Avi Greengart is the Research Director for Consumer Devices at Current Analysis (Mobile Phones, Connected Devices, and Digital Home). He also regularly writes for Slashgear, sporadically blogs at Home Theater View and Tweets far too often as @greengartAvi's expertise lies in understanding consumer electronics marketing, consumer behavior, and technology adoption patterns: where new technologies meet the mass market. 

 

 

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 #53 (3/15/04)

Problems with Printers, A/V Cables, TV/DVD/VCR hookups, PDA screens, and Just What is WiFi, Anyway

Question:

Hi Avi. The printer currently attached to my new [Windows] XP computer isn't working.  Nothing unusual in the printer itself - all the lights are normal, and the printer can do a self-test, from the printer buttons itself, so it seems to be a problem with the print driver - because the computer recognizes the printer, just there is no response when I try to print something. I tried re-installing the print driver from the Epson CD, and downloading the print driver off the CD. Doesn't help.   I had some trouble downloading the driver off the Epson website, I'll try again, but am not confident that it will work.

[I’ve heard] that "printers aren't that expensive" – the best solution may be simply to buy a new one.  But I will continue trying at least for a while to get my printer going again.  - Any suggestions on that?  (Note: this printer wasn't bought for this computer - I bought it for the older computer.)  If I need to buy a new printer, what would you recommend for me?

AskAvi Replies:

Hmm. Before tossing the old printer,

  1. Check the cables, make sure everything is plugged in good and tight.
  2. Try downloading that driver again.  Check Epson’s site, and also try Microsoft’s site.
  3. I have no idea.  But your old printer should work with your new computer.

Printers are inexpensive, as the technology has improved and the goal has changed from “sell you an expensive printer once” to “sell you an expensive ink cartridge many times.” Consumer Reports looked at printers fairly recently and highly rated several Canon and HP inkjets in the $100 - $150 range.

Question:

I just got my system up and running.  It consists of a Mitsubishi 65" widescreen TV, Sony STR-DE1075 receiver, Samsung DVD player, and DirecTV receiver. My question is, should I stick with my acoustic research pro series analog cables or go to the toslink optical cables? If so, do I buy the cheaper ones or spend a little more for higher quality cables? I'm confused about whether I need them both or one or the other.

AskAvi Replies:

See my previous columns (#3 and #48) about cables and pricing.  But first, make sure you’re getting a digital audio signal (either coax or Toslink) out of your digital sources (DVD and DirecTV) and into that Sony receiver.  If you’re using those Acoustic Research cables just to connect the analog audio out to the receiver, you’re missing out on all the digital sound goodness and all the discrete channels of surround sound you should be hearing.

Question:

I was reading through your website recently as I was looking for some tips about buying my first DVD player. I ended up buying a basic Panasonic but here's the problem that I encountered last night. I cannot get the DVD player to display on the TV. I wanted to hook it up in our bedroom to the Quasar TV/VCR combo unit. I ended up plugging the jacks from the DVD player into my DirecTV receiver as the TV unit only had two inputs (video in and audio in) and the satellite receiver had the standard three inputs. My TV is always set to channel 3 so that the satellite receiver works. Is it possible that the TV/VCR unit is not compatible? I tried plugging in directly to the TV but that did not work either.  Any suggestions would be appreciated.

AskAvi Replies:

Ever wonder what you’re giving up when you buy a cheap TV or TV/VCR combination?  CRT (TV tubes) are mature technology, so video performance on screens 25” or smaller is usually fairly good when properly adjusted.  Audio performance is typically awful, remote control and on-screen menu usability usually suffers, and you take a huge hit on flexibility.  But the price is right, so you put up with lousy sound, buy a replacement remote control, and, well, what exactly do you do when you want to add a DVD player?

Your TV has only ONE set of inputs if all you’ve got is video in and audio in.  In which case, your idea about going through the DirecTV receiver is a good one, assuming the receiver can pass through external signals.  You’d think it could, otherwise, why include inputs?  So I have three suggestions: 

1. Double check that the DirecTV jacks you’re trying to use are actually inputs, and not outputs.

2. If those inputs are actually inputs, then there should be some way of switching the source that the DirecTV box is displaying – possibly in the DirecTV setup menu, but far more likely a simple “input” or “TV/VCR” switch on the DirecTV’s remote control. (Don’t change anything on your TV itself; channel 3 will still be the place the TV displays input from the DirecTV box and anything attached to it).

Even if this works, it might not be watchable if the DirecTV receiver won’t pass through copy protected material unmolested (the reason why hooking up a DVD player through your VCR never works).  Simply watch a standard Hollywood movie and see if there are weird banding effects or noise all over the picture. If not, mazal tov! You’ve got a DVD player hooked up a to a cheap TV that wasn’t designed for expansion.

3. If that doesn’t work (or it works, but the picture is all messed up due to Macrovision copy protection), you need an external switcher.  There are two types of A/V switchers: built into an audio receiver, with full remote control and lots of other goodies – which may be overkill for a Quasar TV/VCR combo, and standalone. Radio Shack sells cheap standalone switchers starting at $30.  

Question

Dear AskAvi, I have been thinking about upgrading my internet connection from my snail paced modem connection and was wondering what my options are. What is WiFi? What is the difference between DSL (assuming it is available in my area) and cable. What are the costs involved with setting all of these up? Any help would be most appreciated. Thank you very much.

AskAvi Replies:

WiFi is a short range wireless network that lets you share an Internet connection among multiple computers, and lets multiple computers share files, print files, send data (or pictures) around the house.  In the home, WiFi does not provide or replace an Internet connection.  WiFi also can’t add speed, only subtract.  So if you have a slow dialup connection, sharing that connection over WiFi won’t make the connection itself any faster.  WiFi is also used at “hotspots” – areas in hotel lobbies, some parks and stores, and other locations where you can connect to the Internet over WiFi (somebody is providing the Internet connection, you’re just using WiFi to get at it instead of stringing up an Ethernet cable.  Costs for WiFi gear have dropped sharply; a router/hub/access point (the gizmo that shares your connection and sends out the signal) costs well under $100, and WiFi cards (for receiving the signal) can be as little as $50, or even “free” if you buy a notebook with WiFi support already integrated (such as an Intel Centrino-based notebook).

Whether you can get broadband on DSL depends on how far you live from a telco base station.  DSL providers can look up your address and tell you.  Typically, they’ll have to send someone out to set it up, and setup nightmare stories have slowed with experience, but are still not unheard of.  Speeds vary, but most DSL in the US is considerably faster than dialup, but considerably slower than cable modem speeds.  (This is not the case worldwide, where some DSL connections are extremely fast).  To compensate for the lack of speed, many broadband DSL providers charge less than broadband cable providers.

Whether you can get broadband on cable depends on whether your cable company offers the service; typically whole neighborhoods or even cities are covered at a time.  If you already have cable for TV in your home, you may be able to set up a cable modem yourself, saving some money – in most cases, it’s not all that difficult.  Cable speeds are generally quite fast, but could degrade based on how many users are online in your area at specific times of the day (more people using the network = more congestion = lower speeds for everyone).  In practice, at least in my area, our cable provider has compensated for this by overbuilding the network, and speeds are uniformly fast no matter what time of day.

Given a choice between moderately fast DSL and genuinely fast cable – even at higher prices – I recommend cable.

Question:

I have a dilemma. As I was writing some notes on my Zire 71, the screen cracked and rendered the unit the useless. Since I've had the unit about 6 months I figured it would be covered under the warranty and Palm would be able to send me a new or refurbished unit. After speak to a customer service rep, I was informed that the screen is not covered under the warranty. I was given the option of paying $125 and having Palm repair it.

My dilemma is this, does it pay to send it back? I was looking at the other units Palm sells and became interested in the Tungsten E. I know it does not have a camera, I can live without it. Amazon listed the Tungsten at ~$185 and Buy.com had it for ~$180 both offered free shipping. From a strict dollars point of view it is obviously cheaper to fix it. But is it realistic for me to forget it and buy the Tungsten E? Thanks for your help.

AskAvi Replies:

I’m not surprised that the screen isn't covered - all PDA screens are prone to breaking, and there's no way for the company to know whether it was defective or you just dropped it.  From that perspective, this is one of the rare products (along with portable MP3 players and headphones) where an extra cost extended warranty can make sense.

Palm sent over a Tungsten E a while back. Nice PDA. You may actually prefer the form factor on the E, as it's slimmer than the 71.  But there's no cradle in the box, just a USB cord, and if you bought a case for the 71 it probably won't fit the E. The screen, expansion, and performance should be comparable; the E has an extra 16MB of RAM, the 71 has the built in camera.  The E has a "five way navigator" that's better for daily use, which the 71's joystick is better for gaming.

Happy update: “I just spoke with a different customer service rep at Palm and received some good news. The are able to fix my unit for free. It turns out that the first few "batches" of the Zire 71 had a problem with the screen and they are fixing for customers free of charge. Thought I'd let you know.”

Question:

We have an old TV that requires the old cable box converter.  We have a VCR and our children bought us a DVD for XMAS.  I tried to hook up the DVD to the VCR but the picture was distorted.  Someone told me to get an RF modulator.  But how in the world do I hook up the Converter box to the TV to the VCR to the DVD?  I am so confused.  Please draw a diagram if possible with color coding.  Thank you so much.

 AskAvi Replies:

I’ve answered variations on this question at least twice before (see Column 45: DVD 102).  But I’ll repeat the most critical portion again: never hook up a DVD player through a VCR – the Macrovision copy protection circuit in the VCR causes the distortion you’re seeing.  If you don’t have enough inputs on your TV for cable, VCR, and DVD, you’ll need a switcher box (either as part of an audio/video receiver, or a stand-alone box you can buy at Radio Shack). 

bulletThen hook your cable to the VCR (so you can record TV),
bulletconnect the VCR up to the switcher
bulletand connect the switcher to the TV.  (To watch TV, you’ll be using the tuner in the VCR, not the TV itself, which needs to be set to channel 3 or 4.)
bulletConnect the DVD to the switcher.

-avi

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