Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Slow But Inevitable Convergence of Computers and TV

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Vol. 2, # 53 - Jan 8, 2009 - Issue # 62 
 The Slow But Inevitable Convergence of Computers and TV

  1. Editor's Corner
    • The Slow But Inevitable Convergence of Computers and TV
    • Follow-up: New Year for Technology
    • Quotes of the Week
  2. Cool Tools
  3. News, Hints, Tips and Tricks
    • Free Vista to Windows 7 Upgrades
    • Move that data off those floppy disks before it's too late
    • Make Vista look like Windows 7 - sort of
  4. How to: Using the New Vista Features
    • How to speed up Vista shutdown time
  5. Vista Security
    • Twitter Security Scares
  6. Vista Question Corner
    • Can I change the size of the transparent borders in Aero?
  7. Vista Configuration and Troubleshooting
    • WEI displays incorrect value after upgrade
    • Clipboard stops working in Vista
  8. Fav Links
    • This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff
  9. Product of the Week
    • ClipMate 7.3 - Extends the Windows Clipboard into a Super "Must Have" Utility

VIPRE and AVG Resource Usage Shoot-Out

Many of you asked how VIPRE compares to the popular AVG. Well, we ran the tests and posted the results. The numbers tell the story. VIPRE took only 28% as long as AVG doing the deep scan. VIPRE takes only 38% of the CPU compared to AVG, and AVG takes 1.5 times the Memory compared to VIPRE. In short: both AVG "Free" and "Paid" use A LOT more resources to do the job, which can slow down your PC dramatically. Here are the details and the graphs:

Editor's Corner

The Slow But Inevitable Convergence of Computers and TV

It's been a long time coming, and it still may not be quite ready for prime time in the majority of households, but the convergence of television with computers and the Internet is finally beginning to pick up steam. Back in the November 6 issue of this newsletter, I addressed one small aspect of the convergence issue: whether the Internet will kill cable and satellite TV. Maybe it will and maybe it won't, but even if the current TV providers survive, I think it's likely that over the next couple of years, more and more people will be using them as just one of several ways to get programming content.

This convergence thing still has a long way to go, though. The biggest obstacle for the average consumer is the complexity and difficulty of getting things set up, especially if you want high quality content. We were satisfied for quite some time with a dual tuner Media Center PC to record shows from basic analog cable. That's a relatively simple configuration: you simply split the cable feed coming from the wall and connect two pieces of coax cable from the splitter to the RF connectors on the tuners, and (if desired) run a cable from the computer's sound card to your home theater system.

With a set-top box, it gets a little more complicated. For dual tuner capabilities (i.e., to record two programs at the same time or watch live TV while recording a different program), you need two set-top boxes and two infrared sensors that run from the computer to the boxes. This is necessary for Media Center to be able to change the channel when needed.

It can really get dicey if you want to be able to record high definition programming. And what's the point of paying thousands of dollars for a top of the line HD set if you can't record your content in HD? If you happen to be in an area where you can pick up OTA (over the air) HD broadcasts, no problem (as long as your tuner cards support ATSC digital signals. There will be a second RF type connector on the tuner labeled for ATSC, and you run a coax cable from your antenna to that connector). Depending on your location, you might be able to use an indoor HD antenna, or you may need an outdoor roof-mounted one to get the signal.

Or, like me, you may live in an area where you can pick up few or no OTA stations because of distance or obstacles between your house and the broadcast towers. In that case, you can still watch and record what are called "clear QAM" channels, which are unencrypted digital channels provided by the cable company (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox). However, if you want to record and play back encrypted HD content with Vista Media Center, you need a CableCARD tuner (XP Media Center doesn't support recording of HD cable channels at all).

Unfortunately, it's not as simple as going out and buying a new tuner, since they're only available to OEMs. That means you have to buy a CableCARD-enabled computer from Dell, HP or some other vendor. Then you rent the CableCARD itself (a credit card sized device that plugs into the tuner) from your cable company. The rental fee is usually relatively small; with Time Warner in my area, it's $2.99 per month, per card). For dual tuner capability, of course, you need two CableCARD tuners installed in the computer and you need to rent two CableCARDs. The CableCARD replaces the need for a set-top box. CableCARD technology hasn't exactly taken off; read more about that here:

One big reason for the lack of enthusiasm about CableCARD is the Digital Rights Management (DRM) that's an integral part of the technology. For instance, encrypted HD programs recorded with Vista Media Center can't be transferred to a Zune or other devices (you can copy recorded OTA HD programs to other devices). For an idea of how restrictive the DRM is, see this interesting rant:

Then there's the problem with DirecTV satellite services. Recording DirecTV HD programming requires support for the H.264 standard, which is missing from Vista Media Center (but expected to be included in Windows 7).

Vista Media Center is a great application, but the obstacles to using it with high quality content are so costly and frustrating that it's no wonder so many people just take the easy way out: rent an HD DVR (digital video recorder) from the cable company. I'm sorry to say that's what we ended up doing. We just couldn't justify spending another $1500-2000 for a CableCARD-enabled computer and the dual-tuner DVR service is only $9.99 per month, just a few dollars more than we'd have had to pay anyway to rent the CableCARDs.

It's not the solution I would have preferred, and I hope it's only a temporary one. The Windows 7 Media Center is expected to include features from the TV Pack 2008 for Vista Media Center that was only given to OEMs. I hope that means better, easier support for cable HD. You can see some screenshots and read about the Media Center application in the Win7 beta at

Meanwhile, Windows Media Center is by no means the only player in the TV/computer convergence game. There are alternative PVR applications such as Sage TV Media Center, which has versions for both Windows, Linux and Mac OS X. The price is reasonable ($79.95) and as with Windows Media Center (and unlike TiVO), there is no subscription fee when you use it in the U.S. and Canada (apparently things are different in Europe, where you must subscribe to a service called tvtv). Sage records in standard MPEG2 format so you can transfer recordings to other computers and devices. According to its fans, Sage can record HD programming without DRM restrictions, so it's looking like an attractive alternative to Media Center. This web site contains a lot of information about Sage, including a guide for switching from Windows Media Center:

Other Media Center applications for Windows include MediaPortal and GB-PVR. Both are free open source downloads and you can find out more information about them at the following sites:

Hauppauge, which makes TV tuner cards, provides a software application called Win-TV with their cards. It's a little rudimentary and doesn't have the nice interface of Media Center and some of the other programs, but it provides a way to watch and record analog cable, ATSC and clear QAM channels on a Windows computer that doesn't have Media Center. Find out more here:

In summary, there are quite a few options out there for using your Internet- connected computer to watch, record and play back TV. Unfortunately, getting it all to work the way you want it to (i.e., with high quality HD content from a cable or satellite provider) is still not nearly as easy as it ought to be.

Follow-up: New Year for Technology

In last week's editorial, I took a look back at some of the developments in the tech sector in 2008, and did a little speculating about what we have to look forward to (and to fear) in 2009. Readers wrote to share their own thoughts on both.

The economy has many of you wary about making new purchases. Neil from Up North wrote: "Your article hit the nail on the head - people will be more cost conscious - VOIP, web TV, high internet streaming will be the main focus. I can see a lot of folks buying cheaper PC's and enhancing their ISP speeds to watch more content via the web. Unfortunately the greedy Canadian companies have blocked a lot of the US TV Networks to stream up north and hence Canadians will be stuck with the hefty monthly subsciptions just to watch telly."

Jeff M. plans to take advantage of price drops: "I think because of the economy there will be a glut of electronics and computers and we can find some great prices if we're patient. I intend to replace my two year old PC and my three year old laptop. There's no better time than in a buyer's market."

José G. said, "I believe 2008 was a great year for technology. To get my 53 year old dad to invest in an HP notebook and embrace technology instead of fighting it was a real breakthrough. Since computer's are part of his work environment, even my mom is having to learn computing skills to stay relevant in the job market. My mom is getting used to the XP environment, while my father has jumped on the Vista bandwagon. I even got my parents looking into MP3 players and more technology. As for me, my Vista notebooks and desktop still are rocking into 2009 alongside my video iPod. I look forward to beta test Windows 7. I will definitely buy a bigger video iPod unless something better comes along."

On the other hand, Mark N. opines that "There was nothing 'new' out in 2008. Sure Samsung and HTC came out with touch screen phones, but that was already done in 2007 in the iPhone. Despite your opinion that the later ones are better, it was already done and I believe the other phones were waiting to see how the iPhone fared with only a touch screen. In other words, nothing really innovative or new, just improvements over what was done in 2007, with the exception of Android. In computers, netbooks are great, but just the continuing reducing of weight and size, which Sony did many years back with their T series. Printers, well, nothing much changed except that the prices went down and more of the all-in-ones, but they are not new. Vista, OS X, and Linuxes were all 2007, so even with patches and updates, nothing really new in OSes either." Well, let's hope 2009 brings us more that's really new, along with Windows 7.

Thank you to all those who wrote to share your opinions on this topic - and for all those who pointed out my mistake regarding the maker of the EeePC (it's Asus, not Acer ... duh.), thanks! That's what I get for trying to write an article on New Year's Eve, I guess.

Finally, there were many late comments on the "Are Printers Obsolete?" article. Lonnie P. brought up this point: "Doesn't anybody fly? I print out my boarding pass and bypass the ticket counter all together! I couldn't imagine not being able to print out my itinerary to keep it in my breast pocket." It's worth noting that now many airlines will send s mobile boarding pass (that consists of a bar code) to your cell phone or PDA and the gate personnel can scan it from your device, so you don't even need a printer for that. See

'Til next week,
Deb Shinder, Editor

PS: Did you know this newsletter has a sister publication for XP users called WXPnews? You can subscribe here, and tell your friends:

And for IT pros, there's our "big sister," WServer News, at

Quotes of the Week

Technology is a way of organizing the universe so that man doesn't have to experience it. - Max Frisch

Television: chewing gum for the eyes. - Frank Lloyd Wright

Keep The Bad Guys Out With The Sunbelt Personal Firewall

Why do I need a firewall? Together with antivirus and antispyware, a firewall is a "must" to protect your PC. PC Magazine gave the Sunbelt Personal Firewall a "Very Good" rating with 4 Stars and a conclusion of "good protection". Check out the Reviews on the site and it will be clear why you need the Sunbelt Personal Firewall to protect your PC. One good example; Unlike the Windows XP and Vista Firewall, The Sunbelt Personal Firewall looks carefully at the data leaving your computer, so that sensitive information like your credit card numbers, email address, phone numbers, and social security number do not get stolen by hackers!

Cool Tools


Rip DVDs for your iPhone, iPod touch, Apple TV, or iPod Video Nano. Bundle includes video converter too! Try it free!

Advanced Vista Optimizer does a great job tweaking Vista for Max performance.

Scrub off your online traces with CyberScrub. Privacy equals security.

Still not backing up your data!? No worries. Synchronization isn't like backing up, it's better! Easy too!

Cute Reminder is a great way to leave yourself a note of set a reminder in just a click or two!

Your Uninstaller! 2008 takes the place of the clunky Windows Control Panel "Add/Remove Programs" and offers more useful functions

One password gives automatic access to all my online passwords and usernames. The autofill feature is no toolbar widget. Robust!

News, Hints, Tips and Tricks

Free Vista to Windows 7 Upgrades

Mary Jo Foley reports that Microsoft is planning to provide free upgrades to Windows 7 for customers who buy Vista computers after July 1, 2009. It's called the Windows Technical Guarantee program and apparently Tech ARP has managed to get its hands on the Microsoft internal documentation. There also seems to an indication in the wording of the document that Windows 7 will have Home Premium, Business and Ultimate editions (at least), like Windows Vista. Read more here:

Move that data off those floppy disks before it's too late

Do you still have old but important data stored on floppy disks or other magnetic media sitting around in a closet somewhere? Think it will still be there just in case you ever need it? Think again. Even if you have a computer with a floppy drive, you can't count on those old disks still working. You should transfer them to a hard disk, optical disc (CD or DVD) or solid state storage (flash memory) while you still can. That applies not only to your computer data, but to other things stored on magnetic media, such as all those old VHS tapes, too. Read more about why it's time to take action:

Make Vista look like Windows 7 - sort of

Can't wait for the release of Windows 7 sometime in late 2009 to get "the look" but not quite ready to run the beta OS? Here are some free applications that make your Vista computer look and act like the next generation Windows operating system in various ways. One allows you to pin items to the taskbar, another lets you snap windows to size, and another makes it possible for you to "shake" the active window and clear away all the background. There's even an a way to make UAC less annoying without disabling it altogether. Find out more about these apps here:

How to: Using the New Vista Features

How to speed up Vista shutdown time

Does it sometimes feel as if it takes forever for your Vista computer to shut down? You can speed it up a bit by editing the registry. As always, back up the registry key first and be careful:
  1. Open your registry editor and navigate to the following key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE \ SYSTEM \ CurrentControlSet \ Control
  2. In the right pane, right click the value WaitToKillServiceTimeout
  3. Select Modify
  4. Change the value (default is 20000) to a lower number, such as 5000
  5. Close the registry editori
NOTE: If you set the timeout value too low (such as 1000 or 3000), some programs may not be able to close in time.

Vista Security

Twitter Security Scares

Twitter is a handy way to communicate and I admit I've gotten quite addicted to it. But as with any Internet technology, you have to be careful. A recent phishing scam uses the microblogging service's direct message feature to con people into visiting a fake Twitter page. Read more here:

And that's not all. Earlier this week, a number of high profile Twitter accounts were hacked into and messages posted that purported to be from the owners of those accounts, but weren't. Find out more about that here:

Vista Question Corner

Can I change the size of the transparent borders in Aero?

This is a trivial issue but I used a friend's Vista computer and the transparent borders on the windows which I think are so cool, were noticeably wider than on my computer. I don't know if this is a matter of different resolution (I tried changing that) or some kind of software that he installed. Do you know a way to widen the borders? Thanks! - Charles J.

You don't need any third party programs to do this - it's a setting that's hidden deep in the settings. Here's how you make your window borders as fat (or thin) as you want:
  1. Right click the desktop and select Personalize.
  2. Click Windows Color and Appearance.
  3. At the bottom, click "Open classic appearance properties."
  4. Aero should be selected as the Color scheme in the drop down box. Click the Advanced button.
  5. In the drop down box, select Border Padding.
  6. To make the borders wider, choose a higher number. To make them thinner, choose a smaller one.
  7. Click OK and then Apply.

Vista Configuration and Troubleshooting

WEI displays incorrect value after upgrade

If you make a change to your computer, such as adding or removing memory, you might find that the Windows Experience Index (WEI) in the System applet of Control Panel shows a very different value than expected or shows no value at all, displaying as "Unrated." This can happen because the values weren't updated after the hardware change. There are a couple of methods that can be used to fix the problem. You'll find them in KB article 933478 at

Clipboard stops working in Vista

This has happened to me: suddenly the clipboard stops working in Vista. What's up with that? It appears that some application is holding your clipboard hostage. The solution is to close the program that's causing the problem, but how do you know which one that is? For more discussion of this problem, see

Fav Links

This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff

Disclaimer: VistaNews does not assume and cannot be responsible for any liability related to you clicking any of these linked Web sites.

Product of the Week

ClipMate 7.3 - Extends the Windows Clipboard into a Super "Must Have" Utility

ClipMate makes you more productive by making the windows clipboard work better. It adds the functionality that Windows leaves out, starting with the ability to hold more than one item! (The regular Windows clipboard holds one item at a time.) ClipMate holds THOUSANDS of "clips" for days, weeks, even years if you need it to. And you can organize, edit, re-format, print, combine, search, and manage your data. You can even encrypt sensitive information like credit card numbers. They've even thrown in a spellchecker with thesaurus. VistaNews readers get an exclusive $5.00 discount when you register. Download the fully functional 30 day evaluation version and give it a whirl. Hope you'll find it as useful as we do.

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