Archive for February 19, 2009

Microsoft retail outlets: Apple stores for the PC community?

Shopping electronics Microsoft retail Apple stores
With company after electronics company announcing retrenching, it was startling last week to hear one of the majors actually announce an expansion—namely Microsoft's disclosure that it's planning to open retail stores.

So does this promise to duplicate for PC users the superb retail experience the Mac community enjoys at Apple stores? The Mac outlets, one-stop shops that offer all things Apple, are among the highest-rated chains in our Ratings of computer stores and our Ratings of consumer electronics stores (both are available to subscribers). The stores' Genius Bars also provided the best troubleshooting of all computer manufacturers, whether in-person, online, or by phone, in our most recent Ratings of technical support for laptops and tech support for desktops (also available to subscribers).

Sony retail outlets, too, ranked among the top walk-in stores in our Ratings of electronics retailers. Like the Apple stores, the Sony outlets were deemed to be relatively pricey—both are premium brands, after all. But both were well above average for customer service, presumably because the staff naturally specializes in the brand being sold, and in checkout ease.

However, the Apple model doesn't seem applicable to Microsoft. Apple stores—and Apple products themselves—work so well in part because the company makes and tightly integrates hardware and software. That allows Apple staffers to speak about both with equal authority. And if you seek help at a Genius Bar, as I did successfully with my ailing iPhone a few months back, the "geniuses" behind the bar don't need to set boundaries between the device and its operating system to solve your problem. Such synergy may not be the present at a Microsoft store; save for a relative few hardware items—like the Xbox gaming console and the Zune, a middling performer in our Ratings of MP3 players (Detailed MP3 model information and Ratings available to subscribers only)—Microsoft mostly makes software.

So what might a Microsoft store seek to sell and how? The best clues come from those who have toured a concept store the company has opened near its Redmond, Wash. headquarters. Those glimpses suggest Microsoft is emulating the look and feel of the Apple and Sony stores, offering plenty of opportunity to use products, rather than view them in locked cases or on security cords with the power off.

There's no word yet on when Microsoft stores may open. The "twenty-seven year retail veteran" who will oversee the project began work just this week.

—Paul Reynolds

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DTV tip: How to pull in those new channels

Yesterday, as more than 400 of the nation’s full-power TV stations converted to all-digital broadcasting, the Federal Communications Commission says many of the calls it received (Note: Link requires Microsoft Word or other compatible word processor) on its 1-888-CALLFCC (1-888-225-5322) help line involved the need to scan or rescan for channels after stations made the switch from analog to digital. The topic also came up a lot in blog comments on how DTV’s big day went, on sites including The Consumerist.


Such rescanning should be among the first steps to getting over-the-air television signals through a new DTV converter box, or via a built-in tuner in the TV itself.


After connecting the antenna to the digital TV set or the DTV converter box (and the DTV box to your old analog TV), you need to scan for digital TV channels (usually in the converter box’s setup menu) and see what comes in. If a specific station doesn’t come in, reorient the antenna and run another channel scan, or enter the channel number (if the box allows that). Adjust the antenna in various directions or move it closer to a window, which might require a long cable. Use the signal-strength meter (many DTV boxes have one) to adjust the antenna to the optimal position. You might have to tweak the antenna each time you tune in a station with marginal signal strength.


Still no luck? Try an amplified antenna or a signal booster. Last resort: a rooftop antenna. In our tests, we use a standard residential rooftop antenna we’ve had for years, not a special “digital” or “HD” model. In general, the website AntennaWeb.org notes, bigger is better, higher is better, and closer (facing the transmitter) is better. The site recommends the type of antenna you’ll need, based on distance from the transmitter and details you provide on obstructions and dwelling type.


Still confused? View our video (above), How to set up your DTV converter box. And for much more information on the digital television transition, including free DTV converter box Ratings and advice on buying a DTV box go to Consumer Reports’ Guide to the Digital TV Transition.

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