Today December 2005
by Robert Sanborn
If it is December, that means that the Consumer
Electronics Show is just around the corner so if you haven’t already,
take advantage of a swap meet near you (like the ICS One coming in the
December meeting), clean out some old stuff and make room for a new
bunch of products that are sure to make everyone’s wish list.
Did you know that rechargeable batteries lose
around 1 percent of their power each month they are not used. Small
wonder that when you charge up a set of batteries, it seems that they
don’t last as long as you would like and that is why. It is the nature
of the beast that if you can trickle charge them, they can also lose
that charge when not used. So Sanyo has come up with a new line of
nickel metal hydride batteries called the Eneloop which will have a
shelf life of three years after charging. Available now in Japan but
coming here soon.
One of the newsletters I pay to get is from Brian
Livingston. Check his website at
http://www.windowssecrets.com/. He spent quite a bit of time looking
over computer magazine reviews of products and came up with quite a list
that rated quite highly. For monitors, he shows that the Dell
Ultrasharp flat panel monitors were rated best. But when you buy that
new monitor, especially if you are smitten by the low price you see in
some of the ads, and boy are some of them low, you need to remember a
few things. In the world of flat panel monitors, there are three things
to remember and look for.
One is contrast ratio; A really good number is
1000:1. For low end monitors, you will see numbers like 250:1. The
higher the contrast ratio, the better the colors stand out from each
other, the better you will see differences in grey and black in photos
and the like.
Second is the brightness. It is often listed as a
formula cd/m2. Again, the higher the number, the better and I have seen
numbers ranging from 200 to 500. As you can imagine, brightness tells
you how much light comes from the screen itself which helps it to be
seen better in all kinds of lighting conditions.
Other things to consider would be viewing angle.
Not too important for many people if all you will be doing is sitting in
front of the screen but if you want to show someone sitting beside you
what is there, When you are shopping out there, be sure to look at the
reflection from the monitor and think about what it would be in front of
you. There is a new technology in screens, Sony Xbright is one of them,
that gives you some eye popping colors and contrast but it is very
reflective. If you have a window behind you, think twice about these.
Finally, think about what you monitor will plug
into. Many of the newer computers have the DVI digital video plugs for
better performance but others still have the usual 15 pin analog VGA
connector. Many new monitors have connectors for both but be sure of
what you need before getting that monitor.
More Computer Goodies
For MP3 players, just pick an Apple, any Apple.
But you know, I have used my Pocket PC for several years now as an MP3
player and as long as you have a good set of head phones to connect it,
the sounds are pretty good. To go with that, San Disk has come out with
a new technology in memory cards called Gruvi. It is actually a Micro SD
memory card for mobile phones and the like. Very small and pretty cool
but wait till the sizes grow and the pixels on those new phone cameras
grow as well.
Thinking of a new PDA to replace that aging Palm
or Windows Pocket PC ? I certainly am and what I am looking at is the
Dell Axim X51v. Best rated as well around $399.
If you are into phones, look at the Motorola Razr
very thin cell phone, not available for Sprint but what a phone for only
$265 give or take. Want a PDA with that phone, look at the Palm Treo
650. One of my favorite places for looking at things like this is
www.shopzilla.com. A great shopping center and they have a great
rating system for the stores listed.
Look for a ton of new digital cameras as the mega
pixels grow, the sizes come down, and for point and shoot quickness, you
will see some great and not so great products. A couple of quick tips
here as well. Take a look at the LCD screen in the daylight and see how
well you can see the pictures. Some will just wash out completely. Check
the zoom as well, you can trash any talk at all about digital zoom,
period. Digital zoom is a myth, it doesn’t zoom. If you are going for
one of the bigger optical zoom lenses like 10x and above, you might want
to see if there is an image stabilizer built in. you will need it for
those long zoom close ups. Also, note the megapixels. You want real
megapixels taking that picture and not “enhanced”, “interpolated”, or
“projected”. There are a lot of really cheap cameras out there so pay
attention to thinks like lenses, covers, and the like.
To go with that camera, you will need batteries and
memory cards. For memory cards, get the highest capacity you can afford
and you might make sure that the camera will handle cards of 1GB in size
or better. Some don’t. One thing I found was that the higher megapixel
cameras use a lot of juice taking pictures, even more so if you dork out
and use the lcd screen in the back to take the picture with. As I
mentioned before, since the rechargeable batteries lose power over time,
if you don’t use the camera much, be sure to charge up the battery
before going on a trip. I currently have three for my camera and there
have been times when I needed all three when on vacation and taking a
lot of pictures. Last quick hint here is to take the pictures using the
highest quality that your camera can do. The last thing you want is to
get back from vacation and see that great moon shot to discover that you
left the camera in default mode (did you not wonder why you were able to
take 900 plus pictures with the memory card) and the image looks
terrible in an 8x10 print.
From all the press stuff I am getting, it must be
the iPod and all its clones are going to be big this year at CES. With
that and the slew of new monitors, it is going to be a fun spring to go
shopping for a new monitor or television. If you can, take a look at the
Consumer Reports issue for December. One section is on the best gifts to
give this year. For digital cameras, how about the Canon PowerShot A510,
Fuji FinePix E550, and my favorite Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5. For Digital
SLR, go with the Canon EOS Rebel Digital XT. Printer would be the HP
Photosmart 7760. They even rate the places to buy electronic equipment
and the best online is
www.crutchfield.com. You have to see the ratings on the LCD and
Plasma TV section. For LCD TV’s what really surprised me was that none
were rated excellent, and only one managed a Very Good rating. That was
the Sony Wega KLV-32M1 for around $1500. On the Plasma side, it was
still a surprisingly small number that made it into the Very Good
category. The top rated HD Plasma set was from Panasonic, the TH-42PX50U
42 inch set. It will set you back $2800. Best place to buy a computer
was from Apple, the worst, Wal-mart. How about tech support for the
computers themselves, Best rated desktop or laptop was Apple, worst HP
and Compaq. But for name brand computers, in the budget models, eMachine
got the top rating. In looking at the listings, it looks like Sony got
the highest rated notebook and was rated the fewest in repairs, just
ahead of the IBM Thinkpads.
Media Center Updates
I had mentioned before that I had built myself a
new Media Center PC and so want to give you some updates. I am using
rechargeable batteries in the mouse and they only lasted about three
months. What was nice was that the computer popped up a message telling
me that the batteries were on their way out and needed to be replaced.
So, like the geek I am, I just pulled the old ones and in went some new
ones. At least it sounded like a good idea at the time but it didn’t
work. Seems that the Bluetooth system lost track of them when I did that
and naturally, no mouse. It had been a while since I used a computer
using only the keyboard, and let me tell you, it is not much fun. Dig
out the box for the mouse/keyboard, look up the notes again, only to see
that all it tells you to do is to install the new mouse and set it up.
Kind of hard to do without a mouse. Course I could have shut down the
computer, installed a different mouse, and start it up and then go
through the Bluetooth setup but still, the problem was you had to do all
of that. What a pain.
Watching TV on my computer screen is kind of cool
but you know, it doesn’t look all that good especially when it is full
screen. I tried changing the resolution to 1280x1024 and it still just
doesn’t look that good. Maybe I need a new monitor, but I did notice
that the further I backed up, the better it looked. The Media Center
program is really styled after a TV display menu in that you click from
one menu to another and is set up to use a remote control which I must
admit, I haven’t set up yet. I think mostly because I really use the
computer more as a computer and don’t watch much TV. I still would
rather sit in the living room which has a much bigger set.
Robert Sanborn is a technology analyst for PC
Lifeline. You can reach him through the net at firstname.lastname@example.org