Archive for March 18, 2009

Most TV stations to offer analog signals through June 12

Television DTV analog digital staticThe vast majority of full-power television stations that have not yet converted to all-digital broadcasting plan to keep their traditional analog signals on the air until June 12.

Of the 1,058 stations that now offer analog broadcasts, 927 say they will keep sending out analog signals until June 12, the final cutoff date recently set by Congress. (The Federal Communications Commission lists those remaining analog TV stations here: http://www.fcc.gov/DA-09-589A3.xls. Please note that you’ll need Microsoft Office or other Excel-compatible software to view the file.) That buys consumers who have not yet gotten DTV converter boxes or digital TVs time to get ready.

The other 131 stations will switch off analog broadcasts sooner, most on April 16, an interim deadline set by the FCC. Some two dozen PBS stations that would suffer financial hardship by waiting until then will be allowed to go all-digital between March 30 and April 16.

Earlybirds also include 33 major-network affiliates in smaller markets (seven ABC stations, seven CBS stations, 11 Fox stations, and eight NBC stations) along with ABC and CBS affiliates in Denver and a Fox affiliate in Philadelphia. (The FCC lists those TV stations turning off analog broadcasts here: http://www.fcc.gov/DA-09-589A2.xls. Please note that you’ll need Microsoft Office or other Excel-compatible software to view the file.)

Commercial stations that want to turn off their analog signals before June 12 must comply with stiff consumer education rules recently announced by the FCC.

Digital broadcasts are already available in virtually all areas, so we recommend that households switch to digital reception before the analog cutoff, allowing time to iron out any wrinkles in the new setup.

—Bob Williams

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Mar 18, Converter Box Retailers

Converter Box Retailers who are Certified Dealers. Online Retailers. Where can I buy a converter box? Converter Box Sellers. NTIA Coupon-Eligible Converter Box Retailers.

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Computer and Tech News Briefs

12
Here are some of the consumer electronics and computer technology news headlines that caught our eyes this morning:

Reactions to iPhone 3.0
The new operating system for Apple’s iPhone, unveiled yesterday, is generating a lot of buzz online. Apple fans can find a comprehensive list of the upcoming features and fixes for the iPhone over at MacWorld. We focused on some of the more interesting iPhone 3.0 features—and what was still lacking from our Monday wishlist of iPhone fixes.
The take away: Like you, the average consumer, we’ll have to wait until Apple officially releases the new iPhone software (sometime this summer) before we can fully evaluate the new features and fixes. (The upgrade will be free for iPhone owners, but iPod Touch owners will have to pay $10.) But what do you think? Were there other features you wished Apple would have included in iPhone 3.0? Weigh in below.

Acer enters the smart phone market
Acer, a name (slightly) better known for computers, is getting into the smart phone arena says PC World. The official Acer press release (from February 2009) is light on the details, but PC World has some hands-on details of Acer’s F900 and M900.
The take away: Since there’s been no announcement on which wireless service provider will offer the Acer phones, we’ll keep an eye out for the Acer phones. In the meantime, don’t be surprised if more computer brands jump in to the cell phone business, according to the New York Times. What do you think? Will Acer or anybody else be able to build a smart phone that will knock the iPhone down?

A colorful competitor to the Kindle?
Both Engadget and Gizmodo bring news of an electronic book called FLEPia. Developed by Fujitsu, it’s similar in many respects to the Amazon Kindle we reviewed earlier. The biggest difference: The FLEPia’s display can reproduce over 260,000 colors to Kindle’s 16 shades of gray. Oh, and let’s not forget the price tag: 99,750 Yen—or just over $1,000 (U.S.)
The take away: The FLEPia is available only in Japan at the moment and its unlikely it’ll make its way to U.S. shores. (And at for its four-figure price tag, gadget hounds would probably be better off buying two netbooks anyway.) Still, we can’t help but wonder: Would a color-capable e-book device be just the ticket to spark the paper-less book revolution? (On a related note, Discovery Communications—the parent company of cable TV’s Discovery Channel—has filed a complaint against Amazon, stating the Kindle violates its patents on security and copy-protection for e-books.)

Panasonic’s plans for LCD TVs
And finally, in case you missed it, Jim Willcox posted an entry earlier today that highlights what the TV-maker has in store for those still shopping for an LCD HDTV this year. Check out his post, Panasonic’s 2009 LCD HDTVs add 120Hz technology, iPod docks.

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Panasonic’s 2009 LCD HDTVs add 120Hz technology, iPod docks

Panasonic LCD TVs with docks for Apple iPod
Although Panasonic may be better known for its highly rated plasma TVs, its LCD models also earn high marks in our Ratings of LCD TVs (available to subscribers), especially for offering the widest viewing angles we've ever seen from an LCD TV. Last week, Panasonic showed its 2009 lineup, which includes three new LCD series as well as a new plasma line. (See our previous post, Panasonic's plasma TV plans for 2009, for more details.)

Among the highlights: one line that includes iPod docking stations, and others that use 120Hz technology and/or flashing backlights to help reduce motion blur. While all include an SD card reader for viewing photos and stand-by power-save and auto power stand-by "eco" modes, other features, such as Panasonic's Viera Cast IPTV service, remain exclusive to step-up plasma models. As with its current line, the new models come in 26- to 37-inch screen sizes, a niche where plasma doesn't compete. Here's the breakdown of the newest models.

X1 series
The X1 models, offered in 26-, 32- and 37-inch models, replace LX85-series sets. Prices for these 720p sets range from $600 to $800. There will also be a 19-inch model later in the summer. The most notable feature is the included universal iPod dock, which lets you view iPod audio and video content on the TV, operated via the TV's remote. (Click on the image above for a closer look.)

Panasonic LCD TV
S1 series
Offered in 32- ($850) and 37-inch ($900) versions, this step-up 1080p series, which replaced last year's LZ85/LZ800 models, gets you Panasonic's better "Alpha IPS" panel, which we've found offers some of the best off-angle viewing of any LCDs available, with little or no loss of colors or contrast as move off-axis. You also get Panasonic's Motion Focus technology, which uses a blinking backlight to reduce blurring during fast-moving scenes.

G1 series
Also available in 32- and 37-inch screen sizes, this is Panasonic's new flagship LCD series. These sets have all the S1 features, plus they add 120Hz Motion Picture Pro 3 anti-blurring technology, which combines a 120Hz refresh rate with a blinking backlight. Some competitors, such as Toshiba, are calling this "240Hz-like" performance, while others, including Sony and Samsung, actually quadruple the TV's frame rate to achieve a 240Hz refresh rate. The 37-inch set is priced at $1,100, and a 32-inch model is slated for late spring at $800. Both come with swivel stands.

A lower-cost 720p LX14 series, in 26- and 32-inch screen sizes, will be available later in the year.

—James K. Willcox

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iPhone 3.0: Highlights of the new operating system

IPhone 3G

Apple today previewed iPhone 3.0, the new operating system for its smart phone and Touch multimedia player. As expected, many of the enhancements of the new OS are "catch-up" fixes to what's already been offered on smart phones from other makers, including the upcoming Palm Pre. There were, however, a few welcome surprises—though those did not include rumored announcements of new iPhones or other hardware.

Here are highlights of the new OS—available free sometime this summer to iPhone owners, and as a $10 upgrade to Touch owners:

Cut and paste. For the first time iPhone users will be able to cut and paste text within and between documents, even if the documents are in differing applications. You double-tap the display to summon the cut, copy and paste tools; select text by dragging your finger over it; then double-tap again when you're ready to paste your selection. If you make a mistake, you just shake the phone.

Landscape keyboard. Since iPhone's debut, tilting the iPhone on its side has produced a wider keyboard when Web searching. Now that capability, a real plus for rotund fingers, is also being added to e-mail or messaging applications.

Enhanced multimedia messaging. For the first time, iPhone users will be able to send messages to accompany photos, contacts, audio files and locations. You'll also be able to delete and forward multimedia messages individually or en masse, as you can now in e-mail.

Improved Search. You’ll now be able to perform searches across multiple applications, including iTunes, Contacts, Mail, and Calendar. The capability will not extend to the Web, however, as the Palm Pre promises.

An improved home screen. A new homescreen, called Spotlight, a leftward swipe from the standard home screen, allows you to search across all of your applications; you then launch the app with a tap.

Turn-by-turn directions. No applications are mentioned, but the new operating system will support GPS navigation applications that offer turn-by-turn directions—a capability that even some basic phones have been offering for years.

Enhanced Bluetooth support. iPhone will now support stereo Bluetooth headsets and peer-to-peer connectivity, which means you'll be able to beam or receive data from other similarly equipped devices. Again, Palms have had this capability for years.

Tethering. For the first time, you'll be able to use your iPhone as a modem for your laptop, providing AT&T allows that to happen.

—Mike Gikas

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