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J.R.'s Dirt Cheap TV, Internet, Telephone, and Killer Deals Page


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This page last updated on or about 10-16-05

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Keep in mind folks that things can change quickly in this realm, and I can't guarantee this page can keep up with them. Remember that my opinions below are based on everything I'm aware of at time of writing-- that's all. This page also assumes you have access to USA vendors and shipping channels, and is written from the perspective of a US citizen and resident.

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Some sources of TV, Internet, and telephone-related gear and accessories

It may be more difficult to find major vendors of a wide variety of used and refurbished consumer electronics devices, than typically more expensive PC wares (because smaller profit margins might make it prohibitively expensive for small businesses to handle). And yet, used gear and accessories in this category might save you significant money over new versions.

Enter online auctions, which may provide sufficient economies of scale to make such deals workable for both business and consumers at some point (if they're not already doing so). Note that since scale is likely important to this type of market, the biggest and most popular auction sites may be the best places to seek out (or offer) such deals. EBay is the best candidate I know of for this job, circa 2005.

Wal-Mart has made itself a vendor you can't ignore if you're looking for bargains in TV and telephone equipment, among other things. It surely doesn't hurt to compare Wal-mart deals with those from other sources, before you make a decision.

Just be careful not to bite off more than you can chew there. In the steaming summer of 2001 near the Mexican border of Texas I found myself in the predicament of having a new 27 inch TV in a Walmart parking lot I couldn't fit into my car to take home. Doh! as Homer Simpson might say. Too bad there was no one around with a video camera to catch the hilarious antics which followed (I was pretty much on my own 1000 miles from WebFLUX Central). I did manage to get the TV inside in a precarious manner-- after entirely removing it from its packaging-- and then drive home in a contorted position to accomodate the behemoth intruding into my driver's space (the car was something like a 1990 two door Chevrolet Cavalier). A couple years later a brother of mine made the same mistake in Tennessee, and in a drenching rainstorm. Lucky for him there was someone he could call with a mini-van (me) to come get the thing (but a 27 inch TV still in the box will barely fit in a mini-van either if you've only laid the back seat down to accomodate it). It may partly be my fault my brother repeated my error: for I'd never told anyone about it until it'd also happened to him.

Keep in mind there may be differences in what items are available in physical Wal-mart stores, and what's available from Wal-mart online. So sometimes you should check BOTH channels to make sure you've seen everything Wal-mart has to offer.

Dirt Cheap TVs, Telephone, Internet Contents

The best deals in telephone service

Switch long distance companies? Jury rig telephone service over the internet? Drop the landlines and go all mobile/cellular? Give up all phone service but the free use of any old cell phone for 911 emergency calls? These are some of the choices as of early 2005.

Dropping your old style wired telephone for a mobile offers some advantages, such as fewer telemarketer calls and portable telephone access; extra services like internet access and instant messaging; and sometimes it might save money too.

According to one source 5% of cell phone users in America had went entirely wireless by 2001, and 33% considered it a feasible alternative.

Land-line users paid an average phone bill of $55 for the service. Cell phone users paid on average $45 a month.

However, since cell phones are billed both for outgoing and incoming calls, families using cell phones for multiple members effectively get billed twice for the same call-- unlike the situation with land lines. Service reliability in the USA can be spotty at times (even circa 2005); a third of users frequently encountered dropped calls in 2001. The phones don't necessarily work everywhere in the USA (these nonfunctional areas are called 'dead zones'). There can be numerous contractual Gotchas! too with cell phones. Customer satisfaction with cell phone services stood at 53% in 2001 compared to 70% 5 years before.

-- Some cell-phone customers are giving up their land lines By NOEL C. PAUL; Nando Media/Christian Science Monitor; April 24, 2001

Around 2.2% of the US population had switched completely from land lines to wireless devices of one sort or another by 2001. [A higher estimate is given in the prior citation]

Note that having no land line may make it more difficult to fall back onto dialup internet access if the need arises.

-- More Cell-Phone Users Cut Ties to Traditional Service By Yuki Noguchi; December 27, 2001; Washington Post

-- Survey Landline service beats mobile

-- Rules for 911-only cell phones drafted

-- What to do when you lose your cell phone

There are many predictions that even land line telephone rates will go so low as to effectively become free at some point; recent history seems to support such a lowering of future rates. But we aren't there yet. Below are some links allowing consumers to shop around for the best rates and plans for their particular circumstances, available today:

Compare 10-10 long distance phone rates
UCAN's Mobile Phone Fact Checker and Buyer's Guide

-- Comparisons of telephone rates available at several Web sites by Chuck Myers Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, March 11, 2001

If you have internet access (especially broadband), you might be able to get even cheaper telephone rates (this is essentially the same technology some folks expect to make phone calls free for everyone someday). Keep in mind some geek activity might be necessary to use this stuff at this stage.


-- An Evolution Heard 'Round the World By ELIZABETH DOUGLASS, May 29, 2000, Los Angeles Times

Vonage was mentioned at VoIP for the Masses around 4-16-02 as being a decent telephone service over broadband internet for as little as $20 a month. 911 service may not work with it though. Cable modem users may get much more value out of it than DSL users. Some article feedback indicated a service like this is competing with good cell phone plans. Each service would have its own advantages and disadvantages. Note that a broadband phone would go dead in power outages, unlike a landline. ISP outages or home PC/network glitches could also kill your phone service here. Speak Freely is also mentioned in the feedback as a good alternative.

speakzero.com was listed as well.

Existing cable modem companies may be adding similar phone services to their offerings in years to come.

The Vonage service doesn't require a PC, and lets you plug in a standard phone. If you want to apply the service to more than one phone in your home, a PC and router and additional configuration is required. After set up, your phones act the same as they always did (except for an inability to use 911 service, etc. -- see above comments).

-- TIME.com: TIME Magazine -- On the Internet, Talk Is Cheap BY LEV GROSSMAN; April 15, 2002 Vol. 159 No. 15

Miscellaneous links relating to telephone savings:

Improvements in voice over IP have brought the technology under increased scrutiny from the big regional phone companies.
Phone Calling Over Internet Is Attracting More Interest
ZDNet Story How to save big bucks on your cell phone service
ZDNet When mobile phones are--and aren't--really mobile
Phone Scoop
Compare Cell Phone Prices, Free Cell Phones, Cell Phone plans, Research Cellular Phones, Cell Phone Accessories. Get the Best C
VoIP is a simple idea and simply works
Discount long distance telephone rates and telecommunications services
PriceGrabber Wireless - www.atpgw.com
Slashdot Finally PC-to-Phone Calling from Linux
Internet Telephone Software - Free Web PC Phone Calls!
TuxScreen VoIP phone running SIP
Slashdot Industry Standard VOIP Phone Using All Free Software

Dirt Cheap TVs, Telephone, Internet Contents

The best deals in internet and TV content access

Whew! This field is getting complicated! Buyer Beware! If you don't do your research in this subject you could end up blowing a huge wad of cash in various ways, as well as suffering enormous inconvenience

The bottomline circa early 2005 is that the absolutely very best deals in TV and internet access today are typically the old-fashioned outdoor antenna reception of local broadcast TV channels, occasional DVD rental, and the plodding speed of 56k dial up accounts. The broadcast TV is typically free, if low quality in reception and few in channels. Renting DVDs of recent films or even buying DVD sets of entire seasons of past TV series offers you a way to avoid most of the unbelievable amount of commercials now plaguing mainstream TV and film theater audiences in America-- as well as lets you watch the shows on your own schedule. The 56k net access can often be found for relatively low cost, but with the caveats of having to dial in, busy signals during high traffic hours, annoying online ads and/or limits on surf time, and other possible drawbacks. Plus, although plain surfing speed will usually be adequate, large downloads will be very slow. That's it in a nutshell.

There's various geeky ways both these can be improved upon, such as having two sets of phone lines and .v92 modems which can combine the lines to get something like 112 k throughput-- providing your ISP is accomodating. The TV antenna technology too can be optimized a bit better today than it could in the past. But most folks who go these routes will be using plain jane indoors rabbit ear antennas for their TVs and single 56k modems for their PCs. The state of the art in rabbit ears today doesn't seem much advanced over 30 or 40 years ago. I lived with the most expensive rabbit ear antenna I could find at leading discount stores in Austin Texas in the summer of 2001, and got maybe three channels fairly clear, and maybe another six in varying degrees of legibility-- and this selection size required frequent antenna adjustments. Maybe you'll fare better if you're not as close to the Mexican border as I was-- because of more TV stations and all that.

--ZDNet Story Triple your dial-up Web surfing speeds! Here's how

-- ZDNet Story Wanna speed up dial-up Web surfing Here's how

-- Boost Dial-Up to Broadband Speeds

For the reasons stated above, most everyone who can afford it wants something better. Big-screen TVs. Digital TVs. Hundreds of channels. Premium movie channels. Broadband internet access. PVR or TIVO-like show scheduling, Etc.

Well now folks, THAT stuff is gonna cost you dearly, circa early 2005. But some relief might come our way eventually-- I'll get to that later.

Cable modem internet access costs for consumers reached record high levels in 2001, averaging over $44 per month by December. DSL average costs rose to almost $52 per month. Partly this was due to diminished competition in the market.

-- Study: Broadband fees climbed in 2001 By Sam Ames; CNET News.com January 17, 2002, http://news.com.com/2100-1033-818013.html

Cable TV and internet bills are expected to rise even more after 2001. Perhaps at least 5% in 2002, after as much as 15% hikes in 2001.

There's moves afoot to move the most popular TV channels to higher cost service tiers too, to further pressure consumers into swallowing even higher charges by subscribing to premium services. Some cable TV/online service execs think they'll be able to push their total revenues drawn from the average consumer to $230 a month(!)

These hikes largely stem from reduced competition in the wake of the passage of the Telecommunications Act a while back. In what few areas of the US that cable companies still face competition, rates appear as much as 20% lower than everywhere else.

Satellite service providers can only compete with cable where a consumer's dish can get line of sight with the southwestern sky. Satellites also offer internet access somewhat inferior to cable modems, at present.

-- Stay Tuned for Still-Higher Cable Bills By Christopher Stern Washington Post; January 10, 2002; Page A01

Dirt Cheap TVs, Telephone, Internet Contents

Some of the present (early 2005) costs, dangers, and pitfalls of getting MORE than just 56k internet and a handful of channels on old fashioned fuzzy small screen TV

#1: It will cost you a perhaps unbelievably hefty monthly bill.

#2: Despite its high cost, it may be unreliable; you may experience various TV, internet, and email outages, among other annoyances [we definitely do].

#3: Most US citizens will have precious few choices as to their local TV and internet access options. So there'll usually be no competition to keep your provider honest and reasonable. And no other place to go, no matter how frustrated you may be with the service or the cost [What can you do about this? Contact your Congressman].

#4: Tech support for many will be lousy; you'll effectively be on your own fixing problems. Sometimes even during installations too. For this reason you might want to stay very chummy with the younger geek(s) in your family who seem able to fix such things from time to time.

#5: Even when your service works, you're likely being tracked and recorded mercilessly by any number of unknown folks as you watch TV or surf the net. Some of these may be folks like the FBI. But usually they'll mostly consist of your ISP and various web sites, collecting data to see how they might best sell you more stuff, or change your opinion about something [Again, you can contact your Congressman about this. There's also various geeky methods to protect yourself, some of which may be found via links provided elsewhere on this page].

#6: Your super-expensive TV set up may prove incompatible with the popular and most economical standards everyone adopts a year or so from now (DOH!)

#7: Your super-expensive TV may not have the input/output ports you need or expect when you get it home. In some cases you might not even be able to find adapters for it. It might also prove extraordinarily difficult to get your TV and other high end equipment to work together the way you expected before purchase. This is American capitalism, 2005. You can't take ANYTHING for granted. You're on your own. And you don't necessarily get what you pay for.

Some folks are buying expensive big screen TVs only to find they can't get them to work as well at home as they did in the showroom. And trying to overcome the problems in set up can add hundreds more dollars to the total cost, too. Incompatible input/output ports, a blizzard of different and confusing standards, tough configuration processes, know-nothing sales personnel, and other things all contribute to the difficulties involved.

-- The Curse of Complexity By JON HEALEY; LA TIMES; January 10 2002, and others

Dirt Cheap TVs, Telephone, Internet Contents

The most practical and economical MAINSTREAM TV and internet access, circa early 2005

So with all these risks to look out for, what's likely to be the least worst option for those people who want something more than bare-bones media access? Well, you'll have to thoroughly research what options are available in your area, and pick what your budget, desire, and temperament can abide.

For many folks in early 2005 that means getting the lowest or second lowest cost cable TV plan available in their area, with NO pay-per-view box tempting you to blow your budget, along with broadband internet service on the same line. Sometimes there'll be several tiers of broadband speed too, like 128k, 256k, and 512k. Even if you can get the lowest cost tiers of maybe 12-24 channels and 128k net access, it will not be nearly as cheap as it should be. And anything more will be downright outrageous, in cost terms.

But keep in mind there's ways to minimize your overall costs. If you were using a second phone line for the internet before, you can drop it after you have your cable modem. If you have a special telephone long distance plan too, do the math and see if you're really saving anything with it, or could save by switching to a different plan. These things could help save you enough to pay some on the broadband/TV cable connection.

If you're sufficiently geeky you may even be able to set up a pretty low cost telephone service over your broadband connection, allowing you to drop your landline completely, saving even more. Some folks are switching entirely to mobile phones instead, and dropping their land line. Just be sure to carefully research such changes before you make them, to minimize your encountering of any unexpected 'Gotcha's! after the switch. Because there's advantages and disadvantages to all these options.

Broadband is available almost everywhere in the USA now, and installation now often proceeds more smoothly than in the past. Consumers often get addicted to the service after they've used it for a while.

Most internet use is still done by dial up though.

Strong consumer satisfaction rates with various forms of internet access ranged from 76% for fixed wireless and cable users, to 58% for DSL, and 36% for satellite around 2002. Much of the reason for DSL's lower rate compared to cable likely stems from more installation problems and delays, as well as the often higher cost.

Neither DSL or satellite services are as widely available as cable. Satellite users reported pretty dismal satisfaction rates overall.

Ways to maybe save on broadband circa early 2005 included buying your own cable modem rather than renting one from your ISP (make sure you get one that's compatible with your ISP!); postponing your subscription until a special offer comes along; getting a discount via a long term contract (if such a beast is offered by your ISP); and setting up a home network to get more practical use from your broadband connection, by making it available to multiple computers in your home or office simultaneously (as of Jan 2005 WebFLUX Central has around six computers or more with net access through the same cable modem).

Fixed wireless broadband is new and not yet widely available. At this time it depends on a clear line of sight between antennas (the customer's building antenna and the ISP's transmitting tower). The average monthly cost of fixed wireless at present may be about $10 more than that for cable or DSL.

-- Ditch Your Dial-Up by Brad Grimes; February 2002; PC World magazine; January 05, 2002

Of course, when I say "broadband" I use the term loosely, as do most everyone else. In truth, only maybe half of folks who think they have broadband truly have it. The rest of us just pay broadband prices to our ISPs who supply only 'pretend' broadband connections. At least, according to industry experts, who say real broadband consists of a sustained 500 Kbps at minimum. Here at WebFLUX central we're lucky if we get half of that (see elsewhere on this page for ways to test your own connection speed).

-- Experts: Broadband Not Ready for Hollywood By Sue Zeidler; Reuters Limited/Yahoo! Business Headlines; February 3, 2002

I mention the home network angle in the above citation as one way to maximize the value of your costly broadband connection. Here's more:

Take advantage of all the free newspaper and magazine content on the web. Before the internet you would have had to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year to get this content in hard copy form.

Take advantage of the internet to do product and service research and shopping, to get the best deals possible. If you're prudent and savvy, you can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year this way.

Take advantage of internet resources to find out how to trouble-shoot and fix all sorts of problems with your job, your home, your business, your car, your family, your computer, etc., etc., etc.

Note that doing all the above will save you tons of time too-- at least once you get the hang of it. And time is getting to be even more important than money for some of us these days.

Lastly, you can even make money on the internet. Check out How small-time web sites can make it financially on the web for some leads there. Remember: Actually making a profit on your broadband connection is the best revenge on those costly broadband providers.

Dirt Cheap TVs, Telephone, Internet Contents

What about those folks who want or need a good alternative to cable-based TV and internet access?

This is a good news, bad news situation, circa 2005. DVDs are here. Which means you could pretty easily get by just on a handful of TV antenna channels for free for daily viewing (plus cheap dialup for internet) and rent films on DVD on occasion. Any cable TV shows you happen to miss but would like to see you could simply wait and buy by the season on DVD (that way avoiding many of the agonizing commercials too).

For more info on making optimal use of a TV antenna, Google it: One sample search in this vein would be making best use of TV antenna broadcast.

And for an increasing number of us, playing a Playstation Two or surfing the net is much more rewarding than watching TV anyway. Especially circa 2005, when mainstream US TV has apparently collapsed in quality and exploded in commercialism.

For those folks who don't think the above scenario speaks to them, sorry, but the ONLY other choice for TV viewing after dismissing broadcast antennas and cable TV is a satellite dish. DSL offers internet only, remember.

Let's say you're really, really annoyed with your cable company. Should you switch to a satellite dish? It depends. There were advantages and disadvantages to both cable and satellite services, circa late 2001. Here's a list of those pros and cons for both:

A: Access to local TV channels costs extra with satellite systems ($6 per month)-- but with the right Favorite links in your web browser you don't need TV access to local weather reports and local news so much anymore. So I say forget the local channels; you can still get local news/weather reports over radio too, if your net connection's down. Don't have a radio? Ask around: somebody will give you their old one. You can also buy them dirt cheap at yard sales or flea markets. You might find a cheap one at Wal-Mart too.

If you want to junkstorm a radio, attaching an AC to 12 volt DC converter to a radio, antenna, and speakers pulled from an old junk car will work. Want more info? Google it. Here's a sample search about using DC appliances with AC power for instance.

B: Obtaining the same independent channel surfing for lots of TVs all over your home costs much more with satellite ($100 or more each, after the first TV or two), as compared to cable. But of course, if you have only one or two TVs in your house, that negative evaporates altogether.

C: Broadband internet access over satellite costs significantly more than over cable. And internet speed by satellite may often be slower than cable. So in this case you pay more to get less with satellite, as compared to cable.

D: You may get five times the channels on satellite as you do on cable. Picture quality may also be better via satellite than cable. Negatives for satellite include the fact that lots of those extra channels are just radio stations' audio feeds with no video, and many of the actual extra video channels are just repackaged or rescheduled versions of the main channels available there. So basically the same old same old.

E: My brothers had satellite TV for a while and said that sometimes stuff like snow or rain could disrupt the signal.

F: One last caveat here: Your physical location or surroundings may make it impossible for you to use satellite services, for you must have a clear shot at a particular direction skywards. That is, no buildings or other obstructions can be in the way of the signal.

-- The dish-cable dilemma BY ART GOLAB; December 16, 2001; The Sun-Times Company; http://www.suntimes.com/output/business/cst-nws-cable16.html

Echostar/DirecTV is perhaps the only satellite TV outfit left standing as of early 2002. I believe the company not only offers TV programming, but internet access too.

DirecTV 1-1-02 UPDATE; Apparently Echostar as of 2002 is swallowing DirecTV! END UPDATE.
Echostar/Dish Network

As of late 2000, only Echostar and DirecTV remain in the satellite TV business (DirecTV recently swallowed up USSB and Primestar). Sat TV now includes local TV stations for an extra fee. They're also adding fast two-way internet access too. DirecTV has about 66% of the satellite market.

DirecTV offers 225 channels compared to the usual 50 of cable TV companies. But it costs at least $90 each to add subsequent TVs to the satellite feed, versus just stringing more wire in a cable TV household.

An average cable user bill is $30 monthly versus the minimum $32 for DirecTV and possibly a few more channels. Another $6 adds local channels to the sat TV offerings. DirecTV's average subscriber monthly payment though usually includes more than the minimum offerings, and goes for about $60 a month.

After October 2000 DirecTV expects to offer Juno internet service at 400 kps via special 30 inch dishes-- no phone line required as in previous sat net services. Cable modems and DSL though can be up to 300% faster.

BellSouth may compete with DirecTV via a 36 inch dish.

-- DirecTV stays step ahead of cable (apparently By both David Lieberman and Robert Hanashiro?), USA TODAY; Gannett Co. Inc.; 08/14/00

So what about internet access? If you're already on a satellite dish for your TV, maybe you should use it for the internet too?

You probably shouldn't use a satellite service for internet access circa early 2002, unless DSL is not available. Neither DSL or satellite services win many prizes with lots of their current subscribers. But DSL likely offers a better internet experience than satellite does.

Keep in mind that using satellite for TV and a cable modem for internet isn't practical either, as the TV cable companies will likely charge you for both TV and internet usage on the cable, rather than just internet. At least where no special set top box is required to translate the cable TV signal for most TVs.

Strong consumer satisfaction rates with various forms of internet access ranged from 76% for fixed wireless and cable users, to 58% for DSL, and 36% for satellite. Much of the reason for DSL's lower rate compared to cable likely stems from more installation problems and delays, as well as the often higher cost.

Neither DSL or satellite services are as widely available as cable. Satellite users reported pretty dismal satisfaction rates overall.

-- Ditch Your Dial-Up by Brad Grimes; February 2002; PC World magazine; January 05, 2002

Dirt Cheap TVs, Telephone, Internet Contents

Future developments to watch in this field

Improvements in broadcast TV, DSL, satellite, and fixed wireless may all help relieve the pinch in years to come.

Imagine this scenario for late 2005/early 2006 or later: Free digital TV content, delivered over the airwaves to your home. No cable TV connection or satellite dish required.

You'd be able to receive both SDTV and HDTV signals. HDTV is the best quality, but even SDTV is still up to 200% sharper than the old legacy TV picture signals we're accustomed to.

The SDTV format would allow local broadcast stations to send out several extra channels in addition to their original single choice (up to a total of four or five). This could effectively double or triple (if not more) the number of local broadcast channels folks got in the past.

Properly equipped televisions and computers could tune into these local channels for free. The extra hardware required may go for only $200 at the initial rollout.

All this may be made possible by the new SAA7108A/09A HD-CODEC chip from Philips Semiconductors.

-- Will digital TV give cable TV the boot? By John G. Spooner ZDNet News; January 14, 2002

One major obstacle to wide-scale fixed wireless applicability has been the requirement for a clear line of sight between transceivers. But the technology is now evolving to overcome that limitation.

At the moment fixed wireless is usually a last resort for people who can't get cable or DSL, and often costs around $45 a month. It requires an antenna on the roof in the current generation. Future antennas may work just as well inside homes.

When will the next generation fixed wireless become widely available to consumers? Likely sometime after 2003.

-- Seeing isn't believing for fixed wireless By Ben Charny; CNET News.com; January 16, 2002; http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1004-200-8505683.html?tag=prntfr

All our present telecommunications links-- including our cable modem connections-- could possibly become ten times faster (or carry ten times as many simultaneous channels) than today. For pretty much the same price as today. New modulation techniques from Rainmaker Technologies may do the trick. The first place they may show up is in replacement cable modems. Later they may end up in all connection hardware, including wireless. When will all this happen? That is the question. No one knows, just yet.

-- Soon, It's Gonna Rain By Robert X. Cringely, found on or about 1-31-02

The Ultra Wide Band (or digital radio) currently preferred for military purposes is super-secure and offers tremendous bandwidth in signals. It also consumes very little power to operate. Much less than modern cell phones. UWB hardware could be dirt cheap too. Range though is usually just 1 km, with the range going down as bandwidth goes up.

We might see UWB consumer devices appear in 2004-- unless the Bush Administration puts the kibosh on it.

-- The 100 Mile-Per-Gallon Carburetor How Ultra Wide Band May (or May Not) Change the World By Robert X. Cringely, 1-24-02

Dirt Cheap TVs, Telephone, Internet Contents

Personal Video Recorders (PVRs)

PVRs in theory let you re-schedule TV programming to fit your schedule, rather than you shaping your schedule to fit the TV's. PVRs record multiple shows and movies you select to a hard drive for your viewing convenience. They can also let you treat even live TV at times like it was a tape in a VCR you could pause and resume later as you wished. In theory PVRs can also let you skip or easily edit out commercials-- but this last item is controversial, and may or may not be (or stay) available to mainstream PVR users due to corporate pressures.


Hacking The TiVo FAQ Wizard 1.0.3
ZDNet Story Want to hack your TiVo Here's YOUR advice
Why your PC won't replace TiVo...just yet
lukwam.com tivo
ZDNet Story ReplayTV 4000 Why it's not ready for prime time
Turning PC Into VCR Is No TV Party
PCWorld.com - Step by Step Turn Your PC Into a Personal Video Recorder
PCWorld.com - NextVision Turns PC Monitors Into TVs
Creative Labs Video Blaster - Digital VCR

Dirt Cheap TVs, Telephone, Internet Contents

An exotic alternative you may not have thought of for TV equipment: Captain Picard's USS Enterprise Bridge Viewscreen

Folks, if you're going to pay thousands of dollars for a big TV screen and hard-to-set-up-and-use high end equipment of various sorts (which you may not be able to get working) anyway, why not go all out and geeky? That way if you can get it to work at all, it may work far better than the standard fare. Plus, you'll likely enjoy more flexibility with the set up than you would with normal rich consumer items.

For example: Why not forget TVs altogether and get a high quality projector, with the appropriate computer hardware and software to drive it. You'll also need a really big wall or projection screen too, to project the image onto. We're talking really, really big picture here, folks. Displays so big gamers and movie fans alike will drool all over themselves.

With the right configuration you can set up your system to not only accept input from a TV cable or satellite connection, but also outperform those consumer DVRs in terms of scheduling recordings, saving them, sending them to others, editing them for your own fun, etc., etc. You'll also of course be able to play games and surf the web on this monster system, if you want.

All with a display similar in size to Captain Picard's bridge screen on the USS Enterprise.

If you go this route, remember it'll be awfully geeky, and you'll have to do massive research and configuration duties on your own. And don't forget to emphasize the word "expensive" here.

Here's an excerpt from my Hewlett-Packard Pavilion XE783 user's log about negatives regarding the use of projectors solely for heavy personal computer usage (for someone sight impaired):

"The bottomline on projectors? Super-expensive to buy and maintain. Easily thousands upfront, and having to replace bulbs every few months at $hundreds a pop(!) And besides all this projector placement would be highly inconvenient for most folks' office-space. Hence, the reason such projectors are still used mainly for corporate presentations in large conference rooms or even auditoriums.

Of course there's ways to junkstorm your way to such projector power, as outlined in Tom's Hardware Guide PCs & HowTo Supersize Your TV for $300 Build Your Own XGA Projector - Giant Wall Display. But it'd be easy for a simple mistake or bad part to make the project's 'cash money' cost zoom to several times the $300 budget suggested in the how-to. And you'd have a possibly even bigger projector placement problem with the junkstormed unit than the store-bought one (basically a means to fold the whole thing up to the ceiling when not in use would be handy: but that's a whole project in itself).

Building the thing might be fun, if you had the time to spare. And could afford risking a total loss of your $300 minimal budget if things didn't work out...."

Hopefully the links below might also be of some help:

Build your own LCD Video Projector
Slashdot Homebrewed LCD Projectors

Other Home Theater-related links:

• DIY Home Theater PC project once existed on designtechnica.com but the link broke: maybe you can do a manual search for it there.
Building a Home Theater PC (if the first link breaks try searching for the article from this generic URL)
Building a Home Theater PC, Part II (if the first link breaks try searching for the article from this generic URL)
1U Multimedia Station
The $99 TV Studio
Next-gen TV The shape of screens to come

One last thing: Pretty soon it may be too late to build such a dream system, as Big Business wants to outlaw many aspects of such things. Make you have to pay through the nose to do many of these things-- if they'll allow you to do them at all. So companies like Microsoft are busy building such restrictions into software, while others are doing the same to hardware. At some point it may be impossible to use a Windows PC for such a system. Later on, it may become impossible even to get the hardware cards you need to do it.

Seeking the best video quality for entertainment? Then make sure the projector or TV you're buying is EDTV (Enhanced Definition Television) or 480p compatible. Most DVD players on the market should be capable of outputting this signal. Digital broadcasting is also producing this signal. Make sure to buy a quality progressive scan DVD player.

Perhaps by around 2007 or later, the content technology transition to HDTV will be complete. If you want the set up you buy before then to be compatible with all that too, seek out 720p and 1080i compatibility in your equipment for tomorrow, in addition to the EDTV/480p for today.

-- The Difference Between HDTV, EDTV, and SDTV Evan Powell, ProjectorCentral.com; January 12, 2001

Big time TV producers are trying to stop or change products like Replay TV, which allows viewers to skip commercials. But newer PCs can be configured to provide similar functionality for about $100: TV tuner cards and the software Personal Video Station from SnapStream Media.

-- The television industry is running scared By Hiawatha Bray; This story ran on of the 2/4/2002 Boston Globe, page D2; Globe Newspaper Company

V.92 News & Updates
Smartmoney.com Best Buys Internet Service Provider
CABLE TESTTTOAST.net Internet Service
Bandwidth Speed Test Results
ZDNet speedtest
CNET.com - Web Services - Bandwidth Meter
This list of Bandwidth speedtests might prove useful for some modem or ISP troubleshooting, or comparing ISP performance.
Free wireless Net access for the masses

Dirt Cheap TVs, Telephone, Internet Contents

Low cost 56k internet access

Folks, circa early 2002 many folks still can't justify a costly broadband connection. And even broadband users themselves may at times find they need a low cost back up to their primary connection. I.e., their broadband ISP has a prolonged outage, or without warning goes out of business altogether(!). For both these cases having a low cost if limited 56k account can be the answer. If you basically use the internet just for sending and receiving email and doing occasional research or shopping, you may not need more than a few hours access a month anyway. And speeds faster than 56k mainly help in big downloads like software updates anyway, rather than plain web surfing. Maintaining a free web-based email address in addition to your ISP-supplied address can also be a good idea. For one thing, free email at yahoo.com might be more reliable than your ISP email account. Plus, you can access it anywhere there's a web connection. Plus, you can easily change it, to leave behind the pack of howling spammers who've latched onto your address. Other tips for cheap dial up accounts: set your software to automatically log off if there's no activity for 15 or 20 minutes (or whatever). This will help minimize the costs of going over your time limit online. Reduce the inconvenience of dialing up by only doing it once a day, and having a list of 'to do' items ready when you dial. Copy and paste email messages to a word processor on your PC for editing off-line, to also reduce online charges. Note that optimizing your online time in these ways also cuts long distance bills, if you have no local access number (local access numbers are a critical dial up component, worthy of switching ISPs for). Occasionally printing out or saving to a backup disk a full list of email addresses or URLs important to you personally can also save you lots of hassle if your PC itself goes dead.

America Online At last check there were pretty severely limited 56k subscription accounts available here for $10 to $15 a month.



3-2-2001 UPDATE: It appears Juno will be requiring subscribers to allow Juno 24-7 access to their PC's processing power and maybe even some disk space for distributed computing purposes to help defray the ISP costs. Juno will sell this power to other companies in some form. Note other 'free' ISPs or other web services might jump onto this same bandwagon if it proves workable. Downside for PC owners? At some point Juno could ban older, slower PCs from the ISP service. 24-7 running wears out drives and monitors faster than non-24-7 activity, and electricity bills will be slightly higher. Folks with older PCs/small disks might take quite a hit in relative disk space terms. There might occasionally be noticeable degrading in PC performance for user tasks-- perhaps even crashes necessitating software repairs/re-installations (file backups become more important than ever). RAM upgrades may be required to coveniently handle the extra load, at least for some users. END UPDATE.


The lowest cost and free 56k ISPs either went out of business or were swallowed whole by companies who discontinued or restricted the services and discounts. Below are some old links regarding these services

ispnut.com (formerly 100% Free USA ISPs) - Free ISP Directory
Freedomlist - Free and cheap ISP directory

Online on a budget - CNET.com

Editors' Choice - CNET.com

CNET Reviews the Top 4 Free ISPs

TheFreeSite.com - Free Internet Access

Free Internet Service Providers

Something for Nothing: Free Internet Access

Free World Dialup

Lastly, keep in mind some cheap 56k dial up internet access methods (as low as $10 a month for 5 hours) may be PC independent-- that is, utilizing an existing game console (like Sony Playstation II) or set top box (like Microsoft WebTV/MSN TV). To see those sorts of options go back to J.R.'s Dirt Cheap PC Page...

Dirt Cheap TVs, Telephone, Internet Contents

Miscellaneous links related to network security:

ZDNet Story Never lose data to a virus! Use my simple 5-point protection plan
ZDNet Story Be your own security expert Four ways to keep your system safer
ZDNet Step Up Your Internet Security
Finjan Software - Security Testing Center
Home Office Your Second Line of PC Defense
Eliminate Security Risks
Wily Tricks to Thwart E-Thieves

Dirt Cheap TVs, Telephone, Internet Contents

Possible sources for manuals and tutorials relating to networking and related matters:

FindTutorials.com: The Tutorials Search Engine
101 Information Hub Free books and tutorials online
Help-Site Computer Manuals - Main Index
PC911 - Friendly Computer Help In Plain English
PCWorld.com - Step-By-Step Set Up a Network in a Snap

Dirt Cheap TVs, Telephone, Internet Contents

Miscellaneous other links possibly helpful to building/configuring/upgrading/using/troubleshooting networking matters:

PCWorld.com - Rev Up Your Net Connection
Network How-To
Technical News & Information
Networking Guide, Ethernet, SFUSD
ZDNet: Home Networking Guide
ZDNet Story My Short-and-Sweet Absolute Must-Know Guide to Home Networking
ZDNet Story Fast access Four ways to turbo-charge your connection
ZDNet Story Can't get cable or DSL How you can look to the stars for help
The Quick and Dirty Network for Macs and PCs
FCC ID Search Form
DSL LIFE: The Consumer's Guide to xDSL Technology
www.blackbox.com is mainly a parts source for corporate, government, military, and professional geeks. And I'm talking DEEP geeks at that. The average civilian geek will almost never need anything from this site (and might not even recognize much of the hardware listed in the catalog).
SOHO (Small Office Home Office) LAN User's Log

Dirt Cheap TVs, Telephone, Internet Contents

If you'd like to see more about the sorts of online deals coming your way in the future (as well as other matters), consult my Signposts Timeline Page.

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