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Consumer Tech for Spring

Consumer Tech for Spring

Spring Madness Hits Service Providers

Consumers feel pain in fees, installs, premium packages as AT@T, DirecTV, Comcast make Cablevision and others look good.

(Special bonus section: The Top Spring Questions and Answers)

 (By Richard Sherwin, Robert Plunkett, Rich Macias, Amy Eller, Ted Mayo, Jennifer Auspitz, Ayesha , Sampson Arlene Rosenberg and Susan Davis).

 Q: From your research, which would you say was the worst Cable, phone and Internet service provider? I just moved to Florida where I was stuck with AT&T’s triple play, then switched to DirecTV and now Comcast and they all seem to be bad. I pay extra for HD, DVRs and even have to pay for the Modem Router. Help!

A: Here’s one case where there’s really no really good service provider in South Florida. DFA rented in South Florida and OMG! We thought we would never ever say or think this, but we miss arguing with Cablevision, the Long Island based service provider over their antiquated service and missing cable channels. We even miss haggling with Frontier Cable over their slow speed Internet service in New England and even look back fondly at nationwide Verizon’s FIOS ever- changing monthly bills. But after a long review and several calls to Comcast’s north American headquarters (always ask for a north American customer service agent), their Triple Play (only in Florida) slightly beats AT&T, DirecTV and some start-up service providers by $10 a month and their new Infinity set top box is certainly easier to use than AT&T, DirecTV or a combination of both. You’ll still pay for HD, but you can use your own modem-router (save about $10 a room per month.

Q: What exactly is Kodi and is it legal for me to install it?

A: Kodi (formerly XBMC), is a media center software that allows you to stream videos, install legal applications, check the weather, play royalty free music, internet radio, share photos and much more. So yes, Kodi is legal to use and does not perform any illegal activities out of the box.  However, the average user will likely seek add-ons (applications) that do infringe on copyright holders’ intellectual property.  With a little work Kodi may be used to view movies still in theaters and virtually any TV show or movie available online.  You may also setup live TV stations, pay per view channels, Karaoke and more. All of which Kodi was not meant for, and the user has not paid for, making these acts illegal.



Q: If I use Kodi illegally could I get in trouble?

A: As Kodi enabled devices become more popular it is only a matter of time before something is done to stop users. Amazon’s Fire TV and stick, is currently the preferred hardware which makes it easy to use Kodi on a TV, is already under challenge by some legal entities as vendors are selling homemade boxes  for as much as $200.  Just like any other form of piracy, you take the risk of being caught and Kodi is not going to stop the authorities from seeking justice. So the answer is yes, if you are caught using this device you take the risk of being penalized for using it.

Q: I have tons of old electronics should I just throw them out?

A: This is a great question since most people will simply discard any old piece of tech But did you know that you may be able to make some extra cash off that tech? Also be aware that throwing away these products require some extra care as certain kinds of batteries and other parts may be harmful to the environment.  If you already know that your hardware isn’t sellable on auction venues, try out a recycling center. Many local recyclers offer gift cards for old phones, laptops, tablets and more.  Another great option is to check out Amazon recycling and see if your items qualify for an Amazon gift card. Nearly all the mobile phone service providers also offer trade-ins on almost any mobile phone.


Q: Is having multiple monitors useful? How do I connect more than one monitor to my computer?

A: Dual monitor setups are becoming more common place since it has a significant positive impact on workflow for virtually anyone including students and businesses.  Connecting a second monitor will depend on the type of computer. Most laptops allow a user to connect a second display. First, check to see if the laptop has a VGA, DVI display port or HDMI port. If it has none of those, you may want to consider a USB to VGA adapter. As for desktops, most new desktops support a second monitor with either a display or HDMI port. Just look at the back of the unit and see if either ports are built in… if not, you may want a USB to VGA adapter or video card if you have a desktop PC. To install a video card you will have to be comfortable opening your computer’s side panel to see what type of expansion slots you have. You may want to take a picture of it and show it to an electronics vendor who can recommend the appropriate card. Once it is physically installed, along with the software, check your display properties on your PC and extended monitors.


Q: Recently I’ve noticed that my doctor’s office has computers everywhere why is that?

A: Well, that is because the Federal government mandated the Digital Medical Record Incentive for healthcare record keeping. Medical offices had to adopt an EHR (Electronic Health Record) by 2015 or be penalized. This means that your medical records will no longer exist in paper charts and the data will be more dynamic, user friendly, legible and more readily available to your provider.  Prescriptions will also be able to be sent electronically unless they are controlled substances like opioids, which may only be done by participating doctors.

Q: DFA touted the Logitech Squeezebox as an alternative way to get 1000s of free Internet radio stations, local stations and other features.  But after all these years, my Logitech Squeezebox is starting to break down,  and Logitech says it doesn’t sell this model in the U.S. any more. Do you have any replacement suggestions?

A: Fortunately, Grace Digital is selling a similar, maybe better, version of the Squeezebox called the Mondo Internet Radio and Wi-Fi Music Player. The Mondo Internet Radio and Wi-Fi Music player uses an internal wireless connection to access over 50,000 internet radio stations including SiriusXM, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and more.  At the same time, it seamlessly connects with your Mac or PC, allowing you to stream your digital music through the crystal clear, surprisingly loud internal speaker system.  The unit has great sound considering the small size of the hardware. Featuring a 3.5″ LCD display with high-impact color and impressive resolution, Mondo allows effortless navigation through its icon-based menu system while also displaying vivid station and album art while you’re listening to your favorite tunes.  Mondo also includes seven adjustable alarms and a programmable snooze bar so you can wake up to your favorite tunes every morning.


Q: My new Roku 4 is delivering what DFA promised to be the best set top Internet TV box I ever had with more channels than I’ll ever use, but one thing is not working right: the media port does NOT seem to handle some of my home digital photos and videos and definitely doesn’t play some of my legally purchased videos. Is there a fix for this?

A: According to Roku, the videos work best when the file is in MKV format and the digital pictures show up in high res when using regular Jpeg. Playing your own digital music on Roku will require those files to be made in WMV format.  Some of our readers and viewers have been using a free PC or Mac download called Format Factory, which will convert your audio, video and picture files into the required formats.

Here’s a link to the support page that has additional detail on supported files for Roku.

Q: I am a loyal Sharp TV and audio products buyer. I recently saw that the company was split up with the Sharp name being sold to Hisense and other parts of the company either being sold or going out of business. Do you have any more details? I still see some 2015-16 models available at Costco, BJS and other national stores. Will my existing warrantees for Sharp TVs and audio products still be valid?

A: Don’t worry. The company has agreed to honor your current  warrantees for at least five years and, while there are steep discounts on the remaining Sharp products in stores, those too will carry a traditional warrantee for parts and labor.

Hisense, the Chinese company that purchased the former venerable Japanese powerhouse, already makes some low to mid-end TVs available at Walmart, Kmart, and Target and has hired some of the top execs that Sharp employed. With the factories and technologies associated with the sale, Hisense will now expand their own line of TVs, with more sophisticated models later this year. Hisense also acquired the Sharp Aquos higher end -brand, as well as the Quattron name for the technology it uses at that level.  Those models include an extra aggregate of pixels. If you still want a Sharp made Sharp TV, then shop now as those models will disappear forever very soon.


Q: My family has a lot of different mobile phones. Until recently, the Android side could use each other’s AC adapters and chargers and the younger IPhone contingent shared their accessories, too. Recently we upgraded our LG mobile phones and Samsung Galaxies, but now, even though they have the same universal micro USB slot, they don’t charge as well or at all and the sharing of charging and other accessories has stopped.

A: Sad but true. The major mobile phone makers and service providers are going back to a slightly proprietary charging apparatuses.  There are so many cheap chargers and USB accessories around for Android, it cuts into the profits of the original manufactures or service providers. DFA is testing several 3d party accessory makers’ products to see whether these work with the new phones. But for the time being, use the chargers and accessories that came with the new phones. As far as the IPhones, Apple is notoriously careful about licensing third party accessories so look for the Apple License on anything that you don’t buy at an Apple store.


Q: Has Nikon completely surpassed Canon in the “prosumer” level of digital cameras? I was pushed by a friend to consider the new Nikon or Sony digital cameras, but I’ve always had Canon. Does Canon have anything new that competes?

A: Canon may have diminished some of its award winning advertising but it hasn’t diminished its top rated group of digital cameras. In fact, two of the best in class cameras were just released to terrific reviews.

Both advanced amateur and pro photographers looking for a convenient, high performance compact camera with the ability to connect to compatible digital devices should check out the PowerShot G7 X Mark II1 and lightweight PowerShot SX720 HS, which can compete with any of the new Nikons and Sony’s.

The PowerShot G7 X Mark II pairs a 1.0-inch, 20.1 Megapixel* CMOS sensor with Canon’s new DIGIC 7 Image Processor to help reduce noise and deliver outstanding image quality, even in low light shooting situations. The PowerShot SX720HS boasts a new 40x Optical Zoom lens (which is equivalent to 24-960mm), providing outstanding performance, reach and resolution for everyday use and when shooting memorable family events, while easily slipping into a pocket or purse.

Q: DFA once touted Oovoo as a viable alternative to Skype, Facetime and Google Hangouts for free video and audio calls. You said DFA uses Oovoo because you can have as many as six people share the call and most importantly if you want to record the audio or video portion, there was no extra charge. Lately I am thinking of dropping Oovoo because it has too many advertisements…sometimes the ads appear in the middle of our video chat. Is there anything I can do about that?


A: Yes! You can disable the advertisements that might appear during your calls by hitting the X by the ad. But Oovoo is still the only consumer based video chat program that allows recording of audio and video and keeps these features free by selling ads. Skype has some professional recording capabilities, but requires costly third party software.


Q: I am just starting out practicing recording interviews for my high school radio station and newspaper. I see other reporters using what seems like very professional headphones and mics that they say cost from $125 to $300. Do I have to spend that much?


A: No! Kensington, the computer accessory maker, produces an under $25 hi-fi headset mic combo unit that’s designed for the transition to computer-based learning and testing, but the quality is so good that here at DFA we use the Kensington headphones (with built in mic) as they provide high-quality sound along with a built-in professional gauge microphone for verbal responses and they are a fifth of the price of many pro headphones. They are as comfortable as the $300 models we sometimes use. The Kensingtons deliver deep bass and a wide dynamic range. They have an adjustable, padded headband and plush, sealed ear pads that fit a wide variety of ages and are extremely comfortable to wear. The Kensingtons headset is also incredibly durable, with a robust 9-foot cord and a gold-plated audio jack. If you are on a budget the company also makes noise cancelling headphones for high quality listening pleasure for $39.


Q: I am an ardent news watcher and also try my hand at reporting for my local public radio and TV station. Recently I saw the reporters on national TV….especially during breaking news, use their mobile phones and or small tablets to record their interviews. What kind of special apparatus did they use to do such professional broadcasting without a whole production team?


A:  These days, when securing an interview on the fly, particularly during a live event, many journalists opt for the convenience of recording interviews on their mobile device. With a versatile mobile application your mobile phone is just as reliable as any recording device on the market.


There are a myriad of voice recording applications available on iOS and Android, though we recommend ALON’s Dictaphone which captures high quality sound (up to 48000 Hz/320kbps), even in a noisy environment.


Several key features make Dictaphone ideal for the serious and amateur  journalist:  The Dictaphone pauses automatically during incoming calls, allows you to organize your clips, and facilitates easy uploading to Dropbox, Sound Cloud, Google Drive, SkyDrive Box and FTP servers. With options to fast forward, rewind and adjust speed during playback mode, Dictaphone also simplifies the transcription process


You can also pair two mobile devices together for a streamlined phone interview. It is easy, reliable and eliminates paying for a third-party app. Most recording applications, including Dictaphone, are compatible with an external microphone. Podcasters may consider purchasing Blue Microphone’s Mikey Digital when capturing interviews for later broadcast.


Q: I am very happy with my nine year old PC with Windows 7. With all the nightmares my friends have experienced in upgrading to 8 and then 8.1 and then to Win 10, I’ve decided not to upgrade anything. However, recently in my auto upgrade setting on good old Win 7, said that Windows 10 was available and if I restart my PC, I will receive Windows 10 upgrade for free. I’ve been told that some of my older but still terrific programs and applications, including my 10 year old printer and other accessories, are not compatible and will not run under Win 10.  Help!


A: Windows 10, even when downloaded, won’t install without the user following specific prompts. While we have heard few complaints with the free Win 10 upgrade, we endorse your decision to stay with Win 7. To completely remove any existing chance of an accidental upgrade to Win 10, go into your Win 7 download folder and delete the install file for Win 10.


Q: I have the Bluetooth enabled Casio G Shock model 400 watch and despite its dependability, durability and downright cool looks, its almost impossible to program and my Bluetooth Android phone never quite connects to the watch making some of these features impossible to use. Any suggestions?


A: That particular model is really only intended to work Blue Tooth wise with a few IPhone models and we have found it doesn’t work at all with any of our LG, Motorola or even the supposedly compatible Samsung Galaxy model 3, 4 and 5. Both the web site customer support people and the marketing people tout the online help pages to program the watch via a mobile phone, but even the Apple and Android Tablet don’t seem to connect to our G Shock either. So just enjoy the great reliability of the watch itself and we will all wait for Casio to come up with mobile phone and tablet compatibility, the way the competitor Blue Tooth watches do.