Bob and Joy Schwabach

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July 2008, Week 1 




They call it “convergence” in the high-tech biz. It means that moment when the computer and the television set come together and live happily ever after.

Joy has been trying out a number of set-top boxes that promise to bring the computer to your TV, and even bring TV to the TV. Oddly enough, the one she likes best so far is also the oldest. It’s the Microsoft Web TV Web TVbox, now renamed “MSN TV 2,” and it’s been around for more than 10 years, the latest version for nearly five. You can still get it from for $200.

 This was the easiest box to use and had the clearest signal. Like all of them it has to be connected to the Internet through a high-speed link, but once it is, it’s fine. In fact, Joy thinks that for many people it would take the place of a computer. We used it to browse the Web, watch videos that are on the Web, and read newspapers and magazines. You can also watch slide shows, listen to music and even read and respond to your email, using a wireless keyboard that comes with the box. You can go to any Web site, but for videos, the best ones are on MSN TV, or on sites like YouTube. Websites that require Adobe Flash or other downloads may not come in properly.

 The other downside to this old box is that you can’t watch high definition TV or pause live TV. The high-def crowd might want to turn to the new D-Link box, the DSM-750 Media Center Extender. This costs $285 at discount prices. We’ve always had good results with D-Link equipment, except for this thing. Setup required endless technical support calls and if we switch away from it to use our DVD player and then try to switch back, it tells us it has lost contact with the Internet. We’ve sort of lost contact with it.

 Coming down the pike are still better boxes and the road to convergence is clear. Panasonic’s “Viera PZ850” box, scheduled to debut in July and integrates some Google features into its Web browsing. Other contenders include the “Sezmi,” “Netflix” box, “Apple TV,” and “Xbox Live Marketplace.” But the box getting the biggest buzz right now is the upcoming “ZV,” which can be pre-ordered at Amazon for $499. We’ll get to this when it actually comes out. It will be for high definition sets only.

Swimming With Cell Phones

 We got a waterproof phone from Casio. They call it “water resistant,” to stay on the safe side. But we tried it under water and it worked.

 The person at the other end of the call said we sounded like we were talking underwater. You just can’t fool some people. The really important thing to understand about this phone is that teenagers can now continue Casio Gz'Oneto talk to each other on their cell phones while diving for sponges or spear fishing. The speaker-phone function also works underwater, opening the possibility of group calls during synchronized swimming or water polo. There is undoubtedly a depth limit, but being in a swimming pool, we didn’t reach it.

You can get the oddly named G’zOne phone for $99 if you also buy a two-year contract from Verizon for $40 a month. That brings the true cost of the phone to more than $1,000. Amazon is offering the phone for nothing but you still have to sign up for the two-year contract. So their cost is just under $1,000. Alternatively, you can immediately break the contract, get billed by Amazon for $250 and choose any Verizon plan you want.

The G’zOne phone has some cool features (sorry about that). It’s exceptionally rugged and feels like it would be okay even if bitten by a giant clam in one of those old movies. A strong loop at the top provides easy attachment to a belt or line. The battery is rechargeable, and the manual is actually easy to follow.

On the downside the built-in camera takes terrible pictures. Snapshots and videos look like they were shot underwater, even when the phone wasn’t underwater. More info on this phone can be found at

The Numbers Report

According to a survey by the IGA-Nielsen rating service, 82 percent of consumers react positively to seeing ads in their video games. You know, you’re shooting monsters or meeting future dates and in the background there’s a billboard for some new car model. It’s sort of like the ads you see when watching sports events.

Cash Back

Riding the train recently we sat opposite a young woman who looked like she had just been released from a police holding cell after a particularly bad night, but then she pulled out her Blackberry and browsed the Web for a bit. She told us was a great place to get cash back on stuff you buy online. We went to the site and sure enough, not only can you get cash back on a large variety of purchases but there were also special discount deals available from well known stores and manufacturers. It just goes to show, you never know who you might meet on the train and what you might learn.


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