Best gadget gifts: Netbooks, Kindle, Nook, Sony e-readers, iPhone, iPods, digital cameras, DVRs, Blu-ray, HD radios, GPS devices, HDTVs, more

Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Friday, December 4, 2009; 12:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Friday, Dec. 4 at Noon ET to discuss recent reviews, answer your personal tech questions and provide gadget-buying advice for the holidays.

A transcript follows.

Rob's latest tech thoughts and tips are cultivated daily on his blog Faster Forward.


Rob Pegoraro: Good morning, all. It's been a slightly busier news week than I thought--I had planned to write about netbooks running Windows 7 Starter Edition (yes, yet another flavor of Windows!), but then Comcast launched this merger proposal. So we can talk about that, in addition to the usual round of season "should I get this gadget" questions.

Alright, let's get started!


Falls Church, Va.: Rob,

Thanks for the guide it is very helpful. We went to Best Buy and saw they have a special deal for 3 HP computers plus a router and in home setup for $1200. The computers are: 1. A slimline desktop with a E5200 Pentium processor (2.5 GHz speed) & 3GB SDRAM, 2. Laptop with a Pentium T4300 processor (2.1 GHz) & 3 GB SDRAM, and 3. Notebook with an Atom processor N270 (1.6 GHz) & 1 GB DDR2.

We would like a new computer - our current one is 4 years old and a laptop for internet, email and word processing. The notebook would be for the kitchen to look up and display recipes from the internet.

I assume that I could find a better computer or laptop or notebook but it would cost a lot more to get all more plus you get set up and router as a bonus. Do these three seem like good machines to make this an OK deal, a good deal, a great deal or a horrible mistake?

Please help!

Rob Pegoraro: No, that sounds reasonable. (Isn't it funny how computers have gotten so cheap that stores can have what amounts to a three-for-the-price-of-one deal?) I'm no fan of HP's software bundle, but its slimline desktops take up a lot less space than the traditional "tower case" design. What I'd look out for is the netbook: Make sure its keyboard is comfortable and touch-typing friendly. HP's netbooks are pretty good in that respect, but give it a once over.

I'm going to guess that the laptop is on the heavier side, but if it's going to stay anchored to the coffee table that's not a big problem. Good luck!


Washington, DC: Hi Rob, Thanks for the chat. You didn't give the Kindle 2 a very positive review and briefly mentioned Sony's Reader Daily Edition. What do you think about the other Sony e-readers (pocket and touch editions) on the market? How do you think they compare with the older Kindle? Would you still recommend waiting until the Sony Reader Daily Edition comes out? Is wireless connectivity all that important? backlight, multiple sources of content? Is the $400 pricetag worth the wait for the Sony Daily Edition? I appreciate your thoughts.

Rob Pegoraro: I wish I could give you a more specific answer on this one, but I can't give any sort of value judgment about the Sony wireless reader until I get one to try out--which apparently won't happen until after Christmas. (I'm thinking the same thing will happen to Barnes & Noble's Nook, since that's not even shipping until Jan. 11.)

I'm not a fan of the non-wireless Sony readers; having to hook them up to a computer to buy something takes away a lot of the appeal of the whole e-book concept. (Flight delayed five hours? No problem, download "Infinite Jest" and start reading!)


Hackensack, NJ: I know I've brought this up before, but isn't there someone you could harangue at the Post to give us iPhone users a URL that forces the Post's real web page to load, and not the Post's mobile version? Shouldn't that be really, really easy?

The mobile version is nice if you want quick access to like 15 stories, but if you want the real thing, especially access to the chats, The Post forces us to load the mobile version, scan down, click the link to the real version, and then find the chats. Then, when you're done and hit the back button, you get the mobile version back. If I'm doing this over a cellular signal, it takes a loooooooong time.

This seems to me the sort of thing you'd excoriate Comcast or Verizon or someone for making its customers go through. Maybe you could point out to the Post that we see way more adds on the real site than on the mobile one?

Rob Pegoraro: Posting this so management can see it...


OK, it's a "gift" for me: What's up with the iPhone/iPod Touch? If I buy now, how soon before a next generation mocks me with new features? (What I really want is a Touch with the compass, camera and GPS, but that would destroy the market segmentation Apple's set up....)

Rob Pegoraro: I'm thinking spring for a new iPod touch, summer for a new iPhone. It's as obvious as anything in Apple's product cycle that the iPod touch will gain a camera, now that the iPod nano records video. As for the iPhone, Apple seems to have settled on a once-every-summer schedule.


Chevy Chase, Md.: I just got finished with the most recent forced Comcast upgrade--of our three television sets, one now has a cable box and the other two have small digital adapters. This supposedly simple process took about an hour on the phone with Comcast, and then today a guy came to the house to replace a faulty digital adapter and to give me instructions on using the complicated Comcast remote for the cable box (including things that the printed instructions never hint at). Am I the only one to be disgruntled to learn that I can no longer use a VCR to record (on tape) one program while watching another, that I can't set the VCR in advance to record programs on more than one channel? Of course, I can buy a DVR to solve those problems, but then I'll be limited (to some unknown extent) in storage capacity--never a problem with videocassettes. Is it true that Comcast and similar companies develop "upgrades" every so often mainly to make various appliances and systems obsolete, or is that just my frustration talking?

Rob Pegoraro: You are not the only disgruntled individual, not at all. I can't point to a more broken market in the electronics industry than the cable-box business--can you find any other market where there are only two manufacturers, neither of which has to bother doing business with the people who use their products?


Washington, DC: If I have the Nikon coolpix s60 from last year, do I really need to the s70?

Rob Pegoraro: No. (I don't even know the different features on the S60 and S70, but the camera business has settled down enough to make yearly upgrades a waste of money. Even upgrading every two years seems a little ridiculous to me.)


Alexandria, Va.: What do you think of the Powermat? Do you need the receivers, or do the charging tips work just as well?

Rob Pegoraro: Gotta admit that I haven't tried it yet. It's been on my list of possible reviews, but it keeps getting pushed aside by other stories. (This is a mat, per the name, that recharges devices you leave on top of it--as long as those devices have some sort of adapter, often a backplate of some kind, to complete the circuit between the device and the mat.) Can anybody share their Powermat experiences?


Livingston, NJ: For Falls Church, VA: I would avoid the HP Notebook with the Atom processor. I received a "free" one (the Compaq, also made by HP) from Verizon as part of my FIOS deal. It was so totally unusable that I gave it away within two weeks. And that person then in turn gave it to charity within a week.

Rob Pegoraro: Ouch! Maybe this deal is really "two computers and a charitable tax writeoff for the price of one"?


Washington, DC: I was going to ask for a BluRay player with Netflix Live capability for Christmas. Since the BluRay would go in the basement and the computer and router (4 year old D-Link 802.11g/2.4GHz) is in the office upstairs. I also have Verizon DSL base service. How well will this work? Will the BluRay player hold the movie in memory as it downloads or am I going to have the movie stop and start every few minutes/seconds as it downloads the movie? I have a phone line downstairs so could I set up a second router downstairs and simply connect the BluRay to it or would the second router completely fight with the first one causing everything to mess up?

Finally, even if the routers can handle it will the DSL line have any spare capacity for someone else to use the computer or will it be overwhelmed? If so how much speed on my DSL do I need?

Rob Pegoraro: The best way to tell is to watch a Netflix streaming movie on your current computer--the bandwidth use will be the same either way. If it can't play consistently there, it won't work any better on the Blu-ray player.


Germantown Md.: Am I so far behind the curve? I have an MP3 player and a 2GB iPod Nano that I copy music and old time radio shows to from my laptop; I have a basic GPS which I seldom use because I generally commute the same roads daily, and a phone who's camera I've never used nor have I texted more than a dozen times in the past three or four months; I use it to make phone calls I normally dial myself (it's quicker than going to contacts, etc.). I'm not a Luddite and I can actually see the benefit of e-books (just not having to buy them for an machine only and which can't be shared), but I just can't see spending more for things I don't or won't use, such as an iPhone. For that matter, I can't understand why a phone needs a hundred thousand applications nor a phone screen being used so to read books.

Rob Pegoraro: Well, you're on this chat, so you can't be *that* far behind the curve. Nothing wrong with sitting out on some technologies--I don't own an e-book reader myself, and we dropped our satellite-TV service at home a couple of months ago.


Gaithersburg, Md.: My sister wants to get a new laptop because she's deploying in a few months and doesn't want to take her Macbook with her. Her requests: 1) cheap, so she doesn't feel bad if it gets damaged/destroyed 2) has a webcam 3) can play DVDs.

My thought is that she can't really get all three of those in one item - or can she? Would a combination of a netbook and something else (my thought) be the answer? And if so, is that answer "external DVD drive for the computer" or "portable DVD player"?

Rob Pegoraro: You can get a laptop that's cheap, has a Webcam and plays DVDs, but it will be heavy. I don't recommend that for use in the field. Or you can get a netbook that's cheap and has a Webcam but can't play DVDs. But... she can download VLC ( and HandBrake ( on her MacBook, then use the second program to make compressed digital copies of her DVDs to watch on a netbook. I think that's the way to go.

Tell your sister we all said "thanks for your service."


McLean Va.: Waiting for my Nook, which is supposed to ship Next Friday. BN claims that they will have their eNewspaper store, including the WaPo, up at the end of November. Know anything about it? It'd be nice to be able to read the Post while I'm out of town over Christmas. Really nice if the Post put the comics in the Nook version.

I bought a Nook because it reads epub, which the Kindle doesn't.

Rob Pegoraro: I don't think you're getting that Nook next Friday, considering that B&N says it won't be shipping any new sales until Jan. 15. (But if it does arrive, can I stop by and check it out? :)

Haven't heard anything about us being available on the Nook, but I'll ask around.


Cleveland Park, DC: Do you have any suggestions for a waterproof HD camcorder? There's only a few models out there, so if you have any insight into them I'd appreciate it.

By the way, I'm not a diver, but my family vacations are outdoors and in the water, or on boats. I've lost an iPhone and mini-DV camcorder to water and condensation damage, respectively, and I hate the huge-bulky waterproof sports case I bought for my Sony Handycam.

Rob Pegoraro: This one's outside my area of expertise. Any suggestions for Cleveland Park?


Beltsville, Md.: I don't think you commented on messages I sent you earlier about non-TiVo DVRs with hard disks, such as one by Philips which has a 160 GB hard disk and is available at WalMart and Amazon (although perhaps less expensively from other sellers). Do you think non-TiVo DVRs are an alternative worth considering? Or should readers try to keep using their analog VCRs for time-shifting by buying programmable DTV digital-to-analog converters such as the one by Zinwell that Amazon also sells?

Rob Pegoraro: No, I'd go with the hard drive + DVD-recorder combo you outlined (and which I should have mentioned in my story last weekend, come to think of it). VCRs... no. Lousy video quality, the tapes are bulky, and you can't watch a recording on a plane. Sorry, videotape is toast.


Arlington, Va.: I was in Best Buy the other night and noticed the big piles of BlueRay players all over the place. Most of them seemed to be the $150 range which seems reasonable. I don't plan to get one any time soon because I have a big collection of foreign discs so I need an all region player. Anyway, do these players generally upconvert regular DVDs or do they just pass the signal at regular DVD resolution?

Rob Pegoraro: They all should upconvert. Speaking of Blu-ray, it looks like one Blu-ray studio has finally decided to steal the best idea HD DVD ever had--hybrid discs, with a DVD version of the movie on one side and a high-def Blu-ray copy on the other. The L.A. Times' Jon Healey wrote about that earlier this week.


Burke, Va.: Rob:

Happy FIOS guy here in Burke (HDTV/internet/phone); questions re: DVRS and the FIOS DVR:

Capacity of the FIOS DVR is 80 hours of normal TV, and 20 hours of HD.

Well, who the heck watches regular TV when you've got HD? 20 hours (with three of us in the house) just ain't getting it done . . . is there any way to expand capacity with an external HD or something? I don't see any sign that Verizon FIOS offers a higher capacity DVR.

Rob Pegoraro: Yup, that's odd--even the Home Media DVR only has that much capacity. Memo to Motorola: hard drives are CHEAP these days. Cheap cheap cheap. Of course, if there was an open standard for pay-TV tuner hardware, you could go out and buy a DVR that met your specs.


For Gaithersburg's sister: Find an old iBook for sale someplace - the white 12 inch version that can play DVDs and has a webcam.

It will cost about $400 and you won't feel too bad about destroying it.

Rob Pegoraro: That's an option as well...


Gaithersburg, Md.: What is going on with the Nikon digital SLR product line?

I got a D-70 when it came out as my first foray into the technology, but am consistently perplexed by the new models that seem to get released every month with new numbering schemes that make no sense. They just released the D-5000, which you would think is even better than the D-200 or D-300, but is on the same tier as the older D-50, one of their entry-level models. For a company that used to be very particular with what it released, it sure has gone a little "upgrade crazy" in the past year or 2 when they have been very few advances in the product (HD video is the only truly new development since digital SLRs came out over 15 years ago).

Rob Pegoraro: I guess Nikon hired whoever comes up with new, meaningless numbers for Metro's bus routes.


Arlington, Va.: Hi there,

What's a great, not-to-expensive way to jump on the HD radio bandwagon? I've got a die-hard radio-lover who wants 10 channels of NPR all the time! I was thinking about the Sony XDR-S10HDiP HD Radio. What do you think? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: One of the radio + iPod dock + speakers systems is your cheapest option... Costco has, or had, a Teac model for under $100. But if your radio-lovin' friend already has a speaker system set up, you'd have to choose between getting an entire receiver with HD Radio built in (still expensive) or buying a standalone tuner. Best Buy sells one, as does Sony, and both are only around $100. (I bought the latter--I had a soundbar that already handled HDMI switching, so this was the cheapest way to cover radio. I've been pretty happy with it... WAMU's HD2 bluegrass channel is a good cooking soundtrack.)


Clifton, Va.: LP's still sound the best. And so do amps using vacuum tubes.

CRTs still provide the best black and shadow detail even when compared to my 4k Meridian projector.

Nothing comes close to a pair Magneplanar ribbon speakers whose design is now 30 years old.

And nothing beats the feel of a pair of Levis.

Rob Pegoraro: Oh, Clifton, it's just not a gadget chat without your audiophile extremism. Preach on, brother!


iPod Touch with GPS??: Someone just mentioned they wanted a Touch for GPS. Uh, wouldn't a Touch, which relies on WiFi and not cell, be kinda useless for GPS in a moving vehicle? (Or even walking down the street?)

Rob Pegoraro: Exactly.


RE: Waterproof Video: I own an underwater digital Vivitar camera that was less than $150, and it takes videos that look pretty decent on a big TV, and even takes AA batteries that are pretty easy to find wherever your travels take you. I would probably suggest this person just invest in a decent "underwater" or "waterproof" (the difference lies in whether the camera can be submerged to a depth great than 10 feet) digital camera, and buy a cheap 16gig card for it so it can have plenty of room to store movies. Olympus and Vivitar have the largest selection and best availability, but I think Fuji and Canon have some models as well. Plus the digital cameras are typically smaller than a camcorder, just not quite as comfortable to hold for long periods of time.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!


Bowie, Md.: Rob, let me endorse one very good use of a product to which you've been lukewarm in the past. I love my netbook when traveling.

Easy wireless access. Transfer each day's digital photos to the hard drive. Minimal office suite for expense tracking and keeping a journal (or reading stuff from work via webmail). And for a $20 GPS add-on, allows navigation as good as my Garmin.

Rob Pegoraro: Hmm... good point about the GPS add-on. (Note that I'm not lukewarm about netbooks overall; I just don't like netbooks with crappy keyboards. As a writer, I am little finicky about those things.)


Washington, DC: FYI ... I just called B&N in Georgetown and Rockville, and both said they won't even have any Nook "tester units" until Jan. 11th. They said they were supposed to have testers starting Dec. 7th but now that isn't going to happen.

Rob Pegoraro: One data point about the Nook...


Nook!!!: Hey Rob

Last week B&N sent me an email saying I will receive my Nook by December 9 (I ordered it the day it was announced back in October) so are you now saying that I won't get it until after Jan 15????? ARGH!!!!

Rob Pegoraro: ... which explains why I'm skeptical about these "shipping next week" e-mails. I hope B&N comes through for you, but there is evidence to say it won't.

I mean, I can't even get a rough estimate from B&N PR about when I might have a review unit to try out.


Washington, D.C.: What do you suggest for a mid/high end golf GPS device?

Rob Pegoraro: What I do to the game of golf should be a crime. Can anybody who's, like, actually good at suggest a good GPS unit for this purpose?


Laurentian Abyss: Any suggestions for an underwater hairdryer?

Rob Pegoraro: Didn't Consumer Reports just do an in-depth comparison? It was in the same issue where they compared screen doors for submarines, I think.


Germantown, Md.: On the Digital Cable/VCR issue. It may be more work than its worth, but building a PC as a VCR replacement is feasible. I've got a box with 3 (count 'em 3) QAM TV cards or USB dongles feeding a box with 3 TB of storage. For a standard definition digital signal, that's about 3,000 hours or 1500 VCR tapes.

In Montgomery Co at least, Comcast has most of the Tier 1 (e.g. USA, SF etc) in Clear QAM in standard definition. I'm using a program called "Beyond TV" which allows me to map the digital channel into something on which I can use a program guide (e.g. SyFy is 102-407). I don't know how long the un-encrypted channel stuff will last, but for now it works OK. I wish I could get the same tier in HD in the clear, but I'm pretty sure that won't be happening.

Rob Pegoraro: It's an option--but it does depend on how much you can pick up in QAM (the most basic form of digital cable). When I tried this in Arlington, I got little beyond what you can get for free off the air.


Alexandria, Va.: I'm hoping you can rescue me this Christmas. I am technically challenged but my 2 sons - 21 and 17 are not. They don't want clothes and the only thing they really love is new gadgets and sometimes games. What can I get them for Christmas that's new and that might wow them? Due to birthdays and last Christmas, they both have new smart phones with internet etc, iPod touches, nice computers, and one has that nice new drawing thing for the computer. (I know it seems sort of like spoiling but this is the only kind of thing I have thought to give them the last couple of years.) They have all the gaming systems and rock band, etc. but other than a new game or two, they aren't that into gaming anymore. This would be their main gift so I don't mind spending in the $500+ range for each. I would love to get something to that they don't have to give me the idea for. Help please!!

Rob Pegoraro: Hmm... a small digital camera? A Flip camcorder? Help me out here...


Gaithersburg, Md.: How many photos do you have to print before getting your own printer becomes a better deal than sending them to CVS?

Rob Pegoraro: Depends on the size, last I checked. I've read that it's cheaper to order 4-by-6 prints online, but in larger sizes like 8-by-10 you're better off printing your own. At least, that's what I was telling myself when I bought my last printer...


Arlington, Va.: My Blu Ray discs play on my older DVD players. Not sure why I need a regular DVD copy.

Rob Pegoraro: Um, that's Not Possible. Blu-ray discs don't work on DVD players, any more than you can pop a DVD into a CD player (remember those?). Are you sure you've got a Blu-ray disc, and not a DVD bundled with a Blu-ray title? (Some studios have been selling package deals like that.


Alexandria section of Fairfax: The long-awaited FIOS fairies are coming! I am trying to decide whether or not to make the switch. Where do you recommend that I find good comparisons between Verizon and Cox service? My real reticence comes from the prospect of having phone, tv, internet and cellular coming from one company. I was an original customer of Media General when they first wired Fairfax and cable cost $5/month for basic service. And we see what happened as a result of monopoly control. And yet, the CR ratings for FIOS seem to be tops across the board. Do I take the rebate and run?

Rob Pegoraro: What you need is a spreadsheet to compare your costs... both during the promotional period and after. (I've heard from plenty of people who have been able to keep the promotional rate by threatening to cancel, but you can't count on that.) Remember to include all the relevant fees: Cox charges extra for HD while Fios does not, but Fios charges more for a DVR--$15 (!) for a high-def model--than Cox does.

The unfortunate aspect is that these bundles require buying a gold-plated phone service--free long distance, caller ID, etc.--that would be a lot more enticing if we didn't already have cell phones.


Cheverly, Md.: About the Post's mobile site: I've recently discovered that the Style Invitational isn't among the stories TPTB consider worthy of posting. This is really annoying for those of us who breathlessly follow the Invitational and keep track of which Losers are, well, winners. Please pass this complaint along to management as well.

Rob Pegoraro: Done.


Washington, DC: Rob - my husband belongs to several antique car and military vehicle clubs and in the past year has been asked several times to make speeches and presentations at their functions, yet did not have the equipment to share his pictures on a large screen. I was thinking of getting him the Warpia Wireless PC to TV/Projector Display Converter Kit to display his pictures/videos at various events. Current cost is $99.99 at Good deal? Or can you recommend an even better converter kit?

Rob Pegoraro: Never heard of that one. Those clubs don't have a regular LCD project you could hook up a laptop to?

There are things called "pico projectors"--pocket-sized gizmos that beam an image on a wall on their own--but they're on the expensive side.


D.C.: I don't recall the details, but it seems to me that there was recently a copyright dispute involving an ebook that Amazon was selling for its Kindles, and Amazon not only stopped selling it but actually DELETED IT from the devices of people who ALREADY had bought it. How can that work? Do they retain access to your stuff? When you "buy" an ebook, do you own it in the sense that you own a paperback (keep it, lend it, give it away, resell it etc.) or are you really just leasing it until Amazon feels like taking it back? Amazon Erases Orwell Books From Kindle (New York Times, July 17)

Rob Pegoraro: If you read the fine print of the Kindle user agreement, you'll see it uses the words "license" and "licensed"--along with the words "permanent copy." Realistically speaking, *anything* sold to you with DRM usage controls cannot be considered your permanent copy, since that DRM can be used (or, as Amazon admitted in its apology), misused to deny you access to it.

That's why I'd rent a movie download with DRM attached, but I'm not interested in *buying* one that way.


iPod Newbie: Rob - how can I transfer the contents of my iPod Touch to an iTunes library on a new computer? The computer that held my original library and back-up was physically destroyed (no hope of recovering anything from it).

I've tried the Apple website and online help resources, but can only find info on how to move my iTunes purchases -- not any of my other files (like the hundreds of songs legally copied from my CD collection).

Rob Pegoraro: Since this question keeps coming up, I suppose it's time to re-do my 2007 Help File on this subject.

(Hint: Googling "copy from iPod pegoraro" works to find it.)


Wash DC: I was all set to buy the 15" MacBook Pro when I stumbled on a Sony Vaio 14" CW, with Windows 7 and pretty much the same configuration, for half the price of the Apple.

Is Apple that much better? (My friends rave about their MacBooks, but who listens to friends?) Is the Sony worth buying?


Rob Pegoraro: The Sony matches up well in terms of most hardware specs--it has more expansion options--but its battery life isn't as good. The MacBook Pro has a bigger screen, but it's also way more expensive.

I'd look at the 13.3-in. MacBook Pro, though. The screen-size difference is minor, but it's a lot cheaper than the 15-incher... though still much higher than the Sony. I would rather use Mac OS X than Windows 7--that's before factoring in Sony's typically awful software bundle--and am willing to pay more for it, but that's a value judgment.

This is what I was trying to get at when I called a Mac an affordable luxury in last week's column. There is a substantial price premium to Apple's hardware that you should be aware of (have you looked up Apple's profit margins in its quarterly earnings?), but it's not much compared to a lot of other so-called luxuries.


Rockville, Md.: Rob, I am getting a message from Comcast on certain channels that those channels have moved to digital and I am no longer able to view them. I suppose I need additional equipment now? Is this part of the previous digital conversion and if so, why are we seeing the message now? Do you know of Comcast changes to cable channels that are going on now? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Addressed that in a column this fall (short version: it's a mess, and it's not your fault):


iPod Touch with GPS: Evidently there's some doodad you can buy from Tomtom that overcomes the no Wifi limitation. Cheaper than a Tomtom.

Rob Pegoraro: Hmm. Hadn't heard of that one...


Columbus, OH: You should do Twitter updates during your chat. Like: "Just answered a question from some dope from Ohio. LOL." Then you could link to it from your Facebook page.

Rob Pegoraro: And on my blog too. It's all about synergizing my brand equity across multiple platforms! Or something like that.


Tallahassee: Our (old Series 2, standard def) TiVo contract is up this month; I can't see paying hundreds and hundreds for the new model, nor do I want to go to $13/mo. We get some HD OTA, and basic cable straight out of the wall.

If I ditch the TiVo, what's the best way for my kid to keep taping Simpsons' reruns and my wife to catch her International Tall Building Look-E-Loo? We have Macs and PCs in the house, but not a recent version of Windows Media Center... but I'm thinking that might be the best non-Tivo, non-cable box solution??

Love these chats, thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: There's also the Dish Network no-satellite-required DTVPal DVR I wrote about this summer.

You should also look at the computer-as-DVR option, especially if you have a smaller machine you could hook up to the TV for use watching Web video on the big screen. Otherwise, you could get a DVD recorder with DTV and QAM tuners, but you'd lose the ability to record programs by picking them off the grid. (The failure of manufacturers to add that feature--all they need to do is embed "TV Guide On Screen" support, which you can get on some HDTVs--is really dumb.)


Reston, Va.: Your answer regarding Amazon deleting an Orwell book from Kindles is not complete.

Amazon learned that the person who furnished that book to them did not have the right to do so. Amazon deleted it from user's Kindles, BUT

1. refunded the price to the affected users, 2. later apologized for the way they handled the problem, and 3. said they would not handle any future problem the same way.

Your response unnecessarily disparaged Amazon.

Rob Pegoraro: No, Amazon earned every bit of that disparagement. They took away people's property without asking. The refund was mandatory and the apology after the fact appropriate, but that doesn't change the magnitude of the original offense.


Baltimore, Md.: Rob: Considering a new computer to replace my Compaq bought in '05. I read somewhere (maybe in your own column) that if I want to make sure my documents and programs can be carried over from the Compaq to the new system, I should get 32 bit instead of 64 and no more than 2 GB of RAM. Is this correct? While I can understand the 32 bit, I don't see what the RAM has to do with compatibility. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: 32-bit Windows can't use more than 3 GB of memory, so you're sure to get a 64-bit edition on anything with 4 GB or more. The catch is, a lot of manufacturers are now putting 64-bit Windows on everything, so you have to look around.

For most people, x64 Windows isn't a real hazard. But it's not easy or obvious to figure out which drivers and programs will break in x64, and I'm tired of hearing from readers who can't sync their old handheld or use their old printer or scanner. Mark my words... this is going to be an ongoing, wholly self-inflicted problem for these computer vendors.


Re: waterproof video: We have a Pentax Optix W60, which is a waterproof point-and-shoot camera that does HD video. Depending on how much you want to record, you might have to bring along some extra SD cards, but it seems to do a pretty good job.

Rob Pegoraro: That's another option for our watery Cleveland Parker. Thanks!


iPod Newbie Again: Thanks for the link to your column on moving files from an iPod to a new computer. However, I notice that it's from over 2 1/2 years ago, and one of the "helpful articles" that Apple provided me indicated that the "disk use" method doesn't apply to the iPod Touch (which is what I have).

Rob Pegoraro: I'll take that as a vote to redo the piece...


Washington, DC: I'd like to get my mother an MP3 player. I don't know much she'll use it, so I don't want to start with anything fancy/expensive (i.e., iPod), but I also don't want it to be too difficult to use. She's not a technophobe, but doesn't have the patience to sit down with a manual. It's easy to get a 1GB player for 20 bucks, but can you recommend one that's particularly easy to use?

Rob Pegoraro: Look at what program she uses to listen to music now and get a player that will work with that. If she uses iTunes, get her cheapest iPod nano you can find (unless you're sure she'll be fine with the cheap but screenless iPod shuffle). If it's Windows Media Player, anything with a PlaysForSure sticker *should* work fine with that once you walk her through the process of syncing songs to it.


Silver Spring, Md.: Is it worthwhile to pay extra for a TV that connects to the Internet directly and gives me Internet streaming videos? Or should I just connect my computer to a regular TV? I'm tech savvy enough to make the connection simple.

Or one of those streaming boxes?

Rob Pegoraro: Those TVs with Internet capability only get you a subset of Internet media--for example, the Sony in the living room can play YouTube and Netflix, but not Hulu. (None of them can do Hulu.) If the price premium to add TV-widget capability isn't too bad on a set you otherwise like, go ahead... but you will get the most flexibility by plugging in a computer.


Alexandria, Va.: I just unlocked and jailbroke my wife's original iPhone (she recently got a 3GS) using blacksn0w.

The process was much easier than I expected and so far I am really happy with it. I'm having fun customizing it to my likes/needs.

I just wanted to let other readers that might be hesitant know that it is not hard if you just do some research and take your time.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!


Westminster, Md.: Oh venerated gadget guru, I have an inquiry: How compatible is iPhone data (applications, contacts, calendar, etc.) between Mac and Windows? My Mac died, and I'd like to sync my iPhone with Windows iTunes (which I have yet to install) until I can afford another Mac. Will this present me with hurdles higher than K2? If so, what wouldst thou recommend?

Rob Pegoraro: You won't have any issues with iPhone apps, music and videos, but you can see slight, fixable glitches moving calendar and contact data from a Mac's Address Book and iCal to a PC's copy of Outlook (your only option for iPhone syncing, so make sure you've budgeted for that).


Arlington, Va.: Prices continue to fall on HDTVs. How much longer do you think consumers will see significant price reductions?

Rob Pegoraro: You know, I bought an HDTV this summer--did you *have* to ask this? I don't want to look at HDTV prices anymore :)

But the price declines probably will continue for a while longer. Look at what the no-name or small-name brands charge, and you can expect the big-name prices to be there soon enough. The greatest shift will be in larger screen sizes, of course--46-inch screens are now selling for what 42-inchers once did--while 22 and 26-inch TVs must be near their floor.


Rockville, Md.: My Dad (70 years young) is fairly wedded to his ancient Palm M515 (Palm OS 4.1). He just had to replace two computers and ended up with 64 bit versions of Windows 7. His Palm software is not compatible and there is no plan to provide a compatible version. He tried XP compatibility mode, but says it still needed the drivers. I'm a little fuzzy here - maybe he can't even download the old drivers? Would the old drivers work on a 64 bit machine even in XP compatibility mode?

More importantly, is there another gadget that will give him what he has on his Palm (or better) that I can convince him to consider? I thought an Apple Touch might work, but he dismisses it as only having "fun stuff" on it. Maybe he just didn't dig far enough into the apps? He won't go to a 3G phone - monthly rates are too high.

Here is what he wrote me he wants:

It would fit in a shirt pocket.

It would have a desktop integrated software app that it would sync with so everything on the device could be on the computer as well (OR in a cloud somewhere on the net) and in a way that can be printed out.

It would have a calendar, contact list, to do list, and store pics of the grandkids.

It would have a notepad (we keep our medical histories on it).

Almost as importantly, the desktop software would be able to import all the data I now have on my Palm desktop so I don't have to reenter it all manually and then sync with the machine so that it then contains what's now on my Palm.

I told him that I thought he was unlikely to avoid reentering his data, but would at least ask about it. He is currently running one of the supposedly replaced computers just to work with the Palm and it is on its last legs.

Thank you in advance for any suggestions.

Rob Pegoraro: He needs an iPod touch--HP's Windows Mobile-based iPaq PDAs cost more than that. Tell him he can ignore the "fun stuff" (because that just sounds awful, doesn't it?).

One catch is that you'll need to get an extra app to sync the touch's notepad with Windows. I see there are a few options out there... guess that's another Help File item for me to tackle.


Columbia, Md.: I have an older HD-ready Toshiba with an HDMI slot I've never used. I recently got a new laptop with HDMI out, so I picked up a HDMI cable to access Netflix On Demand. I was ready to plug the cable into the Toshiba when I read in the Toshiba manual that the HDMI is "not recommended for use with a personal computer." Do you have any idea why they would say that? Would something terrible happen to my laptop if I try this?

Rob Pegoraro: No. Worst case, it wouldn't work--which is what I saw last week, when this older set threw up an "invalid format" error message on the screen after I plugged in a laptop via HDMI.


Laurel, Md.: My annual repetition of the same question: "What NOT to buy this season because prices are about to drop or a big quality improvement is on the way."

Rob Pegoraro: This will be my last question for today... I would not buy e-book readers, on account of all the new models coming, and I would hold off on big-screen HDTV purchases because of the way their prices are headed. I remain a Blu-ray skeptic, but at least the players cost a lot less. I also wouldn't put any money into a standalone GPS receiver.


Rob Pegoraro: That's all, folks! Thanks for all the questions.. I'll be back here in a week for another round.


Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company