Senator Clinton and Elder Women
This Week in Elder News: 12 January 2008

So Much Technology, So Little Time

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:

  1. Subscribe to cable, satellite or phone company television service
  2. Purchase a new set with a built-in digital tuner
  3. 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.

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.]


Digital conversion in the UK is already under way. Most areas can now receive digital and the switch off of analog starts this year. We are doing it in phases across the country though.

Good news for us - our conversion boxes for once are as cheap here than in the US - the last on I bought was around £20 (~$40)

Bad news (probably for all of us) - 90% is still c###

You've done it, again, Ronni. You've exposition of the facts is in a format that provides clarity. Thank you!

Truly an educated articulate consumer advocate you are! THANK YOU!

A grateful consumer;-)

Thanks for the info, Ronni. I saw the news stories about Warner switching to blue-ray. Those stories didn't give the time frame. My mother and I responded with some unprintable comments. We have a large collection of movies, none of which are blue-ray. We also have no intention of changing one out for the other. We are going to wait to see what happens. If the movie industry continues to produce the same crud they have in the last few years, we might not need to worry since there is and has been little we want to buy.

Thank you for the information, Ronni.

I had no idea how all of this digital business would work, but I will simply save your post from today and use it as a guide to my future Tv,DVD,VHS decisions.

You were so informative and understandable. It is a great help....

Sorry again, Ronni. The above was from me. Last time I forget to sign in. PROMISE!!!

I truly appreciate all the consumer info you can share. Often, since I work horrible hours, I miss information completely. We bought a big new Sony two years ago, and that one should be fine.

Then again, remember the sets where the dials only went to chanel 15, and when they boosted the number of chanels one had to buy a booster box. Here we are again with technology just ahead of us.

Heck!!! I still have my VCR hooked up and use it! And I just got a new TV last year and I don't know if it's digital or not. Sigh

We're getting digital foisted on us over here in the UK. Remind me again why I need this? The last time I checked I still had analog eyes. I am now referring to this as "The Great Digital Leap Forward". I don't like stuff that comes from digital technology. You can still "see the joins" - the big blocks of colour and when there are subtle changes is all rubbish. You can SEE the flaws in the digital technology whether or not you have the fancy high definition plasma screen set. I wish they'd just rest a while with all of this.

Built in obsolescence is the way companies force us to replace everything after a few years. I will buy the converter box and use it until my TV fails.

Newer is not always better. I always wait a year before purchasing a so-called improved version so that the flaws that are sure to be there are found and fixed.

Actually, not having researched this I should keep my keyboard to myself; but, I believe that the digital signals will have a much narrower bandwidth than analogue signals have. Bottom line: more signals can be sent out over the same amount of frequency spectrum. I'm thinking that the government intends to sell rights to the freed-up bandwidth.

What do you look for to tell which kind of DVD player you have?
Also, read in the paper today that the coupons expire after 3 months. Don't buy and put away and forget, something I'm prone to do with coupons.

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