Personal Tech: Live from CES 2010

Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Friday, January 8, 2010; 12:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Friday, Jan. 8 at Noon ET to discuss the latest news and gadgets featured at CES 2010, the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

He will also chat about recent reviews and answer your personal tech questions.

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


Rob Pegoraro: Good morning... or afternoon... or whatever time it is. (You can lose sight of things like that after a couple of days at CES.) So what can I tell you about the show?


Streaming Boxes: Have you taken a look at the Boxee Box or Pop Box? Are these the answer to my prayers for an affordable, easy, web-streaming set top box?

Why has it taken so long for such a product to hit the market?

Rob Pegoraro: I did check out the Boxee Box--a small, angular box that plugs into a TV and runs Boxee, the remote-control-friendly software that plays back streaming music and video from a range of sites (even Hulu, thanks to a fair amount of hacking around Hulu's blocking of non-browser apps) as well as your own media files. Looks neat, but I'm more interested in trying out Boxee's new beta software on a regular computer.

Haven't seen Pop Box yet, but I'm sure I'll stumble across it later today.


Tina in Falls Church, 3D: So will a 3D tv picture look good w/out the glasses?

Rob Pegoraro: Nope. You see a blurry, doubled image - like an analog TV picture with ghosting issues.


Washington, D.C.: I am interested in the carrier free Nexus One phone from Google. I am willing to pay the high price to not be tied to a specific carrier and be able to move between carriers without buying a new phone everytime. Did you see this phone? How is it? Will it be available anytime soon?

Rob Pegoraro: Yup, saw it and got to use it--for all of maybe four minutes--at a press event Wednesday night. It's very slim, looks neat and the voice recognition worked in that crowded, noisy room. But: It's not the phone you're looking for. It only offers 3G speeds on T-Mobile's network and doesn't work on Sprint or Verizon at all. So even though you can buy it unlocked and without a contract, you're still effectively tied to a single carrier--which happens to have the worst 3G coverage in America.


PDX: Word Jumble: There is an insane number of models of Intel CPUs with Core, 2, and Duo in their names, in various combinations with Pentium or Celeron added, some with T + a number following on, and then some CULVs to further confuse me. Does any of this make a difference to a laptop shopper who wants to do a little lite video editing and a little low power gaming? I'm so confused. What CPUs should I buy or avoid? Thanks, Andy

Rob Pegoraro: No, not really. The only Intel CPU to watch out for if you're planning on doing more processor-intensive work is the Atom chip, but you should only ever see that in low-end netbooks, which presumably you were never considering anyway.


Lorton, Va.: Rob, Please, oh please, tell us that the industry has read and heeded your article on April 26 about simple, fee-less DVRs!! My parents' building got "upgraded" to all digital Comcast so they lost the use of their VHS. Now my mother is desperate for a SIMPLE digital recorder. Comcast will rent them one for $15/mo and just about everything I look at online that has a hard drive is based on TIVO with that expense. My mother has no problem programming the machine like she did with the VHS - each program individually. Am I right that the non-hard drive DVRs record to a blank DVD? How much standard digital TV can I get on a 4.7GB blank? Are those types of machine worth it? Is anyone at CES listening??? A DVR Without Subscriptions, Strangely Unique (April 26, 2009)

Rob Pegoraro: I'm sorry to tell you that I haven't seen any evidence of progress on that front. Nobody seems to be selling a Blu-ray recorder that could record in HD--at least, not in the U.S., as you can buy such things in Japan and Korea. (Boss, can I spend a couple of weeks in those countries checking out that hardware?) DVD recorders themselves aren't showing any signs of life; Panasonic, which has historically been one of the more prominent backers of that category, is showing off the same model it introduced two years ago.


Tina 3D/2: Do you think that would discourage folks from buying one? IMHO, if I had to buy a new TV and this was a "feature" I could use if I wanted....maybe. A set only for 3D viewing...nah. Wonder what my cooking would be like if I prepared it with 3D glasses so I could watch TV while I cook?

Rob Pegoraro: Don't get me wrong--you can still watch 2D content on a 3D set without glasses. It's only when you're viewing a 3D show that you require the special eyewear. (A 3D Blu-ray disc will play in 2D on a non-3D player, BTW.)


Washington, D.C.: Was it hard following woz speak at about 1,000 words a minute? any good parts get edited out of the final video? Video Interview: On Leadership: Steve Wozniak

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for noticing that! I really, really enjoyed the conversation--Woz is a neat guy. But I was glad I didn't have to transcribe the chat in real time.


Gaithersburg, Md.: Help, Rob! I'm not going to be able to resist the urge to buy a smartphone much longer. For various reasons, I need to stay with Verizon. My current Verizon phone plays music, so I'm not tethered to iTunes. And I'd like to retire my much-loved-but-obsolete Tungsten E2 but retain the important PDA apps (checkbook and password list, mostly).

So do I cave in and get a Droid now, wait for Verizon to offer the Nexus One, or wait even longer for the mythical Verizon iPhone? Or is all this just out-of-control consumerism on my part?

Rob Pegoraro: Repeat after me: There ain't no such thing as a Verizon iPhone. Not going to happen anytime soon. Stop wasting your time pining away for it. Instead--yeah, look at Vz's Android inventory. The Droid is good, but my colleague Mike Rosenwald seems happy with the Droid Eris (a touchscreen-only Android model from HTC Verizon also sells).


Silver Spring, Md.: But what about the boxee box cool remote with the qwerty keypad on the back?

Is it as great in person as it looks?

Rob Pegoraro: Oh, yes, forgot to mention that. The Boxee Box remote has one off the niftier remotes around; the top has an iPod-esque arrangement of controls that looks very easy to use in the dark; flip it over and you have a thumb-typable QWERTY keyboard.


Veneta, Ore.: Why does it take so long for blue ray discs to load? Will future models be faster?

Rob Pegoraro: I think people in the CE--er, consumer electronics--business are aware of that, but there's only so much they seem to be able to do about it. One vendor (maybe Panasonic) touted "faster boot times" as a selling point of this year's Blu-ray drives, but that doesn't cover disc-load delays.


Washington, D.C.: I hope you've had fun at Nerdy Gras. My question: are there any tablet computers coming out soon that are worth waiting for, in lieu of buying a laptop now?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't think so.


Kingstowne, Va.: I keep reading about the Droid and the new Nexus One and all these other so-called "smartphones" and I notice that every last one has a stupid camera. I'm an attorney. Cameras are almost universally prohibited in courthouses. Some courthouses (Fairfax, for example) allow cell phones without cameras; others don't allow any phones (federal courthouse in Alexandria); others will allow an attorney to have a camera phone but will not allow non-attorneys to have one (federal courthouse in DC).

The idea of having a single device for making calls, reading e-mail, and occasional Web usage sounds nice, but if I'm unable to take the device with me during a major part of my business activities, then it makes no sense for me to buy that device. Thus, I haven't bought a "smart"phone; I've stuck with the normal Motorola phone I bought two years ago that has no camera, works on Verizon's network here, and accepts a SIM card for use in Europe.

Is there any hope for those of us who have a real need for phones without cameras? Any chance that any of these manufacturers might roll out a camera-less "smart"phone?

(I keep putting "smart" in quotation marks because the insistence on including cameras seems pretty stupid to me.)

Rob Pegoraro: Not really. Sorry, manufacturers don't care about the restrictions some employers place (many of which, to me, make little sense). There's not enough of a market there. So you will be stuck with a small set of no-camera phones for the foreseeable future. I think the odds are better of courthouses giving up on the no-camera policy and replacing it with a no-photography policy.


Chicago, Ill.: I'm really interested in getting rid of my cable TV subscription and know I just need a cord to hook my computer up to my TV. But I really like surfing the Internet while I watch TV, so I want to buy another computer that would be dedicated to my TV. I would prefer to go cheap here, and small, but what's the lowest I can go and still get a good connection? Do I need to worry about hard drive and processor speed or is it more about video cards? I was thinking one of the netbooks would be great, but I wasn't sure if they offered enough. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: You don't need to worry much about that stuff--certainly not the video card, which doesn't help 2D graphics like TV. There are a fair number of "small form factor" desktops built for this kind of use (for instance, Dell has its new Zino, which I'm planning on trying out soon). The only spec I would focus on is disk space; you'll want plenty of it for recording TV, especially in high def.


Madison, WI: Does your crystal ball give any indication where the extra wireless spectrum for internet and other services for portable devices many seem to want will come from?

Other articles talk about TV broadcasts and the Pentagon as having the spectrum that would have to be taken, and there's no way the Pentagon is giving any up. Other articles talk about the business model for free broadcast TV being in trouble. So, is free broadcast digital TV, including HDTV on the way out? Will we all eventually have to pay for cable, satellite or get programming over the internet and pay for that too? Doesn't seem like that meets the intent for best use of the public airways. White House calls for regulators to increase wireless Internet access in U.S. (By Cecilia Kang, Jan. 5)

Rob Pegoraro: I moderated a panel discussion on that exact topic yesterday, and I don't see ANY odds of TV getting kicked off the air. The broadcasters have more than enough lobbyists and influence to stop that, and the option--a permanent, taxpayer-driven subsidy to provide free basic cable or satellite access--looks extremely unpalatable, politically speaking. What I suspect we'll see are efforts to prune the TV spectrum, which could mean some stations moving frequencies but wouldn't eliminate over-the-air TV.


Silver Spring, Md.: I've seen some "3D-ready" TVs around. Mostly they are DLPs, but they are definitely cheaper than the $3000 minimum you cited in a recent article. Do you know if these TVs will work with the new 3D Blu-ray 3D standard and the new 3D tv networks, or will only the new 3D tvs work?

Rob Pegoraro: There have been a few attempts at 3D TVs before, but this year's crop has a standard behind it. I'm not sure if those older models support it; I suspect they do not. (If they don't include a transmitter and active shutter glasses, they certainly don't.)

DLP, by the way--the rear-projection technology that allowed large-screen sets that were only a couple of feet thick--seems to have vanished from CES. The biggest DLP backer, Texas Instruments, gave up its prominent booth space in the central hall of the convention center; that spot is now filled with an enormous array of LG's LCD screens.


Home theater PC: Get one of the refurb mac minis that Apple's site offers periodically. You get the good interface and lots of reliability, and a nearly silent little computer.

Rob Pegoraro: Another good option for a TV computer (but watch out for the drive space on older, entry-level minis).


Centreville, Va.: What is your take on Palm's new version of the Pre and Pixi. Does the tethering version have an appeal and will it be a bandwidth hog?

Rob Pegoraro: Haven't seen them yet but would like to check them out--I think tethering is a *much* more sensible way to provide on-the-go Internet access to a laptop than buying a dedicated device like a MiFi.


Chicago, Ill.: I was considering purchasing the 42" LG HDTV model 42LH50 with Netcast Entertainment Access that allows you to tap into internet content directly through your TV. Now that the new TV's are premering at the CES 2010 with 3D capability, I'm wondering if it is wiser to wait and purchase a TV with this new option? What do you think? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: No, I wouldn't wait. (Note that I'm speaking as a customer who finally upgraded both CRTs at home to LCD high-def sets last year; I'm exceptionally uninterested in another round of TV shopping.)


Arlington, Va: This isn't a CES questions, but I'd be mighty grateful if you or posters could hlep me out. I've spent many hours researching how to change the default folder IE 8 uses when I want to upload photos. The default appears to be set to my user folder, and because I store photos in a public folder, it's a major pain to navigate through the various folders every time I upload photos. Any ideas? Many thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: You could put a shortcut to your photos folder in that default directory; you'd only have one extra click to get to the right folder.


Arlington, Va.: I want a Verizon iPhone, too, but it's not gonna happen.

Any comments on AT&T's network in the DC area? Is it as bad as alleged? Friends seem split.

Rob Pegoraro: The worst complaints about AT&T's network seem to focus on NYC and the Bay Area... but I've seen people gripe about their service in the District too.


Fort Collins: Hi Rob, I hope you are having fun there.

I'm curious about all the Tablet computers (PC and MAC) stuff I've been hearing. Are they intended to be giant iPhones, or computers that you can take notes on? I lecture at a university here, and I'm thinking it would be helpful to have something where I could write on a tablet and have it display stuff via Powerpoint or Keynote. I know such stuff exists now for Windows, but I don't really understand where this new generation is headed or whether I should wait.

Rob Pegoraro: We're apparently going to have to wait until Jan. 27 to find out about the Mythical Apple Tablet (MAT); until then, we're stuck with conjecture. The MAT will have some sort of competition from a new category of computers, "slates," that Microsoft wants manufacturers to introduce--but having pawed over a couple of these in the Microsoft booth, you can put me down as a skeptic. Putting the full-sized Windows 7 interface on one of those devices (plus an onscreen touch keyboard)... well, we tried this before with the "Ultra Mobile PC," and that was pretty much made of FAIL.

(Here's my review of that lamentable gadget: )


Silver Spring, Md.: I acquired an old HP TC110 tablet pc recently. No touch screen, you have to use a pen. Once I got it running and upped the memory, it actually works pretty well.

I think the Apple tablet, with its dual touch abilities (didn't I see a company came out with a "poly" touch screen recently?) could really be much bigger than people think. Especially if they can get the character recognition software up to speed.

Rob Pegoraro: And if the MAT cures cancer, as leaks from Cupertino are now suggesting...


Computer on TV: We recently ordered the Zino for just that purpose. We tried Roku, but there just are not a lot of movies from Netflix that are available to stream. But my kids love the cable shows (last season's). With the computer, we will get Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Youtube, etc. Not being sure what to get, we upgraded the video and sound cards - probably unnecessarily. We also bought a palm-sized keyboard from Dell - I think completely necessarily. Supposed to come in a couple of weeks. We'll let you know how it goes.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks. Good luck!


McLean, VA: Hiya Rob, What will give me a better improvement of my video quality? 1) Upgrade to an HD TV from a non-HD TV and continue to use DVDs to play video; 2) Upgrade from a DVD player to a Blu-ray player while keeping the non-HD TV; or 3) Play DVDs on my 15" laptop screen and sit very close? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: 1) absolutely will work, especially if you have an upconverting DVD player (it's now hard not to buy one). 2) won't do a damn thing and will probably get you laughed at. 3) will work well until you try to watch a movie with more than one other person.

_______________________ Rob's aircard died, but not to worry - he's currently rebooting, attaching himself to an ethernet and will be back online soon!


Rob Pegoraro: So first the Verizon aircard dropped the connection, then this %$@#! laptop decided it didn't want to see the in-room Ethernet either. [Must... control... Fist Of Death...] A reboot seems to have fixed that.


Rockville, Md.: You see any OLED screens you like? Are they worth the cost?

How about the older boxes, like the Samsung box that I bough as a Microsoft Media Extender?

(Samsung MediaLive Digital Media Adapter)

Will that work with the new tv access?

And finaly (sorry to load up):

Since I connect a cable wire to my computer's TV tuner, is there any way to see the premium movies on it? Do I need a decoder box, too?

Rob Pegoraro: OLED looks great--imagine a screen only 1/8th of an inch thick, with fantastic color and contrast--but continues to be confined to smaller screens (for example, I think LG's OLED display is only a 15-incher). Don't see that displacing LCD anytime soon.

About Media Center Extenders... that category seems to have vanished. Could have been a good idea, but Microsoft's initial implementation needed too much bandwidth, and then hardware vendors look like they've lost interest in it.

For premium cable viewing, you need a TV tuner with a CableCard slot. Microsoft knows of one at the moment, an ATI model that only records one at a time, but another company, Ceton, plans to ship a tuner that, with a multistream CableCard, will be able to record four channels at once.


Madison, Wisc.: Re: Free TV being kicked off the air. OK, maybe not taken off entirely, but what about the recent proposal being floated by the FCC to limit individual broadcast stations to only 1 standard def channel? Does that have any chance? I'd hate to see free HD broadcasts end.

Rob Pegoraro: I don't see that going anywhere either. Has everybody forgotten so quickly how much angst the analog shutoff generated? And in that scenario, people were supposed to get *more* TV channels in the bargain. That proposal sounds like something cooked up by somebody who doesn't have to read constituent letters.


New Jersey: With all the due caveats, Rob, one question: Motorola Droid or iPhone?

Rob Pegoraro: I would go with the Droid--on grounds of coverage, choice of software and ability to run multiple apps at once (even though the keyboard's not as good as the iPhone's). But I'd seriously think about paying extra for an offline sync program to enable direct commputer-to-phone syncing; a computer-to-Google-to-phone sync invites data integrity problems, and I don't think Google needs *more* of my data at this point.


Los Angeles, Calif.: Add LA to the list of crappy sites for AT&T coverage. I would love to ditch my landline, but it's not even an option since I get almost no cell reception in my home. Right in the middle of the city.

Rob Pegoraro: That's unfortunate...


Vienna, Va.: We're happy with Verizon's FIOS service but a little disappointed with the capacity of their DVR. Any word as to whether or not Verizon is planning on providing a DVR with increased capacity? We do use Verizon's video on demand, so we're not keen on purchasing a separate DVR.

Rob Pegoraro: Just got an answer on that from Verizon PR guy Harry Mitchell, who says they're "working on increasing the capacity this year." (You'll see this answer in Help File next week, I think.)


Chantilly, Va.: I think you misunderstood the question about the guy wanting to get rid of his cable subscription and just have a computer hooked up to the tv for watching anything he wants off the internet. I don't think he would be recording anything from the cable service, but rather streaming media from the internet and having an s-video cord going to the tv or something similar. Is there a certain desktop computer that would be good for that? I know certain computers will stutter when you put a streaming video in full screen. Does that have to do with disk space? One that could have a high resolution output for the video and still perform well while playing high quality videos (such as divx).


Rob Pegoraro: Could be... that's a simpler situation, since all you need is a combination of VGA video and standard RCA audio cables from computer to TV, or a single HDMI cable (some newer desktops and laptops now include HDMI). You'd need the latter if you're watching copy-"protected" video from some sites.


Washington, D.C.: Are any of the consumer electronics vendors offering jet packs this year? When I was a kid, I was told that in 2010 we would have jet packs. What's the hold up?

Rob Pegoraro: We're all feeling a little wronged about that, D.C. (A jetpack would be particularly helpful at CES, given the horrendous traffic... on second thought, we might only move the traffic into the skies.)


Simple DVR: I agree it would be great to have a simple DVR with no subscription fee, but it's not going to happen. The problem is the economics. Companies make a ton of money off the monthly fees and they aren't about to give that up. DVRs, even simple ones, require more tech support than a VCR or DVD recorder, and companies need to cover that cost.

On the Verizon phones, I just got a Droid and it rocks. I looked at the Eris but the screen on the Droid is so much better. As for the form factor that all the reviewers criticize the Droid for, it's only slightly longer than my blackberry was. So what if it doesn't have rounded corners.

Rob Pegoraro: I don't know that a DVR *needs* more tech support than a VCR or DVD recorder; the actual process of recording and finding/playing old recordings is a lot simpler on a DVR. I would point out, also, that computer-based DVRs like the Elgato eyeTV I wrote about last week don't require monthly subscriptions.


Santa Fe, NM: I've heard some buzz about varous "pico-projectors" that may end up being embedded into cell phones or other gadgets within a couple of years. (LG had an ad for a cell phone model during the Rose Bowl.)

Have you seen any of these and what did you think?

Rob Pegoraro: Just one so far, a $350 3M model no bigger than a couple of decks of cards. It looked neat enough, but I don't think I'd need it enough to drop $350 on the thing.

(BTW: Sorry about the game, Texas fans.)


PS3 Bluray upgrade for 3D?: Hey Rob

You said soon bluray players will come in 3D capable versions. Do you think that means the PS3 can upgrade to that via a firmware update?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, but it's unclear when that upgrade will ship.


Toss-Up: Ballmer's powerless speechus interruptus vs. Gates's Blue Screen of Death: which is a better metaphor for Microsoft?

Rob Pegoraro: The former, I think. I'm going to try to get into that particular metaphor in the Sunday column I need to write.


Rob Pegoraro: And on that note, I need to sign off from this chat and file some copy before my Internet connection decides to desert me again. Thanks!


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