Archive for March 25, 2009

DTV converter coupons are flowing again

$40 DTV Converter Box Coupon Sample

If you're one of the millions of people who’ve been placed on a waiting list to receive DTV converter-box coupons, there’s some good news: According to the NTIA, you should have your coupons by the end of next week at the latest.

And for those who either never applied for coupons but wish to do so, or who have coupons that have since expired, there's still time to act. Just visit the DTV coupon website at, or call the 24-hour toll-free hotline at 1-888-388-2009 (1-888-DTV-2009), to reapply. As in the past, each eligible household can receive up to two $40 coupons. The National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA), the agency spearheading the DTV coupon program, says with the waiting-list backlog now cleared, it should take on average about nine days to receive a coupon after you apply.

The coupon program has been restarted thanks to the recently passed stimulus package, which allocated some $650 million to the DTV coupon program. In addition to funding more coupons, the NTIA says the money is being used to streamline the applications process to reduce waiting, and to help the agency reach "the most vulnerable populations" via local outreach efforts. The renewed funding of the coupon program follows a decision by Congress to delay
the analog cutoff
for over-the-air broadcasts until June 12, 2009. One of the
main reasons was that the government ran out of money to fund the DTV converter-box coupons, leaving some 4 million people on a coupon waiting list. These coupons can be used to help offset the cost of buying one of these boxes, which make over-the-air digital signals usable on older TVs that won’t work after June 12.

So far, nearly 40 percent of the actual coupon funding has been used. The NTIA says that should the program appear to be running out of money, a priority would be given to those households that currently receive their TV broadcasts exclusively from over-the-air analog signals.

However, remember that while the new June 12th is the last day that broadcasters can transmit analog TV signals, many stations—about 600 now, and perhaps 150 more, according to the FCC—will go all-digital before that date. To make the transition early, though, the
stations need to follow some stiff new FCC rules.

To find out whether stations in your area are transitioning earlier, visit If you're currently using a DTV converter, we recommend you regularly re-scan channels to make sure you’re getting all the stations available in your area.

—James K. Willcox

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Tips on getting movies from the library: Making the most of a free video option


Getting movies from the library can be a great option to trim your entertainment budget, and so a possible cost-saving alternative to paying video-rental services like those we recently rated (Ratings available to subscribers). That’s in spite of libraries’ drawbacks as video sources, which were highlighted in a recent Consumer Reports survey.

Here are tips on making the most of borrowing movies from the library, including suggestions from readers who commented on our original blog—and some more results from that survey:

Temper your selection expectations. In our survey, libraries fared particularly poorly on selection of titles (with 16% highly satisfied) and in-stock availability of titles (with 13% highly satisfied), However, in my experience, albeit with one of the country's biggest library systems, most titles I look for are available, at least eventually. And I'm sometimes pleasantly surprised to find relative obscurities—for example, 1970s titles from a favorite director, Britain’s Mike Leigh.

Commenting on our blog, Michael Spadoni wrote “true, you can't get the newest DVD's at the library. But it's a great resource for classic films, the occasional foreign picture, and TV series. [For example], I've recently checked out sets of short-lived but much-loved shows such as Steven Bochco's "Murder One" (ABC, 1995-97) and "The Comeback" with Lisa Kudrow, which lasted just one season on HBO."

Temper your format expectations. At the New York library (and, I suspect, most others) titles are only on DVD or VHS tape, with no high-def Blu-ray discs yet. Those VHS tapes, with analog images that are inferior to DVD, might help explain why fewer than half (43%) of library borrowers were highly satisfied with the picture quality of the videos they borrowed.

However, at least some libraries are beginning to acquire a limited number of Blu-ray titles—including the Cleveland Public Library, according to Toby Radloff’s comment to our blog.

Be patient. The library isn't the best option if you want new releases when they're still new; only 8 percent of survey respondents were highly satisfied with the availability of recently-released feature films. In my experience, the library gets titles new to DVD less quickly than do pay video-rental options, and there's usually a stampede of renters when they first hit the collection. However, wait a while and movies can become available fairly fast. For example, this month I requested "Iron Man," a blockbuster that went to DVD in late September, and it reached my branch within a week.

Go online. This is great way to sample what is, and isn't, available from your library. Many library systems, including New York's, have websites with searchable online access to their entire catalog of titles. Once you register your account, you can usually make hold requests online and have titles shipped from any branch to your own for easy pickup.

That ease of use was a clincher for library rentals for David, who suggested in a blog comment that "with the catalog online and so many parts of the process automated, I would encourage people to explore [their] options. Now that Inter-Library Loan is getting better, the selection has improved a lot."

Such convenience counts in getting movies; indeed, in our survey it was, after price, the strongest driver of satisfaction with movie services.

For me, library rentals could hardly be easier, with my library branch only a block from my home. If time allows, I even do some old-fashioned browsing of the DVD racks, just as I did at the video store that recently closed in my neighborhood.

That browsing aspect of a library also appealed to Michael Spadoni, who said a plus to getting movies there was to find "occasional gems on the shelves." That's an almost-quaint experience that isn't present with the newer rental options, such as Netflix or Redbox video kiosks.

—Paul Reynolds

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What Comcast, Dish Network, or Direct TV package do you have?

dish network direct tv
Billy B asked:

I have Dish network with America’s Top 250. I am think about getting America’s ” Everything ” Package with HD programing, but want to keep it under $120 a month… is that Possible? I have 3 TV as well. But will only have HD on one. What service do you have? How much are you paying? What programing do you have? HD or DVR? thanks so much. Happy New Year.


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13-inch Dell Inspiron laptop for the price of a netbook?

I got a call from my sister the other day, asking about the Dell Inspiron 13. My nephew was interested in buying it because he'd seen that it costs only $399, and after reading the reviews, he concluded it would be a good computer for him. (Did I mention my nephew is 10 years old?)

I thought the Inspiron 13 couldn't possibly be that inexpensive; he must have been thinking of a netbook. I went to Dell's site, and sure enough, there was a $399 Inspiron 13. Granted, it wasn't a fully loaded laptop (for starters, we'd recommend that anyone, even my 10-year-old nephew, should add another gig of RAM to the 1GB). But it's certainly more than adequate as a basic notebook.

I should have known better than to doubt my nephew's research skills. But what’s going on here? Thirteen-inch laptops are usually among the more-expensive models. Perhaps Dell is trying to compete with its own netbooks, or clearing out the bulkier Inspiron to make way for the ultra-light Adamo.

Bottom line, if you're looking for a 13-inch notebook and haven't considered it because the price was too high, now might be the time to buy.

—Donna Tapellini

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