Walt Mossberg

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Mossberg’s Mailbox

Going Digital but Keeping the VCR

Here are a few questions I’ve received recently from people like you, and my answers. I have edited and restated the questions a bit, for readability.

If I have an analog TV and get a government-subsidized converter box, will I still be able to use my VCR after the 2009 switchover to digital over-the-air broadcasts?

According to government and industry statements, a VCR will still work, but it will have to be connected to the output jack on the converter box to receive the programming it records, because its internal TV tuner will no longer work. Also, the quality of the taped program will be limited to the quality available in the older VCR, and won’t necessarily match the crisper quality of the new digital broadcasts when viewed live.

Recently, you recommended a program that tells people what programs start up when they boot up a PC. I have installed it. But how do I know which programs should be retained? There are a lot there, but I have no way to know which I can eliminate and which I should retain.

This is one of the maddening issues nontechnical folks face with PCs. Even when you know what invisible background tasks might be slowing down your computer, you lack the knowledge to decide which to kill or spare, because their names don’t necessarily tell you their functions.

One way to tell is to look them up on the Web. A Web site I have found useful for such research is called AnswersThatWork, at answersthatwork.com. Click on the icon labeled “task list,” and you will find a directory in which you can look up such programs. The site tells you what they do and recommends whether to delete or keep them.

Can you suggest a hardware box that can be attached to my TV that will keep all stations and commercials at the same level of volume? I’m going nuts having to keep my finger on the volume control of my remote.

A quick Web search turned up a couple of boxes that claim to do just that. These boxes connect between the TV set and a cable or satellite receiver.

One, a $30 device called the “TV Volume Regulator,” is sold by a Web site called Smarthome and is at: www.smarthome.com/7848T.html. The second, a $70 box called the “Automatic TV Sound Regulator,” is for sale at a Web site called firstStreet. Its Web address is: www.firststreetonline.com/product.jsp?id=55851.

There may be other, similar products out there. But I can’t recommend any of them, including the two listed here, because I haven’t tested any.

You can find Mossberg’s Mailbox, and my other columns, online free of charge at the new All Things Digital Web site, http://walt.allthingsd.com.

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