Archive for June 10, 2009

Find DTV help in your area

With the DTV transition just days away, take a minute to visit the FCC's DTV hub, a one-stop shop offering tons of information and advice.

Plug in your zip code and find out how many DTV stations operate in your area now and how many will be up and running after June 12. Get a listing of stations with channel number assignments and phone numbers, with an indication of their broadcast strength.

You can also find local support, including in-home installers and walk-in centers. The online troubleshooting guide may help you resolve problems on your own. Incidentally, the coupon offer doesn't end on June 12; you have until July 31 to request $40 subsidy coupons to defray the cost of a converter box.

The government’s call centers (1-888-CALL-FCC, 1-888-225-5322) are likely to be flooded with calls on the day of the transition and the first few days afterward, so try out your setup now and get your problems solved before June 12. —Eileen McCooey

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GPS on iPhone: TomTom jumps in; others may follow

Apple iPhone 3G S WWDC

The new iPhone 3G S features a built-in compass, and GPS manufacturers are working on downloadable navigation apps. [Photo courtesy of Apple]

After the unveiling of the new iPhone 3G S, the biggest buzz from yesterday’s Apple Worldwide Developers Conference was arguably the announcement of turn-by-turn navigation for iPhones, starting with an application from GPS manufacturer Tom Tom.

The announcements promise to significantly improve the limited navigation capabilities of iPhones, under their current operating system, which will be upgraded to the new iPhone 3.0 on June 17.

Our colleagues in the Cars department have done a bit more digging into the Tom Tom announcement [link to today’s blog], set for release date later this summer; the price is as yet undisclosed. According to a rep, the maps and software will resemble the brand’s standalone GPS units. Intended for use in the car, the app will give turn-by-turn directions to destinations and will be able to create routes to addresses in the phone’s address book.

The company says it will also offer a car kit with “secure docking, enhanced GPS performance, clear voice instructions and hands-free calling, while charging your iPhone at the same time.”

But other GPS manufacturers may soon jump onto the GPS platform offered by iPhone 3.0, say our Cars colleagues. Next up, they say, may be Navigon, which announced its departure from selling GPS units in North America while leaving open the possibility of offering their own GPS applications for smart phones.

Will iPhone apps mark the beginning of the end for standalone GPS units? Maybe. While there’s a welcome convergence to using a smart phone as your GPS device, there are also some downsides. iPhones, including the upcoming 3G S, have 3.5-inch screens—which our Cars colleagues say are fine, though larger screens allow more information to be displayed. And family members can share a GPS-enabled iPhone less easily than they can a GPS unit, since the iPhone is also, well, someone’s phone. Finally, it’s unclear what iPhone GPS apps might cost; they could be very pricey.

What do you think? Would you consider using your smart phone as your GPS unit?

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The Ring

We’ve been answering the phones this week during the 6 and 7 PM News on NBC 17, and the phones have been ringing non-stop. Instead of posting a new blog each day, I’ll use this post to summarize the calls we’ve been getting.

Monday evening I invited Chip Johnson from Garner TV and Appliances to help answer phones. Chip is the “High-Tech Redneck” and is really up on his home theatre knowledge. I’ve been telling you that you can build your home theater one pice at a time, and Chip would be a great resource to guide you toward your finished theatre, or man-cave as I prefer to call mine. They have all the pieces you need for a great experience right in your living room.

We got a lot of calls from the Rocky Mount area and an unbelievable number of calls about coupons. The NTIA reported they are getting coupons out in 9 days, but here with only a few days, or hours to the switch, there’s no way to get a coupon in time. Most have one digital TV in the house, but forgot the other sets in the bedroom and kitchen, or simply put it off until it’s too late. Did you know not everyone has Internet access? I lost track of how many calls I took, but it was one after the other, and again, my kind of people. Sweetest and nicest folks you can ever talk to. I wish I could spend more time talking to some of them. Surprisingly to me, very few calls with reception issues. I assumed that would be the bulk of the calls, but most of them just needed reassuring they were ready.

Tuesday I brought in Casey Tart, Manager of the Time-Warner Customer Care call center. Cindy Keene, Director of Public and Government Affairs for Time-Warner also came by and answered the phones. Why would I invite the biggest competitor to a broadcast TV station to answer our phones? Simply, they are the largest supplier of our signal to homes in the market. Not everyone can climb on their roof to deal with an antenna, and apartments do not allow gangly looking antennas to hang on their balconies. Cable offers a lot of solutions and packages to suit everyone’s needs. They are offering a Broadcast package for $7.95 per month for the first year. If you are having issues with your antenna, that’s a great alternative and gives you 12 months to resolve your problems, or upgrade to a different package. If you haven’t gotten your coupon, a new TV, or have antenna issues, right now you need to be going with “plan B” and try to get by. They have a low cost viable solution on their website.

The reception calls came in tonight. I got a couple of calls from near the Virginia border, which is one of those areas in-between all the markets, and may be difficult if not impossible, to get over the air TV. These callers have a satellite service, but wanted to know if their second set might be able to get the digital signal especially when analog is spotty now. My advice is to call your satellite provider to see if they have a special package to add those additional TV’s. Most of them do offer some assistance in such cases with special packages for multi-room systems.

I do want to stress again, everyone using an antenna will have to re-scan for channels Friday afternoon. In several cases, I talked some folks how to set-up the converter box on the phone. Lot’s of folks forget the TV will be parked on channel 3 or 4 when the box is on. You can’t take these things right out of the box and punch in channel 17 and see anything. It has to scan to find the channels first!

I don’t have a guest phone operator scheduled for Wednesday night, but Thursday night Fred Pace from Clear-Channel radio here in Raleigh will join us to talk HD radio, and their digital transition.

Friday Daniel Miron from Dish Network will be back. He helped us out in December when we held the phone bank and I’ve been test driving the TR-40 DTVPal converter box.

The uncensored behind the scenes action is being streamed on my back-channel on the video tab of this blog, keyword DTV, and on! Check us out live between 6 and 8 PM!

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In the CR Test Labs: New plasma TVs

Along with the 10 new LCD TVs in our test labs, we are now putting six new plasma models—two each from Insignia, Panasonic and Samsung—through their paces. Here are the models currently being tested:

Insignia is Best Buy’s house brand, and we’re currently testing two plasma models: the 42-inch NS-P42Q-10A, a low-priced 720p set, and the 50-inch NS-P50Q-10A, a 1080p model.

We also have two new Panasonic plasma TVs in our labs. The Viera TC-P42G10, part of the step-up G10 series, is a 42-inch 1080p set loaded with features, such as THX certification and the company’s Viera Cast Internet service. The Viera TC-P50C1, part of the more entry-level C1 series, is a 50-inch 720p (1366×768) set.

We’re currently testing two new 50-inch 1080p Samsung plasmas. The PN50B850 is a super-slim (1.2 inches deep) flagship model, while the PN60B650 is a step-up set that costs about $400 less. Both have Samsung’s Medi@2.0 Internet service (which uses Yahoo widgets) and the ability to connect wirelessly to a home network using an optional USB dongle.

We're constantly updating our TV Ratings (available to subscribers), so check back within the next two weeks when the results of our latest LCD and plasma HDTV tests will be posted. —James K. Willcox

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