Judging by the number of entries in the old inbox this week, it appears we weren't as ready for the DTV conversion as I opined two weeks ago.
To quote Captain Renault (Claude Rains) in "Casablanca," I am shocked, simply shocked!
There were also a couple of iPhone questions and an issue with the Windows 7 product key. Keep reading — you'll find them after the DTV questions.
You Can Tune a Piano, But You Can't Tune a Fish
Q: When I play my TV using my analog/digital converter box, my VCR will not record anything when set. Is there anything I can do to continue to record TV programs like FOX News after the switch to digital using my current VCR?
A: Sure! Program the VCR to tune to channel 3 and begin recording at the time the program is scheduled to start. Then you set your converter box to whatever channel broadcasts FOX News in your area.
If there are more than a couple of hours before the program starts, consult the user's manual — there may be a power-saver feature which turns the converter box off. You would have to defeat that feature.
The concept here is the idea of a tuner. All TVs have them, most VCRs have them.
Until June 12, your antenna was receiving all of the analog channels in your area. All of them were available on the cable — whatever it may have been — between your antenna and your TV.
You used the TV’s tuner (or channel selector, if you prefer), to pick the channel you wanted to see.
The addition of the VCR complicated things slightly, but the same concept applied.
When the VCR was powered down, the analog channels were simply passed through to the TV tuner and everything worked as if the VCR wasn't there. When the VCR was powered on and playing a tape, the video was passed to the TV on channel 3 — or channel 4 if the little switch on the back was set differently than most.
When the VCR was recording a program, the tuner on the VCR picked the channel — simultaneously recording it on tape and passing it to the TV on channel 3
A week ago last Friday, both tuners became obsolete. The TV tuner and the VCR tuner are both analog and all that's being broadcast now is digital.
That's why you need the converter box. It now performs all of the channel-selection duties, and passes the selected channel to the TV, through the VCR, both set to channel 3.
For the rest of their lives, neither the TV nor the VCR will be set to anything except channel 3.
And yes, this means that anything else with an analog TV tuner — whether it be regular TV set, VCR, portable TV, emergency TV, portable radio with TV audio capability, or the TV in your car — is now obsolete.
Q: I am an electronically competent individual. I set up my own home stereo, TV, computer, etc., and I have set up my new analog-to-digital converter box system. I have checked and re-checked the connections several times, and I have re-scanned for digital channels several times, but I am getting absolutely no signal. We live in Central New Jersey between Philadelphia and New York, where the government Web site tells us we are supposed to be receiving up to 35 channels, and we have NONE.
The antenna we use is an active antenna (an antenna 'with amplification', as defined by the government's DTV Web site), and have received a few analog stations in the past.
How can it be that with the new system, we are receiving fewer channels than before?
Are you receiving other complaints from people in the N.J., N.Y. or Philadelphia area with this problem?
A: There's a complaint from New Philadelphia below. But that's in Ohio, not Pennsylvania.
Check the coverage map for channels you should be receiving.
With the converter box tuned to each of those channels, and the TV set to channel 3 (see the discussion on tuners, above,) adjust the position of the antenna. See if you can find just the right position for maximum reception.
Q: On Thursday I was able to receive Channels 3, 5, 8 and 19 with my antenna and analog television. Since hooking up a converter box, I am unable to receive digital signals for any of these stations.
The digital signal is too weak to reach my area in central Tuscarawas County. I cannot get any of the major networks and I'm only a few miles south of New Philadelphia, Ohio.
Why aren't people being told that they may not be able to watch stations they've viewed for 50 years?
A: If it was your project, and your career on was the line, would you be telling people it was going to turn out badly?
Sorry to sound cynical. I think that one of the factors in this whole conversion was the assumption that if current coverage could be replicated, things would be all right.
In other words, the analog system allowed for signal degradation for 10 percent of the time in 50 percent of the households. It was assumed that this would still be acceptable for digital TV.
The difference, however, is that when analog TV is "degraded," it gets a little snowy, but you can still see a picture. You don't lose reception.
With a digital TV, pixelization occurs, audio is lost and the programming becomes unwatchable.
In a paper by Oded Bendov, we read:
Broadcast engineers are aware of the reality, but their leaders are in denial. Bloomberg [News] quotes D. Donovan, the president of MSTV as having said “You should be able to receive the same number of digital signals that you receive in analog.” And TVNewsday quotes K. Martin, the chairman of the FCC, as having said “…we believe that the transition in Wilmington is going smoothly…” In Wilmington [N.C.], a 125th market, approximately 10 percent of OTA [over-the-air] households called to complain. Is that what we want in NYC?
I checked the coverage map for your area in central Ohio.
The bad news is that only one channel is available in your area — and it is only marginal.
To worsen the problem, the coverage map assumes an antenna height of 30 feet.
It might be time to call your cable or satellite provider. Sorry about that.
And come the next election, it might be time to vote some of the turkeys who approved this mess out of office.
iPhone: The Great White Hype?
Q: I bought an iPhone for my husband for Christmas. It was a surprise. [A] complete surprise — because his calls are now constantly getting dropped with AT&T.
Will Apple's new iPhone 3.0 software reduce all these dropped calls? We're about to give up on the phone if a solution is [not] presented shortly.
A: Erm, no. The software update will not address the dropped-call problem, but it will give you some additional capabilities.
There has been much virtual ink spilled on this issue. To determine the most appropriate course of action, you need to do some troubleshooting to discover the root cause.
The problem could be (1) your specific, individual wireless device, (2) the network coverage in your area or (3) a generic problem with the iPhone.
Some iPhone owners have solved the problem by convincing Apple that the issue was the individual device, and getting a replacement that worked much better.
These phones obviously had some sort of defect — either a production flaw of some sort, or damage inflicted after it was purchased.
In other words, they probably dropped it one too many times, and a replacement unit solved the problem.
Other users reported a network coverage problem, which might be the easiest to diagnose.
Go to the AT&T coverage map and scroll down to the "Voice Coverage Legend." Check the "Show 3G Coverage" option and the map will redisplay.
You may notice that the area where many of your calls drop is on the edge of the blue (3G) coverage area. This means that you have a challenge with calls staying connected irrespective of the wireless device, because you’re on the edge (no pun intended) of the coverage area.
You would probably have the same problem even if you switched from iPhone to some other 3G device.
You may have seen the ads for one of AT&T's competitors, emphasizing "3G Dead Zones." This is exactly what they're talking about.
You may notice that the area where many of your calls drop is in a yellow area. There is a known issue with 3G devices (not just the iPhone) if you are mobile and move from a 3G area (blue on the coverage map) to a non-3G area (yellow on the map).
The non-3G tower refuses to accept the incoming 3G call, even if signal strength is good. The call drops.
The work-around for this issue is to turn off 3G in the iPhone, and only turn it back on when you are stationary and need to access the data network.
I understand that this was probably not what you had in mind when you purchased the iPhone, but it has solved the dropped-call issue for some iPhone owners.
Besides, you are not texting or surfing the Web while you drive, right?
Finally, find somebody else with an iPhone and compare signal strength in the same place.
If they are significantly different, it's probably an individual-device issue.
Try to also find somebody with a non-iPhone-3G-AT&T phone and compare signal strength.
If significantly different, it's probably a generic issue to the iPhone in your area.
Q: Will the new iPhone allow the user to download and purchase TV shows or movies directly from the phone?
The current I phone does not give the user the option of being able to download anything except singles and complete albums (I think).
A: The answer is yes, kinda. You can download TV shows and other video directly to the iPhone — as long as it's connected to a WiFi network.
Otherwise, you have to do it the old-fashioned way — order the content from the iTunes application on your computer and then sync the iPhone.
The Key to Wisdom Is Knowing All the Right Questions
Q: I installed Windows 7 RC [release candidate] two weeks ago. It is working great, but now all of a sudden it is asking me to activate it with a key.
Did I screw up and get a key with the download link and not write it down? How and where do I get a key to activate it?
I think the installation routine said Windows 7 only works for 30 days without activation. I would hate to have to re-install after all my apps have been loaded and the system has been set up the way I want.
A: Yes, you need the Product Key. Yes, it will expire next year on June 1, 2010. No, you didn’t screw up.
You can get a key from Microsoft, and they aren't limiting the number of them that they issue.
Here's the link: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/download.aspx
Near the bottom of that page, you'll see this paragraph:
"Just need a Product Key? It's easy to get. If you've already downloaded the RC or have an installation disc, start the download process above by selecting your version and language. You'll be asked to enter your Windows Live ID, and to answer a few registration questions. Then you'll see the product key you can use to activate the RC, and you won't need to go through the download process again."
By the way, when you get the product activated, it would be an excellent time, with all of your apps loaded and the system set up just the way you want, to make a complete backup of your system.
If something goes tragically wrong with Windows 7 and the only recovery is to re-install, it will save you some time.
Every test pilot I know wears a parachute.
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