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Tech Q and A: The Changing Face of Gaming

Every other week or so, FOXNews.com tries to solve your most vexing technology-related problems. Send your questions to TechQuestions@foxnews.com and we'll reply to selected ones in our next installment.

I read an interesting article by Alex Pham in the Los Angeles Times regarding the recent E3 convention here in Southern California.

According to Ms. Pham, "At the video game industry's largest event of the year, many of the A-list heroes were no-shows: Halo's Master Chief, Legend of Zelda's Zelda, Grand Theft Auto IV's Niko Bellic.

"Instead of relying on franchises sure to draw cheers from the crowd of predominantly young male gamers who attended the E3 Media & Business Summit in Los Angeles last week, publishers focused on games their grandmothers could play."

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I first noticed this paradigm shift at a family gathering about a year ago. One of my in-laws (one of those "young male gamers") had purchased Nintendo's new Wii console. But his sisters were the ones monopolizing the playing time — including the boxing matches!

It's probably not going to put much of a dent in the violent, rough-and-tumble world of gaming, but it was interesting to see the industry reaching out to a slightly different market segment.

In the meantime, it's the 21st century already! Where's my flying car?

Speaking of Gaming ...

Q: Cable companies brag about the download speeds they offer, and phone companies talk up DSL speed increases. But from what I have seen, most Web sites throttle their data speed to around 200 K.

The only Web access that I have noticed getting any faster is gaming. I am able to game at 1.5 M.

If this is true about every Web site, is there a reason to have anything faster than 1.5 M in households that have 1 PC? Even then 2 PCs gaming at the same time would only need 3 M, plus whatever is needed for overhead.

A: For those of you confused by the K's and M's, we are talking about the speed that data — the zeroes and the ones, or "bits" — fly through the Internet. Speed is measured in "bits per second," or bps. Thus "200K" is 200,000 bps, or 2 Kbps, and "1.5M" is 1,500,000 bps, or 1.5 Mbps.

Most homes are connected to the Internet on an asynchronous connection — that is, the upload and download speeds are different, upload being somewhat slower. This works well in most situations, and allows Internet service providers to more effectively allocate their bandwidth.

But some applications suffer from this strategy. One example is Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), such as used by Skype and Vonage, which requires just as much upload speed as download speed.

Web companies have various strategies to even out the load on their servers. One is to limit the amount of data that a single connection can have, or the number of connections a server can make — a process known as "bandwidth throttling."

Ever heard of something called the "Digg effect"? It's when a popular Web site links to a smaller site, causing the smaller site to slow down — or even shut down — due to overwhelming traffic.

Server administrators use bandwidth throttling to avoid such situations. Once the rate of file requests from other machines (anything with an IP address) reaches a preset level, the server stops answering and instead puts the requests in a backlog line until traffic falls to manageable levels.

One thing to remember is that the speed on one's connection to the Internet is determined by all of the network boxes between his computer (or cell phone) and the Web site he is looking at.

If you're curious about how this works, open a Command Window on a PC (hold the Windows key and press "R"). Type "tracert www.foxnews.com" at the prompt and press "Enter." You Mac people will need to type "traceroute" instead of "tracert".

Where I'm currently sitting, there are 10 "hops" (connections between pieces of Internet equipment) between me and FoxNews.com.

Whether the Web site is throttled or not, you are not going to get your data any faster than the slowest of those hops.

But more to your question: Yes, give me as much bandwidth as you possibly can. That way, even though I've got some video streaming, and my download manager is grabbing a huge file (by splitting it into 4 pieces and downloading all four pieces at once), I'll still have some bandwidth left for a Skype call and some e-mail checking.

You can never be too rich, too thin or have too much bandwidth! That's what I always say.

More Feedback

Lots of responses to the question about digital television! Here's a sample or two.

Folks cannot "download" a coupon. Consumers enter their household information and the unique plastic coupons are mailed to them by the U.S. Postal Service, as required by the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005.

Duly noted. Thanks and a hat tip to Bart in Washington, D.C. (!) for the correction. Oh, and that comment about the government being here to help? It was meant in absolutely the best possible way, yessir. Absolutely. Umm-hmmm.

I still believe that sooner is better than later for those who need the converter boxes.

YOU'RE WRONG — You really need to do enough research to give the right answer if you're posting it online on a major Web site...

You need a digital converter only if you have a non-digital or analog TV. It has absolutely nothing to do with the antenna you use for reception.

The UHF/VHF antenna will still work fine as the digital signal uses the UHF part of the antenna — that's the little loop part as opposed to the extended "ears" part which are the VHF antennas. And yes, I am being completely condescending, as you absolutely deserve it.

Technically correct. The folks who are affected by this change are those with analog television sets who currently get their reception through an antenna.

I forgot all about the dozen or so of you who plunked down a couple of grand for the new HDTVs, but are saving your pennies by getting your television over the air. My apologies.

I know this is a bit of a stretch to ask, but! Is this new switch to digital going to allow our cable companies to increase our basic subscription fees? They say nothing will change, but that little voice in my bank account says get ready.

What about the people who are paying extra over and above regular cable for digital now? Will they get a reduction and get to turn in their set-top boxes? Maybe the cable company will tell you because they are not telling their subscribers, yet!

I share your suspicions. That said, however, I heard the first radio advertisement for all-digital satellite service this week! How's that for timing?

It occurs to me that next February, after the change happens, everything will be digital. So the various cable/satellite companies will have to duke it out over something besides having all the standard channels plus a bunch of digital channels. They'll all be digital.

They won't be able to replace all the cable boxes all at once, of course, but it wouldn't surprise me to see them offering a special deal if you will allow them to swap 'em out — sort of how cell phone companies give you a break on new handsets if you will sign a new 2-year agreement.

Thinking Outside the Router Box

Q: I am using a Sprint Novatel USB 720 cellular broadband modem card as my Internet connection (no cable, no DSL, etc.). I can network my two desktops with a crossover cable with no problems. The client(Win XP) can see the Internet with a gateway connection. The server is running Vista.

I cannot get the network to connect to the Internet using a Linksys wireless router. If I plug in a Linksys USB wireless connection, both computers can see each other but there's no Internet connection on the client.

I have talked to Sprint's advanced tech support and was told that there is no way to network two computers with this modem. They suggest using a CradlePoint router for my modem and to create a WiFi network, at a cost of over $100.

I talked to Linksys and they said it cannot be done. They are going to have a new router that will allow me to plug in my USB modem.

Both told me that the computers cannot be networked, even hardwired with a crossover cable. This I proved them wrong.

Any suggestions on how to work around this?

A: Let's go back to my simplistic definition of a router: It's a device that allows two (or more) computers to share the same Internet connection.

Most home routers have a single WAN connection (Wide Area Network) and four or more LAN connections (Local Area Network).

Your DSL or cable modem is hooked to the WAN side, the computers (both wired and wireless) hook to the LAN side, and the router becomes a gateway between both networks.

Basically, the gateway is the network device that knows where the Internet is.

If you try to log onto FoxNews.com, for example, your network first realizes that that isn't on the LAN, then goes to the gateway and says, "Since you know where the Internet is, you handle this request."

Your Linksys wireless router is set up to be a gateway and doesn't really know how to do anything differently.

Without the Linksys, your two computers were connected via the crossover cable, and the Vista box the connected to the Internet via the Novatel modem card.

Hence, your computer was functioning as a router/gateway. The Novatel card provided the WAN connection and the crossover cable provided the LAN connection.

But when you plugged both systems into the Linksys router, it decided that it was the gateway, and said so to both computers. It seized control of the network, so to speak.

So even though your Vista box had a perfectly good connection to the Internet, the XP box was told to send all WAN requests to the Linksys router — which, of course, wasn't connected to anything on the WAN side.

Traffic was being routed down a one-way street with no exit.

The solution? Sorry, but you need to replace the Linksys with a model that will accept your Novatel cellular-broadband card — the CradlePoint MBR1000, PHS300 or CTR350, or the Kyocera (D-Link) KR2. A quick search shows those models retailing for between $140 and $200.

You might be able to find someone who could change the addressing scheme and make the whole thing work — no guarantees — but it would probably cost much more than buying the new box.

Guy R. Briggs is a member of the Nerds On Site international IT service team and is based in Los Angeles.

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