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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, September 18, 2008; 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Thursday, Sept. 18 at 2 p.m. ET to discuss recent reviews and answer personal tech questions.

This Story

A transcript follows:

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Rob Pegoraro: Good afternoon... as I type this, I've got a new iPod Nano, iPod Touch and Zune sitting on my desk, so if you've got questions on any of these gadgets, I can probably answer them. (And if you're looking for insight on the unbalanced investments of AIG, you've come to the wrong chat.)

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Silver Spring, Md.: Rob,

I hope that Apple doesn't ditch the iPod Classic entirely. I'm sure there are plenty of music and video lovers who appreciate having 120 GB of storage available. I need at least 50 GB for my music alone.

My fear is that Apple kills the Classic next year and charges us $500 for 64 GB of storage, at most, on the iPod Touch. That would be a ripoff, in my opinion, compared to the Classic. Would you agree with me that Apple should maintain high-capacity iPods with hard drives until flash capacity costs more or less the same as hard drive capacity?

Rob Pegoraro: Let's start with this one. I get where Silver Spring is coming from here--but the numbers thrown around here are what you might pay for a flash-based iPod Classic replacement *today.* Give prices another year to come down, and I suspect you're looking at a 120 GB model for about the same price as today's hard drive model.

Put it this way: Sometime this year, the standard size for PR-giveaway USB flash drives seems to have moved up from 2 GB to 4 GB... or just under the capacity of the first iPod, back in 2001.

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Hyattsville, Md.: Hi, Rob,

Well-timed discussion today. We just got a new iPod touch (probably the older version) free from a friend that bought a Mac laptop. It was perfect timing because our old model had stopped working. So far, I'm VERY frustrated because the iPod touch won't download our playlists from iTunes. It says there isn't enough room on the iPod and we don't have anything else (video, photos, etc.) on it. We have the newest free version of iTunes and I haven't been able to find any fixes on-line. Do you or any of the chatters know how to get around this?

Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: I'd restore the iPod touch--wipe its memory and put a fresh copy of the software on it. You should see that option in iTunes right after you plug in the iPod.

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Fairfax, Va.: Rob-

I'm about to buy an iPod Touch, and noticed the assortment of accessories they sell to go along with it. Is it really necessary to get one of those screen protecting skins?

I thought the screen was made of glass, which shouldn't be as scratch prone as others.

Rob Pegoraro: I haven't bought any iPod accessories like cases or "skins." With the exception of the scratch-prone plastic on the first iPod nano, I've found that most of these things stand up pretty well to abuse. You might pick up some scratches or scuffs here and there, but--c'mon, we're not talking jewelry here. It's OK if your iPod (or other media player) looks used after a while.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey Rob

I just got the 3G iPhone and when I open itunes and click on a song to turn it into a ringtone, it asks for my password. After I enter it, the same password window keeps popping up and I can't get to the ringtone editor. Your thoughts?

Rob Pegoraro: Don't waste your money on iTunes Store ringtones. There are free programs that can make ringtones from the music you already own...er, wait, you can do that with just Garage Band: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1358?viewlocale=en_US

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Rockville, Md.: Rob, I asked for your thoughts on the second generation iPod touch (and the software update) during the last chat and you said that you hadn't tried the loaner yet. Any insights today?

Rob Pegoraro: I've now spent several days trying out the iPod and... well, it's an iPhone without the phone part. It's certainly far more useful as an organizer than the first iPod touch--but those changes came long ago. My only complaint is that some iPhone apps won't run on the iPod touch; it seems that these location-based apps (like Yelp) are only set up to use the iPhone's GPS, not the WiFi-based locator service on the iPod touch.

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Alexandria, Va.: I have a 14-inch iBook purchased in sept 2002. It seems to be taking longer to do things. Is it time to look into getting a new Mac laptop or even a mini? Should I hit the Apple store to see if anything can be done to improve performance, e.g., deleting 9 OS? I use it mainly for the web, email, itunes, and writing.

Rob Pegoraro: Six years is a Very. Long. Time. for any computer to remain in day-to-day service, and especially for a laptop. I'd look into getting a new model--but hold off for another month or so, as it's really getting time for Apple to update the MacBook and MacBook Pro.

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Baltimore, Md.: I keep getting pop-up messages telling me that my WinXP computer wants to install updates (Service Pack 3). I've tried to comply several times, but after a lengthy process, when it appears to be almost finished, it aborts and announces that access is denied. I've checked my administrative privileges - but that hasn't helped. I've disabled my anti-virus and firewall apps too. Any ideas?

Rob Pegoraro: Try downloading SP3's "full" installer from Microsoft's site - http://www.microsoft.com/DOWNLOADS/details.aspx?FamilyID=5b33b5a8-5e76-401f-be08-1e1555d4f3d4 - then running it in Safe Mode.

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Fairfax, Va.: So I hear although they claim they are as good as Blu Ray that Directv, Dish and many cable companies are not broadcasting at 1920x1080 but maybe on a good day at 1280x1080.

Have you heard this? Maybe you could do I column on it. FIOS is allegedly the only one who has 1920x1080!

Rob Pegoraro: I am not aware of any TV providers offering 1080p service--there isn't enough bandwidth to do that over the air. But so what? You're not going to see a meaningful difference between 720p or 1080i on most screens. And the higher resolution of Blu-ray doesn't mean anything when most of the stuff on the air isnt' available on Blu-ray in the first place. I mean, you might as well complain that Blu-ray is lacking because it doesn't match up to IMAX.

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Lithium ion batteries- proper charging procedure?: Hi Rob,

Can you clarify the conflicting info I've read about what you are supposed to do w/the batteries in iPods, cell phones, etc?

Some say you have to let it drain all the way down the first couple times before you charge; that these batteries have kind of a "memory." People in this camp say if you don't do this, then your battery life will be shortened forever.

The problem with this, especially w/iPods is that it automatically charges when you hook it up to add songs or update software.

Others say who cares, it won't matter one bit to battery life, reliability.

Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: I think you're mixing up different kinds of batteries. NiCad batteries have a memory effect, but the NiMH and LiOn batteries in almost all portable gadgets don't. So don't worry about this.

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Baltimore, Md.: In light of Gov. Palin's e-mail invasion (regardless of political stripe it WAS/IS wrong), what can we as typical users do to prevent our web-based e-mail accounts from being hacked?

Love your chat.

Rob Pegoraro: So glad you asked--I read that story with a mix of fascination and extreme distaste. From what I gather, the hackers got into the account by guessing the right answers to her password-reset quiz... which, since the governor is now a very public figure, wasn't all that hard to do.

So the first lesson here is, I think, don't be a public figure.

Second, don't use password-reset questions that others could guess the answers to with minimal research. (Or if you do, lie--say you were born in Khatmandu, not Kansas.)

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Arlington, Va.: I confused with the different options for Vista OS that are shipped with notebooks, what is the difference between 32 and 64 bits, how much memory shall I get if I go with a 32 bit version? Is it true that the 64 bit version has compatibility problems? Also is it true that the 32 bit can not utilize more than 3GB? For non-game use is it worth it to get a notebook with a separate graphics card?

Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: You're not as confused as you think--you're correct about the 3 GB memory limit for 32-bit Windows and the compatibility issues with 64-bit Windows. That's why I recommend avoiding 64-bit editions altogether in Windows unless you can name a specific computing task that will benefit from this extra processing power.

No, you don't need a discrete graphics card for non-game use. Just make sure whatever integrated graphics chipset the PC comes with can handle Vista's Aero Glass graphics.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Rob - We just got a TiVo HD, which requires two CableCards. Over the last three weeks, we've been fighting tooth-and-nail with Comcast to get them to provide us with those CableCards. First we learned (the hard way) that customers cannot -- no matter what phone support or their website tells you -- pick up self-install kits at payment centers. Then came the obligatory canceled installation appointment. Then their northern Virginia warehouses "ran out" of CableCards 20 minutes before the tech was supposed to show up. Their phone support said that they don't expect to be restocked anytime in the next couple of weeks.

I understand that Comcast is an evil monopoly and all, but do we poor consumers have any recourse? Any way to get those mythical self-install kits?

Rob Pegoraro: I'm shocked, shocked, that Comcast is *still* trying to snuff out CableCards with this kind of passive-aggressive garbage. Keep plugging away. And e-mail me about this, so I can ask Comcast's PR person why they don't think they need to live up to their FCC-mandated obligations.

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Arlington, Va.: Are there any advantage to getting Vista Ultimate, is it worth the extra money?

Rob Pegoraro: No.

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Chattanooga, Tenn.: I have an ipod telephone, and the ipod function works okay except that I HATE that it doesn't have a tactile track advance function that I can use to skip a track without pulling the device out of my pocket, unlocking it and looking at it.

Is it the same deal with the ipod touch?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes.

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Alexandria, Va.: If the iPod Touch is essentially the iPhone without the phone part, and it's generally a better idea to combine a PDA and phone into a "smartphone" these days, is there any advantage in getting the Touch?

Rob Pegoraro: In some circumstances, yes. The obvious one would be if AT&T doesn't provide service where you live, or if AT&T's service is very limited. A co-worker of mine was thinking about getting an iPod touch for this reason--she didn't want to give up Verizon.

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waiting for the Google phone: Rob, on a CNET message board, someone said that the Android was the answer to a question that no one asked. Someone else called it the equivalent of nerd porn and that the average consumer isn't going to care about the Google phone. I used to feel the same way, until I found out that the G-Phone would be first rolled out on my cell network. Now I'm excited. Do you think the Google Phone will muster at least half the hype of the i-phone or will it slip on the scene quietly, like the Samsung Instinct?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't think there was anything "quiet" about the Instinct launch--Sprint threw a lot of marketing $$$ at this phone, and apparently had gotten a decent return.

But anyway: I think that people who underestimate the potential of Android sound *exactly* like the people who said the iPhone wouldn't amount to anything outside of the nerd market. Face it: Most cell phones are pretty miserable to use, especially online. But not everybody wants to use AT&T, which leaves a gigantic hole in the market that Google can, if it does its job with Android, now drive a truck through.

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Arlington, Va.: Is the new ipod shuffle (available after Sept. 9, 2008) exactly the same as old model in terms of function, capacity...? With the exception of the new colors of course. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: No difference there that I know of.

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RE: Or if you do, lie....: This doesn't seem to be a problem for Gov. Palin.

Rob Pegoraro: Heh. We kid because we love...

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Home Theater - tower vs satellite: Hey Rob,

I am building a home theater system and I have a speaker question. Which is better tower or satellite and if Tower how does the best tower compare to the best satellite?

Rob Pegoraro: Sorry, but you're asking the wrong guy. Does anybody care to opine on this issue?

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Glen Allen, Va.: Rob - the price drop on the new iPod Touch has me seriously considering any kind of iPod for the first time ever - although I'd like to have seen it even cheaper. But I'm not impressed with the stories I've read about Apple shoveling a ton of extra stuff into the iTunes 8 install (e.g. I have no need for MobileMe). I have a ton of CDs and most are already ripped to MP3, so if I don't want to buy from ITMS, could I use something besides iTunes to manage an iPod?

Rob Pegoraro: Not unless your hat has a propeller on the top. But iTunes still isn't that bad in terms of resource use--on this XP machine, iTunes uses a little less memory than the Zune software, background helper apps included.

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Herndon, Va.: Rob,

So I finally joined the modern world and bought a Panasonic plasma HDTV. Do you know (or have an opinion on) to what extent burn in/image retention are still problems with plasma displays? Should I worry about watching Fox 5 for a couple of hours with its obnoxious logo in the bottom, right corner?

Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: You should be fine. The worst image retention I've seen--this is going back two years--came from plugging a Mac mini into a Panasonic plasma and listening to some stuff on iTunes; after about an hour of listening to one album, I could see a faint echo of the album title linger on the screen for about the next hour.

I think that if there were any risk of burn-in from the far lesser contrast of onscreen network logos, we'd have heard about it by now--at length and in volume.

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Richmond, Va.: For Arlington with the new TiVoHD - if you have FiOS available, RUN do not walk to the phone and place your installation order. (Yes, you can have FiOS TV without the bundled phone and/or internet, and it is cheaper and better than Comcast)

Rob Pegoraro: Another thought--note that Fios supports CableCards, so you won't need their box.

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Seattle: More advice on Palin's e-mail invasion -- how about "use your work account for work email instead of trying to avoid document retention laws and policies by picking up some yahoo or gmail account on the side." (That would work for the folks in the White House, too!)

Rob Pegoraro: There is that, too... though I believe that in the case of the White House e-mail issue, it was people using RNC e-mail addresses.

(Actually, this brings up an interesting experiment: If you conduct confidential government business in Gmail, what kind of ads does Google throw up in response?)

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Tivo HD?: Can you tell me if I need cable cards if I'm going to keep the Time Warner digital converter box thing? I've never really understood when I need the cable cards and I keep getting conflicting answers from all sources. I just want to Tivo in HD. What's the easiest way to do that?

Rob Pegoraro: The easiest way to get TiVo in HD is with CableCards--this way, you get rid of the cable box and its extra wiring, remote and cost entirely. The problem, of course, is that some cable operators seem to have this... fatal attraction to cable boxes.

It's almost pathological at this point, continuing to push these things on people who have expressly said "Do not want" by going to the trouble of buying CableCard-ready hardware.

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Using imac ppc g5 OCSPD stalls system: Not only is safari 3.1.1 a total memory leaker (sometimes it gets up to 500MB! -- I have to quit and re-launch a dozen times a day). but also while Watching Activity Monitor, every time the root process ocspd pops up (usually related to an https page, but not always), safari completely stalls, followed immediately by a complete system paralysis -- complete -- nothing is responsive at all -- it often takes minutes to release; sometimes safari stops responding completely and I have to force quit. eventually once the system 'releases' itself and ocspd goes away or releases cpu and memory. It is also a memory and cpu hog in the throes of the paralysis. using 10.4.11

what is wrong with this picture? how can i fix that?

p.s. 1.5gb ram

thanks/great chats!

Rob Pegoraro: Here's where I wish I were doing this on a Mac, so I could research this directly. But from a little Web searching, I see that the ocspd process is part of the Keychain framework. So I'd go through your Keychain (the Keychain Access app should be in the Utilities sub-folder of your Applications folder) and delete entries that you don't need.

You could also try Firefox, which doesn't use the Keychain at all.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Re: tower vs satellite speakers. The answer is....it depends on so many things it's hard to generalize. What's the room layout? Existing furniture? Are wall-mounts possible? Apartment or house? Maximum budget? Is there an amp or pre-amp? Where do you plan to run the wires? Etc.

I recommend the original poster check out the AVS Forums for help.

Rob Pegoraro: He/she will certainly receive more info than anybody would think possible there. Those people are seriously into their audio/video gear!

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Downtown DC: I'm getting occasional spam with my own e-mail address in the "from" box. Has my account been hijacked, or have spammers just gotten lucky as they try a thousand different address variants? Or more specifically, how can one tell the difference?

Rob Pegoraro: This question never goes away. Anybody can fake a return e-mail address--I could make my e-mail look like it came from Don Graham if I wanted, just because there's nothing sacred about the "From:" header. (The headers that are normally hidden, like all the "received" lines, will usually give that away.)

So you probably haven't been hacked--the spammers got your address in the same way they collect addresses to send junk mail to--but there's also nothing you can do about it.

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San Diego, Calif.: Remember in ET when ET made an interstellar communications device out of an umbrella and a speak n spell? Would the complexity of today's devices make ET's job easier or harder if he were to be stranded on earth now?

Rob Pegoraro: I think he'd find even more e-junk to tinker with--but, yeah, some of the newer, smaller stuff isn't made to be cracked open and rearranged.

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Tallahassee, Fla.: I'm suffering feature-description overload. Can you answer one usage question for me?

Right now I lug a 2-yr-old dell laptop around everywhere I go for two purposes: At work it's my iTunes/chat/websurf device; at my g/f's house it plays AVI'ed movies and TV shows (wink) that have been backed up to data DVDs. Laptop connects to TV via S-video (we are not videophiles needing high quality obviously). That's a heavy backpack - the Dell, power brick, sleeve-of-discs, etc.

The surfing, the chat, and the iTunes could be replaced with an iTouch, that's obvious to me... but what about that easy plug-into-TV feature I have with my current setup? Can I dump 10 or 12 AVIs onto a Touch and easily pop it onto the component inputs on a TV? This would save my shoulder a lot of work every evening....

Rob Pegoraro: I think you could--you can buy component-video cables for the iPod touch. The Apple Store carries this set, which it says output 480p video from the new Touch: http://store.apple.com/us/product/MB128LL/A?fnode=MTY1NDA0OQ&mco=MTM1MTc

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Santa Fe, N.M.: Hi - I have my parents pretty well trained on their Dell laptop for e-mail, pictures, etc. However, I am realizing that they do not backup anything and I am afraid they might do something that would necessitate going back and redoing things (and calling me to do it). What do you recommend as the easiest way to back up a system that takes minimal effort on their part. The more complicated things are the less likelihood of them doing it so if you have a simple solution or product you recommend it would be of great help. Thanks in advance for your help.

Rob Pegoraro: The last time I tried out free basic backup apps, I wound up recommending SyncBack Freeware. It does a decent job of getting your important info automatically, but to backup all your settings it will need some custom configuration. It's at http://www.2brightsparks.com/freeware/freeware-hub.html

This is not an unconditional recommendation; I'd like to offer people something easier to use. Unfortunately, I haven't seen any Windows backup tool that's smart enough to either backup all the invisible folders in your user directory or offer to backup these files by letting you say "I use Mozilla Thunderbird, so backup my e-mail."

I blame Microsoft for this. The whole idea of having some of your most important data hidden in folders you can't see by default qualifies as an EPIC FAIL, no?

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Tower vs. Satellite: The reader's question regarding which is better opens huge discussion and debate among home theater fans. The key question is which sounds better to YOU? The next question is what is your priority with your HT system? Is sound quality the most important at the expense of room layout and style? Or do you prefer speakers that blend in with your decor? The chief difference from an auditory perspective is satellites cannot reproduce the full sound spectrum (20Hz to 20kHz). Towers will produce a fuller range of the auditory spectrum. There is wealth of information from magazines like Home Theater, Stereophile, or Vision to help. Also, a trip to your local brick and morter shop to listen, audition, and judge for yourself. This is by no means an exhaustive answer but hopefully get you pointed in the appropriate direction.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!

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Silver Spring, MD: Apple may be overtraining its store greeters.

I was at the Apple store in Montgomery Mall last night getting the geniuses to help with a really hard problem, which they solved nicely.

While there I overheard someone coming in who just wanted to buy a computer. He told the guy up front that he wanted to buy a computer. The guy wanted to make him an appointment.

"Do I have to have an appointment just to buy something?" the customer asked?

The greeter just didn't seem to understand that someone might come in KNOWING what to buy without a lengthy tour around the store and a demo from a helper.

It was almost funny.

Rob Pegoraro: Sounds like that Monty Python "I'd like to buy an argument" sketch...

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For Chattanooga: If Chattanooga has an iPhone and is using the ear buds that came with it, pressing the microphone button twice will advance to the next track in iPod mode.

Rob Pegoraro: Good tip--thanks!

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Washington, D.C.: I purchased a Blu-Ray player because its price was impossible to pass up ($175), but it's only a profile 1.0 machine. Is there any way to upgrade the machine through a firmware upgrade, and am I really missing out on content by not being able to see picture in picture stuff or this "BD Live" thing? Will profile 1.1 and 2.0 machines come down to the $200-$300 level by the end of the year?

Also, will we start seeing disc prices come down in the near future (over $20 makes me want to rent most movies, especially since its the same price to rent DVD and Blu-Ray from Blockbuster)?

Rob Pegoraro: I think you're hosed--the only Blu-ray player that could go from 1.0 to any future release is the PS3. I don't know if this qualifies as a tragedy, since you're still getting the basics of Blu-ray... but it should serve as a lesson about rushing in to buy the next big thing. In some ways, the Blu-ray people were lucky that the HD DVD camp were so inept in their own marketing.

About the price of the discs: Um, yeah, good luck hoping for them to drop anytime soon.

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re: ringtones: Is there a counterpart to Garage Band for non-iPhones, i.e. Verizon, formerly-Cingular, etc.?

Rob Pegoraro: You've got plenty of audio-editing apps to choose from--the one I usually suggest for general use is the free, open-source Audacity--but I haven't tried any ringtone-creation apps. Remember, I'm one of those fogeys who can't be bothered to spend time on customizing ringtones.

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re: Fairfax HDTV: Rob, I think he was asking about HD broadcasters' Horizontal resolution - whether they use 720P, 1080i or (I guess FiOS and the Sats could do) 1080p, he's questioning whether we get the full horizontal rez. (1920 in the case of a 1080 signal.) any info?

Rob Pegoraro: That I don't know. What I do know is that I've seen plenty of complaints about HD broadcasts that don't get into resolution stats at all--these folks don't like the compression applied to their HD shows, which may preserve the original resolution but blurs out some fine points. Cable companies seem to have a particular issue with this (but as somebody who doesn't subscribe to cable, I can't speak to this either way).

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RE: ...pressing the microphone button twice will advance to the next track in iPod mode.: That's awesome! Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: We're here to help!

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Arlington, VA: Hi Rob -

In your column, you mentioned that you wouldn't be surprise if Apple retires the iPod classic given costs for storage coming down.

Pardon my ignorance, but could you help me understand what would happen as a result? Would Apple add a lot more storage space (e.g., the 120GB of the classic) to Nano and Touch models?

I ask because my husband and I would like the functionality/features of the Touch or Nano, but with a heck of a lot more storage space.

Thanks very much.

Rob Pegoraro: Hard to say. If you postulate that flash memory will keep getting cheaper, what might result is that the iPod Classic disappears outright--you could get that much storage in either the nano or the touch, and it would be up to you to decide if you need Web access and handheld-organizer apps in your music player. Or Apple could keep the Classic around as a movie-optimized device. Or Apple could make some entirely new media-player gadget that we haven't foreseen yet.

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Asheville, N.C.: Planning on purchasing my first iPod (probably a touch) over the weekend. Any advice for newbies on the purchase, accessories, prepaid cards, need for additional warranties, etc., would be appreciated.

Rob Pegoraro: I'd avoid the extra warranty--buy it with a credit card that doubles the standard warranty--and I'd save the accessories for later.

More important, though: If you start buying music online, only buy iTunes Plus from the iTunes Store. The non-Plus music comes at a lower quality level and with DRM; you'll be able to upgrade it to iTunes Plus whenever the offending record labels get over their sulk and let Apple sell their stuff in Plus format, but it will cost you 30 cents each for the privilege. If you can't find a song in Plus, buy it off Amazon's MP3 store instead (which is often cheaper than iTunes anyway).

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Colo.: I have five machines with a spare internal drive or an external USB drive for the laptops and all run Acronis. Every Sunday morning they automatically make either a restorable image of the entire drive or, on several, an image of the Docs & Settings folder. Really easy to setup once and forget.

Rob Pegoraro: Can you easily set this to back up only your own Docs and Settings folder? If you want to image the entire drive, you need a much larger backup volume--and this backup won't be of much help if you need to restore the computer from a virus infection.

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Maryland: My Internet Security software subscription will expire soon. I'm running WindowsXP. Do I really need an internet security program, or will an anti-virus app be good enough?

Also, does it matter which browser I use? I've migrated away from Internet Explorer and am splitting my internet time between Mozilla, Safari and Chrome while I try to decide which one to adopt. Are there recommended match ups between browsers and protection programs?

Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: XP includes a firewall app, and you can download Spybot Search & Destroy or Microsoft's Windows Defender for free. So, yes, you should only need an anti-virus app.

Of those browsers you mentioned, I'd stick with Firefox. It's got an excellent security record and doesn't have Chrome's in-development issues (I'm still having trouble playing videos in that browser).

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Alexandria: My launch iPod Video is tarting to get wonky. I've got the feeling I've only got a few weeks/months left with it. I think when it does give up the ghost, I'll convert to Zune.

My reasons: Space- Apple has become too focused on stylish players with limited capacity. The only iPod with enough room for my music collection is the Classic - which is essentially identical to my current iPod; not what I want to drop hundreds of bucks on.

Subscription music - for the price of one CD a month I can get just about any song I want? Yes, please. Granted, it's only a rental, but there are few artists/songs that I really feel the need to own in perpetuity.

Future Proofing - MS has been allowing current Zune owners to benefit from the new features they create, where Apple make you drop big money on a whole new player.

The company - I'm just getting tired of dealing with a company that puts out wonky software, doesn't communicate with its customers, and wants to mandate to consumers how their products should be used. I can't believe it has gotten to the point that I think of MS as the company I can trust.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the comments. I'm interested to hear your enthusiasm about the Zune Pass subscription option. FWIW, last week I asked Microsoft's product manager about that service, and he said that "hundreds of thousands" of Zune users have signed up for it, while 2.5 million Zunes have been sold.

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Arlington, Va.: Rob, a friend of mine bought an iPhone a few weeks ago and was loving it until he lost it in a cab one night. After trying to hunt it down through the Taxi Commission and the cab company, he tried talking to AT&T. He found out that anyone that finds his iPhone can take it to an AT&T store and get a new SIM card with their info on it. There's nothing tying the iPhone to his account like a serial number, etc.

This is a terrible policy, right?

Rob Pegoraro: That doesn't make much sense to me, no. You're saying the store wouldn't ask why this random person showed up with an iPhone with no SIM card, when you can't buy an iPhone like that at any legitimate outlet?

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Fairfax, Va.: Rob, thanks for taking my question. My daughter recently started her freshman year at college. She shopped for a notebook computer through the college bookstore. For roughly the same price she could buy an Apple MacBook or a Dell Latitude. She really, really, really wanted the Mac. Aside from the usual differences, the Mac came with a 3 year Apple Care warranty, while the Dell came with a 4 year Complete Care warranty. There were no options to extend the Apple Care warranty to cover the 4 years she plans to be in school. Reluctantly, she went with the Dell, because she (and I) don't want to have to worry about paying for repairs at school.

Her roommate came to school with a MacBook. Within the first week she dropped it, cracked the display, and had to shell out almost $600 for repairs because Apple Care doesn't cover accidents. If that had happened to my daughter's Dell, it would have been covered by the Complete Care warranty.

So my question - why doesn't Apple offer a better, longer warranty for MacBooks, especially those aimed at college students? My daughter would have been willing to pay extra for it, but it wasn't an option. Apple usually seems to get it, especially when it comes to computers for education, but they sure don't seem to get it when it comes to warranties.

Rob Pegoraro: I have wondered about this myself, but I've never seen an answer myself.

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Washington, D.C.: We got cable last year and love the DVR, but we're planning to drop cable in a few months and go back to just over the air. What are our options for getting a DVR to use with OTA TV, without paying a monthly charge? It looks like new ones go for around $300, but I see used Tivo's going for a lot less. Can we use a Tivo just like a souped-up VCR without paying the monthly service charge? What about used DVRs from other companies?

Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Your only option may be one or two Philips DVD recorders that incorporate internal hard drives... no, I think Toshiba may sell a combo HD/DVD recorder too. Neither of these units come with a subscription fee.

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Arlington, Va.: I have a Verizon FiOS DVR that runs constantly - 24 hours a day (you can hear the CD drive spinning and emitting a hum). I find this annoying and a waste of electricity.

Is there any way to shut this off so it only turns on when the TV is on or when it's needed to record?

Rob Pegoraro: Nope, unless you plug/unplug it yourself. This is yet another reason to hate cable/satellite/Fios boxes: The companies that make them can buy cheap hardware that wastes electricity, then stick their customers with the bill. If the makers of these boxes had to sell directly to consumers, they'd face competitive pressure to stop wasting buyers' money like this.

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Ringtones: Aside from the sound editing which can be done with Audacity, how to make and transfer your own ringtones depends on your phone's manufacturer (you may need special software or data cables to transfer data to the phone, or you might be able to email/MMS them to yourself), model (can it support MP3's, proprietary or just MIDI), and phone provider (i.e. did they disable any of the above when they sold you the phone?) For specifics check out Howard Forums.

Rob Pegoraro: This is a good summary of ringtone editing. Howard Forums is, of course, at howardforums.com (warning: exceedingly techie discussions await there.)

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Silver Spring, Md.: Rob, I'm sure you've dealt with this type of question before. I'm in the market for an HD TV but don't know much about current technology. How many inputs do I need if I need to play my Wii, play DVDs, have a FIOS set-top box, and have a 5.1 surround sound system? What about picture quality as it's impacted by processing speed? I've read about dejuddering features and the 120Hz vs. 60Hz debate. Is it all just personal preference? Finally, should I wait for LED-based sets or are the CFL sets just as good?

Rob Pegoraro: Let's see here...

* It's not the total number of inputs, but how many you have of each kind. A set-top box and the DVD player (if it upconverts) will probably require a digital high-def HDMI input each. The Wii will only need component (analog high-def). Not sure about the receiver--note that many newer models include HDMI and component inputs and outputs, so you could route everything through the receiver and then only have one cable going to the HDTV.

* Uh, "processing speed"? What processor? Also, please don't use "impacted" as a verb unless you're talking about what asteroids do to planets.

* I would spend a little extra on 120 Hz at this point, yes.

* LED backlighting sounds great in the abstract, but it's painfully expensive right now. I would not let that hold up a purchase now.

Hope that helps!

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Rob Pegoraro: OK, folks, I'm out--gotta tend to the other parts of my day job. Thanks for keeping me busy... I should be back here in a couple of weeks.

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