Table of Contents




Technology 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 Shopzilla, 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. 

Short Takes 

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 robert@pcll.com


Last Update:06/26/2007


Copyright © 1999 - 2012 PC Lifeline