Avi Greengart is an expert on the convergence of technology and entertainment: video, audio, computing, and wireless, how these are coming together, and what's likely to survive long enough to make a difference in your life.
Column #42 (10/10/02)
HDTV Antennas, Outfitting a PC
I live in a New Jersey suburb about 20-25 miles away from New York City which broadcasts my television viewing. I would like to receive the DIGITAL channels for viewing of HDTV broadcasts. Which antenna do you recommend for use with the Samsung SIR-T165. I would prefer a top of the line model with maybe an amplifier since the cable length could be longer than 20 feet. Also most channels I want to view are above 14 so should I look for a UHF only antenna. Any info would be greatly appreciated.
Hi! The only HDTV being broadcast in the area (I live in N. NJ, too) that I know of is CBS, from the Empire State Building. All the other stations were knocked off the air, and there's no hard and fast timetable for getting them back up again. HDTV has always been an investment without a return for broadcasters, so there's no incentive for them to move quickly, and, frankly, the NYC broadcasters have a pretty good excuse to hold out for insurance payments and new site availability.
That said, you should be looking for a UHF antenna, because that's the band used by HDTV. There are several HDTV-specific models from Terk that have gotten positive reviews, and Radio Shack was eventually supposed to have a chart showing what kind of antenna you need depending on your geographic location - don't know if they do around here or not. The Perfect Vision's Gary Merson reports that he gets the best results from the Silver Sensor, an antenna from Gemini being distributed under the Zenith brand name. It retails for $34.99, so it'd be my first choice based on cost alone. But your best results should come from using one of those big, old-style roof antennas. Again, Radio Shack is the first place I'd check. (I've even heard of people motorizing them so that they can be rotated remotely - I don't have any HDTV reception at the moment, so I can't speak from experience, but I sincerely hope that's overkill.)
I saw the Samsung set top box at Samsung's Summer Line Showing; it should be a good choice.
Outfitting a PC
I have become so enamored with your clear, lucid explanations of computer information, that I decided to seek out your sage wisdom to resolve my own conundrums. I now desire to purchase a new desktop computer. I want one with a DVD player and a CD read-write drive. Is there any advantage or disadvantage to buying one with a combination drive vs. two separate drives? How much RAM? How expandable should the RAM be? Please explain my options. I actually would like to purchase my computer from Dell. I always read about how their customer service is excellent, so I thought that I'd give them a try. Also, they've bombarded me with so much advertising that I can't think of another company right now. Should I go with the standard 1 year service, or is it worth $119 for three years of coverage?
The advantage to having a combo drive is space - you may want a different drive in the future (a DVD-RW drive, something else, who knows?) and this option leaves a drive bay free. The disadvantage is convenience. If you have two separate drives, one can be used for playing music CDs while you use the other one to load software or whatnot. Or you can use the DVD drive to read a CD, and the CD-RW drive to burn a copy of it. You can burn copies of CDs with a combo drive, but it's not as simple and takes longer.
If you're buying a new PC, you should get Windows XP. It's the best OS Microsoft has ever made. (I suppose some people would say, "that's not saying much." For the Microsoft haters out there, it's the best OS for basic home and business use that I've ever used.) XP requires 128 MB of RAM to work reasonably well - all by itself. Therefore, you should get 256 MB of RAM so that you have plenty of RAM to load programs and files into. If you're doing a lot of photo editing or any kind of video editing, get 512 MB of RAM from the start - RAM is fairly cheap and graphics/video files are huge.
What type of RAM? The newer Pentium 4 motherboard designs use cheaper RAM, and that's probably all Dell will sell you - they don't inventory the older designs. How expandable should it be? In an ideal world you want to get a single 256 MB chip, leaving a slot free just to add another one. That way if you have to upgrade your RAM you won't have to throw out your existing stuff and start from scratch. On the other hand, if you start out with 256 MB of RAM, it's probably enough for the life of this machine, and if you do decide to upgrade, RAM prices generally come down over time, so you might even end up ahead.
In terms of Dell, I'm sure they'll be pleased that their marketing dollars are having an effect on you. If you are comfortable ordering a computer by phone, Dell has the lowest manufacturing and inventory costs in the industry and passes some of those savings along to consumers. Over the last few years, we have purchased machines from Dell, HP, and Compaq (they used to be separate companies, you know), and only the Compaq was problem-free. However, the customer service at both Dell and HP did eventually resolve all problems.
The extended warranty in this case is not a bad deal, but not absolutely necessary, either. If something breaks on a PC, it usually happens within the first 60 days. And if something breaks two years down the road, whatever it is may cost less than $119 to replace by then.
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