who asked about calibrating an HDTV, CNET has a basic DIY guide that is pretty handy.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!


23060: I was visiting my parents in Florida for a long weekend and on Monday afternoon their old TV up and died, so we went out and I helped them select a nice Toshiba LCD TV. (Excellent customer service from the Toshi website, incidentally). My question is, how much drywall will it take to redo an 8 x 12 room with 8 foot ceilings?

Rob Pegoraro: If only my brother the home-improvement nut was on this chat!


Bethesda, Md.: A few interesting tidbits for cellphone and smartphone users, which can be used in combination or separately. I have no affiliation with either company, I've just been fiddling with these on my Palm Centro.

(1) JOTT -- This is a free telephone service that lets you dictate short messages to yourself, which are then transcribed via voice recognition into SMS or emails. You can also do other things such as dictate a short entry for your blog, or dictate a calendar appointment to Google Calendar, e.g. "Meeting with Tom at 3pm tomorrow." The recognition is not always perfect, but sometimes is shockingly accurate, although of course never as accurate as something like Dragon NaturallySpeaking.

(2) Goosync -- Another free service (with optional premium service) which, among other things, let's you sync your smartphone or PDA with Google Calendar. But the synchronization, IMO, is much slower than it needs to be, at least on Palm devices. A little clever engineering could improve performance dramatically, for the common case when only a few appointments have been added.

Anyhow, I've been playing with these in combination. It's nice to be able to dictate a note or an appointment while walking or driving.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the reports, Bethesda!

If you use Outlook, you can also use Google's own, just-released sync program.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob. I wanted to ask about last week's article on digital picture frames. I was surprised you didn't discuss Philips' line of frames, as they seem to be among the best in the market. But more importantly, why hasn't this market taken off? Just about everyone in America now has a computer full of digital photos that, because of laziness or lack of necessary hardware, are not being viewed by anyone. I'm one of them! I'm dying for a good digital frame, but they all seem to have fatal flaws. What are Apple, Sony, et al. waiting for? Fast Forward: Picture Imperfect

Rob Pegoraro: I've had a few different readers suggest Philips' picture frames; I might have to include them in the next story I do on that topic. (FWIW, I chose the models I did review basically by seeing what brands were at the top of the best-selling lists at a few retailers.)

You ask a very good question about companies like Apple and Sony. You'd think that, at the very least, somebody would be looking to make a frame that syncs directly to an iPhoto or Picasa photo library.


Arlington, Va.: Hey Rob, have you been following some of Internet discussions about Comcast condensing 3 HD channels into a bandwidth normally used for 2 channels? Do you know if this is happening in the DC area? (I have satellite currently)

To the guy calibrating his TV: I rented Digital Video Essentials from Netflix, it's decent.

Rob Pegoraro: Another way to get the Video Essentials disc--thanks!

I haven't seen any reports about this particular instance of HD compression, but it is true in general that cable and satellite providers compress high-def signals to varying degrees to fit them into their bandwidth. It's one reason why I do picture-quality tests with any HDTV using over-the-air broadcasts.


Frederick, Md.: Rob, as I'm tooling around on Firefox 3 beta 5 and liking it very much, my question to you--aka, Mr. Firefox--is do you know when FF3 is going final? Or why its taking so long? Are we close? And while I'm here, any idea when we'll see a Firefox Mobile browser?

Rob Pegoraro: I'm surprised, too, that there hasn't been an RC (release candidate) build by now. But I think I understand what's going on here; now that Firefox is getting towards 20 percent of the market, the developers can't assume that all these users have the same tolerance for bugs as the first adopters. (Set aside the fact that many of them had stuck with Internet Explorer beforehand :) They don't want to make a mistake.

There was a mobile version of Firefox called Minimo, but that effort has been set aside in favor of a newer effort. See this developer's blog post: schrep's blog: Mozilla and Mobile


For Dulles area Mac Repair: Mac Heaven in Chantilly. ( It's on the south side of the airport off of 50.

Took my logic board malfunctioning Performa back there in the 90s.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!


Accord, N.Y.: I need to buy something to backup my Mac using Tiger. Is there anything you recommend that is easy to use and not pricey?


Rob Pegoraro: Get a bus-powered Firewire hard drive. You won't tie up a USB port that way, and you also won't need to free up an outlet on the wall or the surge protector.

I bought one such drive from LaCie a couple of years ago, and it's worked very well. Any other suggestions?


Cody, Wyo.: Rob, I used a registry cleaner for a while. I believe it was called simply "Registry Cleaner." But it caused more problems than it ever fixed. So I dumped it.


Rob Pegoraro: That's exactly the kind of story that discourages me from endorsing registry cleaning.


New Haven, Conn.: HI -- I hope this isn't too narrow a question. I'm looking for scheduling software for my Mac that can work as intuitively and easily as the application I still use on my Newton (I know, you may groan: how can I still be using such an old and orphaned gadget--but I've never found anything better for what I need). The app on the Newton is called MoreInfo and it allows me to enter a name for my next appointment, and the name is autocompleted from my address book. All the computer software I've found separates the "name" of a meeting from the people "invited" to the meeting. For me, a doctor, the name of the meeting IS the one person's name and that's what i'd like automated--but no software I've seen will do that. Moreinfo also has a menu choice, "next meeting with" that automates scheduling a followup; it also shows me all my appts on any day so I can find an open time easily. It's wonderful software, and I've never seen anything as good on any computer or other PDA. But I know my Newton's days are numbered and I'd love to find the equivalent efficiency and elegance for my Mac. any suggestions....? Jim

Rob Pegoraro: Wow. I have no idea about this one. But I'll throw it out there on the (very, very slight) chance that there is a Mac-using, Newton-toting, schedule-conscious doctor in the house. Anyone? Anyone?


Philadelphia, Pa.: Rob - I'm going to be purchasing a new laptop soon and one of the things that's been nagging at the me the most is how I'll be moving my music from my old laptop to the new one. I have everything saved on a portable hard drive, but is the process going to be as simple as installing iTunes on the new laptop, uploading my music and then plugging in my iPod? It can't be that simple, can it?

Rob Pegoraro: Not quite that simple--you need to make sure that the metadata in your iTunes library carries over. That, as I recall, consists of some small files in your iTunes music folder--if you move that entire folder to the new computer, you should see all of your old stuff where it should be.


Minneapolis, Minn.: I have a MAC question. Just kidding, I know it's Mac.

My mom is going to be getting an iMac, and I saw on Mac Rumors that it's being billed as "Don't buy now, updates soon". Do you have any idea when the updated iMac might be coming out?

Also, what if she just needs it for light word processing, photo storage and internet does she need the extra hard drive memory and faster processor, or will the basic model serve her needs?

Rob Pegoraro: The iMac last saw a major update last fall, so it probably is due--especially since Intel has these lower-power processors that Apple could pop into the computer. (The primary benefit there would not be faster speed, but less fan noise.) But I couldn't tell you when, exactly, a new model is coming out.

Considering the undemanding uses your mom outlined, you're probably fine buying an iMac--in the basic configuration--now.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Concerning the February 2009 conversion of TV - I have a 1990's TV with two VCR's connected to it (same vintage). If I get a converter box where would I place it. Would I connect it to the TV and then connect the VCR's to it or the TV. As you can see I really don't know what to do and as I envision moving in the next 4 years I don't want to buy new equipment at this point. Any help that you could give me would be very much appreciated. Thank you.

Rob Pegoraro: The DTV converter box has to be the first thing connected to the antenna, with everything else plugged into that.

The converter boxes that I've seen have two outputs--one coax (the same kind of thick round plug going to the antenna) and one composite (one yellow plug for video, red and white plugs for audio).

One problem you'll run into right away: Neither VCR will be able to do any sort of scheduled recording that involves changing a channel.

Here's what I'd suggest instead of a converter box: Get a DVD recorder with a VCR and its own, built-in digital tuner, then sell/donate/recycle the two VCRs.


Ashland, Ore.: For Reston, if your logic board failed on a G3 ibook, the other parts are likely to fail soon too. I tried to keep a Pismo G3 Powerbook alive using superhuman efforts, but different stuff just kept failing. Replaced it with a used G4 ibook and had much the same experience. I don't think it's worth it, especially since the part alone is likely to cost several hundred dollars.

Rob Pegoraro: That's another good point--laptops have lots of moving parts that can conk out over time.


Alex., VA: You'd need 10 sheets of 4'x8' drywall to redo all 4 walls of an 8'x12' room....

But what does that have to do with buying your folks a new LCD tv?

Rob Pegoraro: Alexandria may have missed my introduction. But thanks for the detail anyway!

(I have plaster walls at home. But let's not even get into the finer points of repairing or replacing those...)


Nashville, Tenn.: One nice feature of the OTA reception on my HD tv (Sceptre from Costco) was the Electronic Program Guide (EPG). It shows each channel's line-up, with a paragraph of description (optional). I enjoyed this -until- I hooked up my antenna to my Panasonic DVR, which doesn't have this feature; instead, the DVR shows "status", which is about 12 characters of the title of the present and next program. Don't the rules for digital broadcasting require more? And if so, do most DVR's take advantage of it? I ask because a family member is about to purchase a DVR, and I told her how useful the program-guide feature is -- or was. Thanks for all your good columns, by the way.

Rob Pegoraro: There aren't really rules for DTV hardware when it comes to support for features like programming guides, just guidelines that not all manufacturers follow. You'll have to look up the specs for each video recorder you're looking at... some of the more expensive brands can have the worst (or no) support for the EPG feature.


Alex., VA: Rob, I took your advice while shopping far an LCD last week. I made sure that I got a TV with 120hz processing and a USB port.

My new Philips 47" also has an integrated QAM receiver which immediately recognized the HD channels coming from Cox w/o their HD set top decoder.

Also - family photos look great in a slideshow loaded up from the USB stick.

Thanks for the advice.

Rob Pegoraro: You're welcome!

Have you tried over-the-air reception with the new set also?


Washington, DC: Re. Reston and the dead iBook G3 - for the money involved in a fix, you might instead look on eBay for a used iBook G4. The later models (1.25+ GHz) are still pretty robust, and should only be a few hundred $$$.

And, all your Power PC software would work on it - this might not be the case on a new Intel-based Macbook (Pro).

Rob Pegoraro: Yet another option for our friend with the sick iBook


Bethesda, Md.: A pet peeve: why are so few wireless keyboards integrated with a built-in pointing device such as a trackball or trackpad, so that you can hold them in your lap?

There are a few exceptions. For several years I've been using a KeySource KSI-2109, which is infrared and has a built-in trackball. Of course, infrared requires that you point the keyboard in the correct direction, and also the keyboard sometimes drops a few characters, but I hardly notice this problem anymore.

A few years ago I thought that I was "upgrading" to a Belkin MediaPilot. Big mistake: it's RF rather than infrared, but the built-in pointing capability is atrocious, only allowing you to move in 8 discrete directions. It takes about 4 times longer to place the cursor on the screen than it does with my older infrared keyboard.

There are newer solutions out there such as the Logitech diNovo Edge, but it's pretty pricey ($165) so I haven't tried it yet.

But why aren't there more good and inexpensive solutions out there??

And of course, range is an issue: one would like to have true 30-foot range in a real room which contains electronics, rather than an idealized room. So one would probably need to look for a claimed range around 100 feet, to achieve a real-world 30-foot range.

Rob Pegoraro: In case anybody working at a peripherals manufacturer sees this, Bethesda has some suggestions for you...


Grand Rapids, Mich.: Hey Rob, I got my parents set up with a MacBook as their first computer and they LOVE it. The only problem I am having, though, is that they keep dragging icons off the dock and making them "Poof"--disappear. Is there a way to easily lock the dock? They aren't so swift with the mouse yet, and I have to keep putting the icons back.

They also inadvertently change their toolbar of the Apple Mail program -- they drag them off by mistake. Any suggestions would be wonderful! Thanks!

Also, is there a particular mouse that would be easier for 76-year-olds to use? I am so proud of how they are learning to use a computer for the first time!

Rob Pegoraro: I think the parental-control features in Mac OS X let you stop users from modifying the Dock, but I don't think they also lock out toolbar customizations.

You could just let this slide--it seems like the kind of thing they'll pick up quickly enough on their own.

To simplify the computer in general, you could see if they like the "Simple Finder" option. I'd also ditch any Dock icons that they don't actually need. And make sure they know the Expose keys; the concepts of multitasking and multiple open windows can be surprisingly non-obvious for somebody who's never used a computer before.


Alexandria, Va.: Comcast and HD compression. It is happening in this area as the discussion on AVSForums was taken up by a poster from PWC.

Rob Pegoraro: Very interesting. I've gotta have a look at that thread.

(AVS Forum--Audio Video Science Forum--is the home of some of the pickiest viewers on the Web.)


Bowie: Today's thread about WinRot (which my old PC seems to be experiencing in spades) makes me wonder if with all the external hard drives with data sync-ing there are, should you just re-format the drive and re-install from clean?

Rob Pegoraro: There are some people who recommend that--a sort of yearly PC exorcism.


DC: Rob,

A sort of silly question. I used to have a "component splitter"--i.e. I could plug my VCR, Xbox, old Nintendo, DVD player into it and switch back and forth from one to the other by pressing buttons on the splitter. I no longer have that device, and was trying to buy one online, but I can't figure out what it's called! Any ideas? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Try looking for a video input switcher.

Any audio/video receiver should also be capable of doing that.


Williamsburg, Va.: Comment: Windows Vista seems particularly vulnerable to crashing immediately following automatic updates. E.g. One time my monitor settings were thoroughly fouled up. Just recently I found that any activity involving thumbnails causes my computer to freeze

Question: Do you know of a fix to "COM Surrogate Has Failed"?

Rob Pegoraro: Nope, but I'll do some digging and see what I can find.


Rochester, N.Y.: Hi Rob,

I love reading your columns and discussions. Here's my question. I am thinking about making the move from my old Dell Inspiron 8600 to Apple. I really don't want to go the Vista route. My current laptop is 15" diagonal. I like all the Apple computers but I am having a hard time deciding between the MacBook and the MacBook Pro. The price differential seems quite large to get the graphics card and bigger screen. My major use will be word processing, internet stuff, and I do a lot with photos but mainly just putting together albums and things like that for printing and making gifts. I can't seem to decide if I would feel cramped on the 13" screen of the Macbook. How good is the MacBook at driving a 2nd monitor? Or would it make more sense to get a MacBook and later get an iMac? Or should I just go with the MacBook Pro? With Apple it seems that if you are a casual user or a serious graphics professional your choices are easy. If you are in-between, you go through agony. Any thoughts here? Thanks, Dennis in Rochester, N.Y.

Rob Pegoraro: You're right about the gaps in Apple's product lineup.

For you--and anybody who isn't looking to use the computer for professional photo editing work--I'd get the MacBook. It will drive an external monitor just fine, although you'll need an adapter for its mini-DVI port. But you also might find that its built-in display--which, unlike your Dell's, is a widescreen LCD--is fine on its own.


Burke, Va.: Rob:

Every six months or so, I run a registry cleaner called, "Registry Mechanic". Based on my experience on my box (and others' computers), every six months or annually is often enough, and it DOES help -- not a HUGE difference, generally, but a slightly quicker bootup. However, I once ran Registry Mechanic on a four-year-old system that basically HADN'T been properly maintained, the difference was very substantial.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the details, Burke!


Tina in Falls Church: So, Vista SP1 is still sitting in the "to do" pile on the laptop. Desktop didn't get it pushed yet. Any notable problems folks have noted. I still remember the dreaded SP1 for XP...took weeks to sort out that mess. advice welcome. Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: It seems to have installed fine on the test laptop I subjected to this update. Any other Vista SP1 experiences out there?


Del Mar, Calif.: I am considering switching from Windows XP to either Linux or Mac next time I buy a computer (I really loathe the idea of having to use Vista). However, I have a lot of data stored on NTFS USB drives. How compatible are Linux and Mac with NTFS? Will I have to convert to FAT32 or something else? Does FAT32 work with a 1TB drive?

Rob Pegoraro: Mac OS X can read NTFS drives without any problem, but you need to install some extras software--MacFUSE, right?--to write to these drives. Most Linux distributions can read and write to NTFS.

I'm pretty sure that FAT32 won't deal with a one-terabyte drive...


Fairfax, Va.: How do I get my MiniDV camcorder to show good images on my plasma screen hdtv. The Camcorder is about 3 years old so I send the signal through the VCR using component cables. Is there a way to get a better digital image displayed. Or do I just need to burn the video to a DVD and then play it through the DVD deck?

Rob Pegoraro: Component is as good as you're going to get. A digital HDMI connection might offer a slight upgrade, but your camcorder doesn't have that connection and only shoots in standard definition anyway.


Sherman Oaks, Calif.: rob, flying tomorrow, if the planes aren't down for maintenance.

an email question: i use an internet email program - gmail.

i have the idea that i can either leave all the messages on the 'gmail' servers OR additionally download all the emails.

is there a way with gmail or internet email programs to download to my computer selected emails?

for example, i've printed out my airline itinerary and my rental car confirmation. it would be interesting to be able to have them 'on' my computer. while there are hundreds/thousands of other emails that i'm happy to have stored on gmail's servers - searchable, but not clogging up my computer. thanks, as always, tom

Rob Pegoraro: Good luck with your flight--hope it's not on Aloha or ATA. (Presumably American can escape this "airlines with names starting with A" jinx.)

You can set your own mail program to keep messages on the server. But the better solution is to enable Gmail's IMAP option, which will keep your messages in sync on the Gmail site and as many computers as you want. Check in your Gmail account settings.


Alex., VA: Great column/chat. I have the sprint pocket pc (6700) with spring service. While I like the mini keyboard, I am considering the blackberry or the treo. I do like the spellcheck, the ability to get my AOL email (Yes, I know you don't like AOL), and such, but is there a good reason to upgrade to one of the other models? IPhone is out of my range, I'm thinking, and is not with spring.


Rob Pegoraro: A BlackBerry, Treo or Centro would be smaller than the 6700, but you'd lose the 6700's WiFi. I'd be hesitant about trading down like that.

Otherwise, all of those phones will work fine with AOL mail. You don't need to use AOL's software for that, since the service also supports the POP and IMAP standards.


Glen Allen, Va.: Firefox 3 is scheduled for release in June.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, G.A.


DC: Any word on Fios coming to the District?

Rob Pegoraro: The most recent story I've seen ran in the Washington Business Journal; it said that Verizon was waiting for the District to remove a regulation about VoIP phone service. You can read the first few grafs of the story (the rest requires a subscription) here: Verizon awaits deregulation, customers await Fios - Washington Business Journal:


Calgary, Alberta: To the fellow in Herndon, Va., with the sluggish computer: When this happens to my computer I do a repair installation of Windows XP. If you have a copy of the original installation CD reset your computer's BIOS to boot from the CD drive. Follow the usual on-screen instructions as if you were doing a from-scratch installation. When you see a screen with the message "Press R to repair Windows XP" do that and the installer will install a fresh copy of XP over the old one which has become gunked up. Takes about half an hour and doesn't mess with your data.

Rob Pegoraro: Another suggestion for WinRot.

(Speaking of rot, it's the Nats' turn to do so: It's now knotted at 6 after a five-run outburst by the Phils. Do Not Want.)


BIG AL, Fairfax: I'm in the market for a flat screen tv (37-50in) to be used with various gaming consoles (XBOX360, Wii and PS2). I've heard the positives and the negatives for LCD and Plasma televisions, but I think I'm more confused than I ever was. I'm more inclined to purchase a tv from Costco because of their warranty..with that being said, would you recommend a Visio, Toshiba, Panasonic or Sony? I've also heard good things about Vizio, but the salesman at Costco said they are horrible. Please advise. Thanks! BTW, I have HD service through DirecTV.

Rob Pegoraro: The quickest way to choose between plasma and LCD is to look at how many windows are in the room that's gonna get the TV. LCDs have less of a glare problem than plasma.

Speaking of Vizio, here's a quick review I did of the company's cheapest 42-inch LCD: Bonus Review: Vizio's "Value" LCD HDTV - Faster Forward


Arlington, Va.: I got a trayapp message from windows installer after following HP's advice and uninstalling a printer using the XP add/remove function before I installed a newer HP printer with supposedly conflicting software. Now the installer starts up on reboot and asks for the old install disk which I no longer have. I have to use task manager to end it. HP says to use the MS windows installer clean up program but their advice caused the problem so I'm a bit leery. Any suggestions?

Rob Pegoraro: I would try that Windows Installer repair utility--it's from Microsoft, not HP, after all. (I'm not a fan of HP's printer software either.)


Washington, DC: For the person looking for an easy mouse for their parents - Not so much a suggestion on a brand but what I did with my 85-year-old grandmother is I made her play solitaire for several months before I taught her how to do anything else. That way she got the idea of how to drag and drop, click versus double click etc. Now that being said she still right clicks when she should left click (I put her on a PC before I understood the virtues of a Mac and she won't switch) and she has duplicate shortcuts galore - but for the most part she is pretty handy with the mouse.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the suggestion...


Alexandria, Va.: Rob, On what HDTV will you be watching the WASHINGTON CAPITALS tonight?

Rob Pegoraro: Since the Vizio PR folks have yet to arrange a pickup for that set, I suppose I'll be watching the game on that LCD. Let's go Caps!


Lorton, Va.: What is the best way to back up Yahoo e-mails. I have few hundred -emails from several years. Thanks. Mona

Rob Pegoraro: You'll have to buy a subscription to Yahoo's Plus option, which I think runs $20 a year, to get the ability to download messages to your own mail software. Or you could try a free program called Ypops (, which apparently gets you that option for free. Haven't tried it, though.


Olney, Md.: Three simple things to speed up an older computer: Defragment the disk drive; run AdAware; use the Options part of IE, Firefox or Opera to remove "temporary" files, clear the history, and possibly remove all the cookies. My cheapskate brother was ready to upgrade until I got him to do these three things.

Rob Pegoraro: Those things can help--but you should also realize that dumping all of your browser cookies will force you to log in from scratch at every Web site where you've ever saved a login. There's some serious annoyance potential there.


Athens, Ga.: I bot a Motorola Razr3 telephone with camera capability. Now I learn from Motorola that in order to download pix from camera to CPU, I need to spend $40 for drivers. Yet no mention of this when I bot the telephone. Any free driver download available anywhere?

Rob Pegoraro: Not that I can think of, but I've never owned a Razr. Any suggestions?


WpgManCDA: Dear Mr. Pegoraro,

I "archive" all kinds of stuff by saving it in the form of individual "Outlook Express" e-mails. The file format is ".eml", as I'm sure you know. Are there other programs that can open these files, or would I be up a creek if Outlook Express somehow disappeared or otherwise became obsolete?

Thanks very much.

Rob Pegoraro: Don't meant to burst your bubble, WMCDA, but Outlook Express "became obsolete" sometime in Bill Clinton's second term! Now, I would not describe it so much as obsolete as decaying or outright putrescent.

Seriously, you can do much better; try Mozilla Thunderbird or Windows Live Mail. The latter program should definitely handle your .eml files; the former should too, although you might need to add an extra extension to it.


Silver Spring: For the person looking for a gaming tv, I much prefer DLP over LCD or Plasma. You get more screen for the buck, fast response time, and it works in a brighter room. The downside is you won't be able to hang it on the wall.

Rob Pegoraro: Also, you're going to have notable viewing-angle issues (the picture dims if you see it from the side). And these sets are generally sold only in the bigger sizes, like 50 inches or larger--they've already been crowded out of many smaller sizes.


Washington, DC: Rob, I have had some version of a Palm Pilot since about 1999. Their size and affordability are great. But the last two models I have owned have experienced battery problems, and I wonder if time is finally passing the Palm Pilot by. I don't want to get an expensive smartphone, I just want a relatively cheap PDA. Any suggestions?

Rob Pegoraro: There are very few choices left for you--standalone PDAs are going extinct. The simplest and cheapest upgrade would be Palm's entry level Z22... but that's, what, three years old? It's a good thing it's so cheap, because it's basically obsolete already.


Washington, DC: Is there a free non internet needed program that can be used to thoroughly clean a hard drive of a desktop to be given away?

Rob Pegoraro: Sure -- get the free, open-source Eraser


Minneapolis, Minn.: A Monitor/Graphics Card 101 question: In what way is an HDMI connection between a graphics card and a computer monitor, superior to a DVI connection between a graphics card and a computer monitor. Reviewers consider HDMI to be superior, but I have never found an explanation about what makes it better; on a Windows computer.

Rob Pegoraro: There is no difference in picture quality between the two. What HDMI adds is audio support; you get all of your video and audio data over a single cable.

HDMI also adds all sorts of copy-control technology to the equation, which can lead to some ugly issues with screens that suffer "HDMI handshake" problems.

So, arguably, DVI is better than HDMI.


Lakewood, New Jersey: Hi Rob, love your chats. I installed NoAdware antispy software. It works fine and always finds spyware on my Windows XP SP2 pc. I also do a scan with Spybot search and destroy but it always deletes my NoAdware. Very strange. One antispyware eats up the other one?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't know NoAdware, but it gets a mediocre review on I'd certainly be more inclined to trust SpyBot than this other program...


Madison, Wis.: Hello Rob,

This story was one reason I just volunteered with some local groups to help the elderly with the DTV transition. Perhaps others may be willing to do the same.

I'm also concerned about lots and lots of older analog TVs ending up at the local landfills as a result of the transition.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the note--you are a kind soul to help explain the DTV transition to the uninitiated.


23112:$40 for drivers? I doubt that. Look at for info on making your Moto phone work the way you want.

Rob Pegoraro: Good idea--I should have thought of this phone-hacking site too. Give it a look (you may find that a lot of the jargon there, however, sails right over your head).


Alexandria, VA: The Thread

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks! I'll give it a read (this is about Comcast compressing HD quality)


Tempe, Ariz.: Hey Rob! So this morning I read your last chat transcript, wherein one chatter diagnosed another chatter's Mac with "kernel panic," and I just wanted to say that I've been giggling at the phrase "kernel panic" all day. Tee hee.

Rob Pegoraro: These are my readers! :)


Washington, D.C.: I have Dish Network and am planning to buy a 42" plasma screen TV. Would I need to subscribe to HD channels? What if I buy a smaller plasma screen TV?

Rob Pegoraro: You can tune into the local networks' HD broadcasts for free with a TV antenna, but otherwise, yeah, you'll want an HD package from Dish. That would be the case with any HD-capable set, which would include just about anything bigger than 26 inches.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob, I need your advice. My Palm PDA is dead and I need to replace my cell phone - so I'm thinking smartphone. I plan to stay with Verizon and am a Mac user. So no iPhone - plus I hate the iPhone version of iCal. And while the Palm calendar isn't the best it works perfectly for me. So my choices are the Treo 700 or Treo 755. What's the difference between the two other than one is newer (and lighter).

Also how dumb would it be to not buy the data package? I'm not looking for a way to check my email and I'm not a big texter. I just want the calendar and address book. Thanks Rob - I really respect your opinion and hope you can help me figure out what to do.

Rob Pegoraro: The 700 and 755 are just about the same phone, but the 755 only takes microSD cards while the 700 uses regular SD Cards. I'd get whichever one is cheaper.

You could dispense with the data plan, but only if you are POSITIVE that you'll never use any of the Internet apps on the phone--otherwise, you'll get killed in "incidental use" charges.

Considering that on-the-go Internet access is one of the primary reasons to get a smartphone, I'd go with a data plan.


Falls Church, Va.: Two weeks ago I had FIOS installed in my home for TV, computer and phone. My next-door neighbor wants me to give him access for his laptop. Is this safe and will my systems be secure?

Also, FIOS reps tell me that the do no support Microsoft and the Explorer. What does this mean for me?

Thank you from a newbie

Rob Pegoraro: Last couple of questions here...

If your neighbor wants free Internet access, he'd better be offering to pay part of your Fios bill. You would also be wise to secure your own wireless network (sharing that password with him) unless you want any other neighbor to hop on the connection for free.

In my experience, the words of Fios reps on what software they do and do not support are meaningless--many of these people just don't seem to know what they're talking about. However, it is inconceivable (I use this world knowing that it means what I think it means) that Verizon would not support Microsoft Windows or Internet Explorer. Something must have gotten lost in translation there...


Reston: SD Card backup without a laptop? I'm planning a three week trip to New Zealand and have no intention of bringing a laptop (yeah!). However, I would like someway to backup my cameras' SD cards along the way. I would hate to lose or damage a card and therefore lose the pictures. A solution that I have not ever seen would be a card reader that attached directly to my 80g iPod.

Thanks for any ideas.

Rob Pegoraro: Get Apple's iPod Camera Connector, a USB cable that lets you backup photos straight from the camera to the iPod.


Alexandria, Va.: Rob, First, thanks for the email directing me to your review of the Kindle.

But now I've got a PC question. I'm rapidly running out of space on my C: drive and want to un-partition the drive. Why do PC manufacturers feel the need to partition a hard drive and do you know of any good free utilities to un-partition a drive? I just don't see the need for a C: and a D: drive on one PC. Fast Forward: Kindled, but Not Enlightened

Rob Pegoraro: Most PC vendors gave up these partitioning schemes a long time ago, for exactly the reasons you outline. You can merge the partitions with a commercial utility like Partition Magic; you can also resize them with a free utility like GParted (which you can get as part of the SystemRescueCD package).


Cody, Wyo.: Hi Rob, You may have covered this before, but I want to transfer some standard audio tapes from a little portable tape recorder to my computer. And then save them as mp3 files. Is there a tutorial on that anywhere?

Thanks, Rob!


Rob Pegoraro: I get this question so often, I have a message template saved in my mail software (thanks, QuickText!) with the answers. Here it is:

We ran a how-to story on this a while back--good news is, you shouldn't have to buy more than $20 or so of hardware, then download some free software.

More recently, I wrote about a colleague's experience with a turntable that plugs directly into a computer.


Rob Pegoraro: OK, gang, that'll do it for today. Thanks for all the questions; I hope my answers were informative, or at least entertaining. See y'all here in a couple of weeks...


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