In the interests of keeping us on top of technology news-we-can-use, here are three developments that will affect you now and in the coming months. They fall into the categories of good, not-so-good and oh-no-not-again.
GOOD: Do Not Call Registry
Five years ago, the Federal Trade Commission did a smart thing for the beleaguered consumers of the United States. It created the Do Not Call Registry where phone numbers can be listed to opt out of telemarketing calls (the original spam). It actually works because the dollar penalties marketers pay for calling people on the list are extraordinarily high.
Needless to say, not being interrupted throughout dinner with sales pitches is extremely popular.
When the service began, registered numbers were set to expire in five years, meaning they would need to be renewed this year. But now, both houses of Congress have passed bills to extend the service indefinitely without renewal and all it needs is the president’s signature before the original legislation expires on 1 October. Since President Bush signed the original bill, it's unlikely he'll veto this one.
If you haven’t registered your phone numbers (up to three), you can do so here. It will be a great relief to you in fewer telemarketing calls because the only exceptions are charities, surveys, political organizations and companies with which you have an existing business relationship. I've been on the list from day one and it works. Now if they would only create a registry for email spam.
MAYBE GOOD: Digital TV Mandate
On 17 February 2009, all television broadcasters will make the switch, mandated by Congress, from transmitting analog signals to digital (DTV) transmission. Yes, you read that correctly. It says 2009 and the reason I’m telling you this far in advance is that unless you have recently bought a digital set or don't care about television, it will probably cost you money.
DTV is said to be an “innovative” new technology that matches the picture quality of film in your home even if you don’t own a high-definition (HD) television. It will also significantly improve closed captioning.
This affects the 15 million U.S. households that receive over-the-air signals via antennas, along with the additional 55 million who have secondary bedroom or kitchen sets that are not ready for DTV.
There are three choices for upgrading:
- Subscribe to cable, satellite or phone company television service
- Purchase a new set with a built-in digital tuner
- Purchase a converter box to convert your set(s) to digital
Option No. 1 costs whatever is the going rate in your area of the country. Cable is almost always a monopoly with no second choice which is often true for satellite and telephone companies too, so there is little chance for reasonable price.
Option No. 2 costs from a couple of hundred dollars to thousands of dollars, depending the size and type of television screen you want.
Option No. 3. converter boxes are available now in electronics stores such as Best Buy, Circuit City, etc. at a cost of between $40 and $70, reports the DTV Answers website which is owned by the National Association of Broadcasters. According to that site,
“Between Jan. 1, 2008, and March 31, 2009, all U.S. households will be eligible to request up to two coupons, worth $40 each, to be used toward the purchase of up to two, digital-to-analog converter boxes. For more information about the converter box coupon program, call 1-888-DTV-2009 or visit The National Telecommunications and Information Association website.”
Your current DVD and VCR players and camcorders will work with a digital television set. The DTV Answers website also explains how to figure out if your current television set is analog or digital.
For my needs, which are mostly news and DVDs, the analog signal is just fine, although I happen to own digital-ready sets and subscribe to cable. It's water under the bridge now, but I can’t help wondering how much of this congressionally mandated switch to digital was due to lobbying by television manufacturers to get people to buy new television sets. Whether or not, my friends who are movie buffs and sports fans are in digital heaven over the picture quality of the new TV sets.
OH NO, NOT AGAIN: DVD Formats
Remember the video wars 20-odd years ago between Beta and VHS and all those useless Beta tapes when VHS won? For the past couple of years, there has been an identical war for high-end DVD formats, between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray.
Last week, however, Warner Brothers announced it would release its films exclusively in Blu-Ray technology beginning in June, pushing Blu-Ray’s penetration in the DVD market to about 70 percent. Some technology reporters say it is unlikely that HD-DVD will survive now and will soon go the way of Beta. Others say, not so fast - the war is not yet over.
Here’s what that means to you. If you use an HD-DVD player, you will soon need a Blu-Ray player for many of the new movies you buy or rent. Currently, Blu-Ray players are more expensive than HD-DVD players and according to CNET, right now it’s cheaper to buy one of each than the dual players that are available.
The good news is that HD-DVD and Blu-Ray machines both play regular, non-HD discs - a relief to me. I don’t own many DVD movies, but there is a reason for the ones I have – I like to watch them a couple of times a year and I don’t want to buy them again. I already did that with music beginning, in my childhood, with 78s and moving on through 45s, 33s, 8-track, cassettes and CDs. All my music is now on my computer in MP3 format and I’ll be damned if I’ll replace it all again before I die.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Linda Davis tells the tale of her neighborhood changed forever, although not in her heart, in The Grandfather of the Street.]