Archive for June 25, 2009

Converter Box Coupon Update

Coupon Availability and Replacement Coupons.

Eligible households may continue to apply or re-apply for TV converter box coupons. Applications for coupons are accepted online, by phone at 1-888-388-2009 (1-888-DTV-2009), by mail and by fax. Mailed applications must be post-marked no later than July 31, 2009. Online, phone and fax applications must be submitted by 12 midnight Eastern Time.

It typically takes nine business days to process and mail coupons. If you have applied for coupons, but not yet received them, you may check the status of their by selecting Check Your Application Status.

Appeals for Denied Coupon Applications.

If you have applied for coupons through the Web site and the application is denied, there is a link within the denial message to appeal. Appealing via the Web site is the quickest way for the Coupon Program to process and respond to appeals. You may also appeal by clicking here. If you wish to provide additional detail beyond the space provided, they may submit their appeal in writing or by e-mail.

Coupons Expiration Date and Online and Phone TV Converter Box Ordering Options.

Coupons expire 90 days after they are mailed. The expiration date is printed on the coupon. Even though the last day to apply for coupons is July 31, 2009, consumers can use their coupons at participating retailers until they expire. Converter boxes can be purchased at most national retail stores and some local retailers.
A list of retailers will be included in the envelope containing the coupon. You should call ahead to area retail stores to confirm availability of coupon-eligible converter boxes on the day they plan to shop. To find a participating retailer in your area, go to www.DTV2009.gov/VendorSearch.aspx. Coupon-eligible converter boxes also may be purchased online or by telephone and shipped directly to your home.

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Two FCC Tips for Better Reception

“Double Re-scan” Converter Boxes and Digital TVs

As TV stations continue making changes to their signals, the FCC is encouraging converter box and digital TV users who still may be having trouble receiving a digital channel to “double re-scan,” which means clearing out the converter box or TV’s memory by unplugging the antenna, re-scanning the device without the antenna attached in order to clear out the memory, unplugging the box or digital TV, reconnecting the antenna to the device and plugging the unit back in, and then re-scanning. Note that “Double .Re-Scanning” is a more thorough process than simple “Scanning or Re-scanning.”

Double-Check and Relocate Antennas.

To receive the most channels, it is important for consumers to have a “VHF/UHF” antenna and to make sure they place it in a location that allows for the best reception. Click here to read the full FCC consumer advisory.

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Tips for better DTV reception

GPS global positioning systems PND personal navigation device navigator

[ Photo courtesy of Mykl Roventine ]

Evidently the DTV transition on June 12 didn’t disrupt life as we know it, judging by most reports we’ve seen. But two weeks into it, we’re still hearing from consumers who are having problems getting some of the digital channels available in their market.
Here’s some advice from the FCC, which has been tracking problems presented to their experts at support centers or via the toll-free help line (1-888-CALL-FCC), which is still in operation.

Many stations changed their frequency on June 12, but the old frequency might still be stored in the memory of your digital converter box or digital TV—even if you rescanned after the transition. To clear the memory, you need to run a “double rescan,” in effect, rebooting the system to wipe the slate clean.

The problem could also lie with your antenna. You might need to relocate or adjust the one you have or get a different type. As the FCC points out, one of the most popular spots for indoor antennas–on top of the TV– may not be the best spot. A location higher up or near a window, and away from electronic equipment, may provide better reception. You’ll find many useful pointers in the FCC’s factsheets on antennas and reception. —Eileen McCooey

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Pentax’s Optio W80: An underwater camera with HD video and long zoom

Pentax Optio W80 waterproof shockproof digital camera ruggedized camera

Pentax claims its Optio W80 point-and-shoot digital camera is waterproof to depths of 16-feet and survives falls from a height of 3-feet. The camera will be available in July. Click to enlarge.
[ Photo courtesy of Pentax. ]

The burgeoning waterproof camera market has yet to cool off this summer. Pentax has just announced a new model, the 12 megapixel Optio W80, $300, which records HD video (720p at 30 frames per second). It's not the first with this feature—Panasonic has made that claim. But the W80 is $100 cheaper than the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1. (Digital camera model Ratings information is available to Consumer Reports subscribers only.)

The new Pentax will include a 5x zoom, more than most other waterproof models. Like the TS1 and a couple of other waterproof cameras, the W80 also has wide-angle capability, letting you fit more fish, or mermaids, in your shot.

Pentax claims the W80 will be shockproof, able to withstand a 3-foot fall, and operable at a depth of 16 feet. Both exceed the specs for a number of waterproof cameras, although the Olympus Stylus Tough 8000 (available to subscribers) is supposed to be able to withstand a drop of 6 feet and operate at a depth of 33 feet. (For more information, see: Abuse this camera? We test the Olympus Stylus Tough 6000, available to subscribers, from the July 2009 issue.)

The Optio W80 will be available in July, in red, blue and gray. —Terry Sullivan

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GPS: When it’s time to turn it off

GPS global positioning systems PND personal navigation device navigator

[ Photo courtesy of Jimmy_Joe]

I have long resisted using my car’s built-in GPS navigation system since, as a proverbial proud male, I like to think I know where I’m going. However, last weekend, a trip to Boston, the labyrinthine-road capital of the U.S., convinced me to swallow my pride and give the GPS a try.

I waited until I reached Beantown before enabling the system’s route guidance, after which it quickly lulled me into a blissful state of mindless dependence on its calm female voice. Cambridge to Jamaica Plain? No sweat. Brookline to Faneuil Hall? A breeze.

Handy as the device was for much of the trip, I later found times I would have been better off disregarding or even disabling it. For example, consider two drives I made from my hotel’s Cambridge neighborhood to Jamaica Plain: The first time, the GPS led me there in no time flat. But the next day, departing from nearly the same spot, it sent me on a wicked long route. The difference? Before the second trip, I was parked on the opposite side of the street, facing the opposite direction. Apparently, the GPS’s routing ruled out having me make a minor U-turn, which would have made the shorter route possible. By the time I realized I was on a longer route, it was too late to turn back.

Later that day, heading for a deli in Brookline, I found the town’s main street closed for a local event. As I struggled to find an alternate route, the GPS kept trying to steer me back to the street that was closed. As our Ratings of GPS systems (available to subscribers) show, some models can alert you to changing traffic conditions or let you sidestep certain streets. I don’t know if my new car’s built-in navigation system has those features, but I wasn’t going to hunt for them when I was just minutes from my lunch spot.

At the end of my visit, I let the GPS help me quickly wend my way out of town. Once on familiar roads, perhaps savoring the system’s novelty, I left the GPS on. Hours later, the system vainly tried to direct me to an Interstate I had years ago learned to avoid. Not satisfied at my ignoring its instructions, and even though I was well past its suggested exit, the calm voice urged me to take a subsequent exit and make a u-turn (now it suggests a u-turn!) to return to the Interstate I had “missed.”

I ignored it. Miles later, after I felt the GPS had finally come to accept my decision, it made a last desperate attempt to change my mind, directing me to take a small county road which, I soon figured out, would meet up with—you guessed it!—the Interstate I had twice rejected.

That was when I finally did what I should have done hours earlier upon first reaching familiar roads: I pressed the button to silence that calm voice. The lesson here is to use a navigation system as an aid, not a strict replacement for local knowledge and a little common sense, and to become familiar with the features before embarking on a long-distance trip.

How’s your relationship with your GPS unit? Share your experiences with us below. You might also want to check out the GPS forum maintained by our colleagues in Cars. —Jeff Fox

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