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.
Canons to the Left of Me, Canons to the Right
Q: I just bought a Canon HF200 high-definition flash-memory camcorder. It's nice and has lots of features, but no one at Best Buy or on the Canon Web site tells you that your videos DO NOT PLAY on Windows Media Player. It's a pain in the neck to click on the proprietary Pixela software.
If I go to a friend's house and download video to his computer, I have to bring the Pixela software discs included in the purchase. What other software can I use with this camcorder for video editing or playing a video while traveling?
A: Actually, you can play videos from your camera in Windows Media Player. You will, however, need to add a small piece of software called a codec.
By way of analogy, you can use your electric razor when you travel to Europe, but you might need an adapter to plug it in.
Codec is a portmanteau of "coder-decoder." It's basically a program (or driver, if you will) that adds support for a certain audio/video format within your operating system.
It is able to recognize the format it is designed for and allow you to play — that is, decode — that specific format.
With the right codec, Windows Media Player will handle your videos just fine.
It also works in reverse. It can take audio or video in a different format and save — that is, encode — it in the specific format.
The Canon HF200 is an MPEG4-AVC/H.264 system. A standard Windows installation includes a gaggle of the most commonly used codecs, but the high-definition codec used by Canon is not among them. You have to download and install it separately.
For simple playback, when you "go to a friend's house and download video to his computer," it's hard to beat VLC's VideoLAN Player. You can download a copy here.
To empower Windows Media Player, I recommend the K-Lite Codecs Pack. You can find a link for download and installation here which also has a link for manual installation of just the codec you need for H.264 playback, rather than the entire codec pack.
Both of the above will fit onto a small USB memory stick that you can throw into your camera bag.
You might also want to take a look at CoreAVC, which is said to be the most efficient codec currently available. Instructions can be found here.
For full-featured editing of your videos, take a look at Nero 7 Premium Package or Power DVD Deluxe.
Jack the DVD Ripper
Q: I have the 180 MB Zune, and I paid for and downloaded a copy of DVDxSoft to my computer for converting DVD's to Windows Media Files for transferring to my Zune. However, I have had nothing but problems with the software, and the tech support is pretty much incommunicado. Can you recommend something that will work on Windows Vista?
A: The staff over at Cnet liked AoA DVD Ripper SE 5.1.9. They gave it 4 out of 5 stars and noted that "customer service has been quick and responsive in the past," which might make it an ideal choice for you.
AoA has a free "10-minute ripping trial" which, if I'm not mistaken, means it's "hobble-ware"; the files you create are limited to 10 minutes of video each.
List price, should you decide to buy, is $34.95.
You can read the review and download the software here.
Yet Another Internet Explorer Problem
Q: I've experienced a problem with Internet Explorer 8 that could perhaps be related to the issue you covered in your May 27 installment, but sounds different enough to warrant checking.
Almost inevitably, every time I start up IE 8 on my XP system after logging on or powering up, IE 8 locks up before even loading my home page, which is the Google main page. When I shut it down with a hard X-close, I can open it up fine the second try. I contacted Microsoft with my problem, but they gave me no useful information.
My wife also runs IE 8 on her Vista system and doesn't seem to have any problems (same home network, same amount of RAM). Once I've got IE 8 running, I can shut it down normally and bring it back up normally. My problem with it hanging seems to be related only to the first time starting it after a reboot or after switching users. Any ideas?
A: In the May 27 installment, I noted that Windows is particularly dismal in handling network requests, and I'm wondering if the problem lies in logging on or powering up.
If you are loading Internet Explorer and making that first home-page request while your computer is still trying to re-establish its Internet connection, you could experience the "hang" you are describing.
As a quick check, instead of loading Internet Explorer the way you normally do, click on Start —> Run and enter "iexplore about:blank" into the dialog box. Click on OK.
If Internet Explorer loads just fine — even though it won't display any content — the problem probably has more to do with content or network issues than it does with the program itself.
Another problem which might exhibit similar symptoms has to do with anti-virus/anti-spyware software.
Some of those applications are notorious pigs when you first start up or log in, and Internet Explorer might be hanging due to nothing more than CPU-cycle starvation.
If you are convinced that neither of the above is the issue, follow the troubleshooting steps in the Microsoft Knowledge Base article here [http://support.microsoft.com/kb/926449].
Basically, those steps are:
1) Load Internet Explorer with a blank page, as described above.
2) Empty the cache and try it again.
3) Start Internet Explorer in "No Add-ons" mode.
4) Use another name to log on to Windows.
5) Reset Internet Explorer options.
If one of the above steps corrects the problem, you've also found the cause and, if need be, can take steps to correct it.
In your case, the problem will be lengthier because you should log in or start up before each step to recreate the conditions exactly.
Regarding the recent question about fiber-optic service, Steve L. writes:
In regards to your response to this question, any company can claim that they use fiber for higher speeds. However, the moment that fiber hits copper, the speed decreases.
Erm ... yes. That was rather the point of my response.
The purist might say that it's not a real fiber-optic network unless the fiber extends all the way to a fiber-optic network interface card in each computer. But how practical is that?
Color me pragmatic, but let's say you're a leading telecommunications provider, rolling out fiber-optic service in the 28 states where you already provide wire-line service.
How many subscriptions will you sell if each new subscriber has to rewire his entire home with fiber in order to use your service? Not so many.
On the other hand, suppose you end the fiber at the point where each subscriber's existing service enters the building.
Then all you have to do is connect the fiber's phone signal to the phone wiring, TV signal to TV cables, data signal to a wireless router. You're done, and without extensive wiring.
If you use standard network cable (called Category 5 cable or "Cat-5" for short) to bring the data to the home router, you can get 100 million bits per second (100 Mbps) out of it.
Even if you pay extra to the ISP for 20-over-5 service (that is, 20 Mbps download capability and 5 Mbps upload capability) you're still only using 20 percent of the capacity of that cable.
Compare that to 1.4 Mbps that DSL service will give you — on a good day.
So if the goal is to get a fast and reliable fiber to as many people as possible, fiber to the premises (FTTP) is a great answer.
The Final State of the DTV Conversion Report
Three days left, zero questions for weeks. I guess we're ready!
Got questions about computers and technology? Send them to TechQuestions@foxnews.com and we'll answer selected ones in our next installment.
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