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Will digital tuners replace digital cable?

Gary Krakow answers readers' questions about the difference between digital tuners and digital cable boxes — and how to choose the proper earphones to wear during your daily exercise session.

Bill Hale of Moreno Valley, CA begins today's column with a question about being confused by the term ‘digital TV tuner’:

Will a TV with a digital tuner be able to display digital cable channels without having to use the converter box the cable company rents out?

I know this is not the answer you want to hear, but maybe. New television models are touting the addition of internal digital tuners. A digital tuner allows your television to receive the all-new all-digital, HDTV channels obtainable from over-the-air broadcasters. You also need to use a proper antenna to receive those new digital broadcasts. Rabbit ears probably won't do the trick.

But, you don't need a special antenna if you get your TV through a cable system. Your local cable company is capable of providing a large number of analog and digital TV channels (although you might need a new box to view 16:9 format high-definition programming). Cable boxes let you attach their output to any TV set through your TV's standard analog coaxial input. Newer boxes also offer higher-quality audio and video outputs — both analog (S-video, composite) and digital (component, HDMI, etc.) — which plug directly into many modern HDTV monitors. 

There are also some new TVs that let you plug your cable TV feed directly into the TV without a cable box. You watch the higher-quality digital channels by plugging in a smart card from your cable provider. If your current cable box has your account smart card (looks like a credit card) sticking out of it — then you can take that card and plug it directly into one of the new TVs that accept it — and watch digital TV channels without the cable converter box.

Confused yet?  For the record, by 2009 all new TVs sold in this country will be required to have an all-digital tuner built inside.  Broadcasters will not be broadcasting on their current channels.  You will need to have a new, all-digital TV — or for older TVs there will be analog-to-digital converter boxes available to purchase.

If you think it's confusing now, just wait until 2009! 

Andrew from Elmira, NY has a specific earphone question:

I’m a huge digital music fan and I appreciate your picks for top earphones to go with the players.  However, I’ve recently joined a gym and I’m a little worried about some of my expensive in-ear plugs getting ruined with sweat/harsh treatment/etc.  Many companies market ‘water proof’ or ‘rubberized’ plugs for work outs. Can you recommend some of the top units?

I can tell you which earphones sound best to me and which ones might be comfortable in my ears but unfortunately my picks may not be right for you.

You’re going to need to do a little research to make sure you like the way a particular set of earphones sound, how they fit and whether they're comfortable over a 10-15 minute stretch.  If you plan to shell out $100 or more for a set of in-ear phones you should be able to listen to a pair for 5-to-10 minutes or more to make sure they’re comfortable.

A number of high-end earphone manufacturers offer a few different kinds of user-replaceable earphone plugs, some rubber/plastic and foam, of different sizes. One or more of those plugs could be right for you. Start your search for ‘phones from Shure and Etymotic Research and Ultimate Ears for starters.

digitalslavery from Mannheim Germany wants to know:

When can we expect to see full integration of GPS/Wi-Fi/GPRS/UMTC or HSDPA in smartphones with expandable memory slots?

Very, very soon. You’ll see full-fledged 3G smartphones with all those features in Europe before we’ll see them here in the United States. That’s because all of Europe conforms to one cellular standard (GSM/GPRS) while North America has a bunch of different standards in use (CDMA, TDMA as well as GSM.)

Expect a number of interesting new cell phones to be announced at two upcoming shows: 3GSM in Barcelona mid-February and CTIA Expo in Orlando, Fla. at the end of March. I’ve heard about some that sound amazing. Stay tuned.

Joe Sosville of Oxford, MI wrote in to share with us that he’s figured out a solution to his own particular problem:

An answer to my own question: How do I get a new spiffy cell phone without all the gizmos on it? Simple: buy one of the latest, like my new RAZR V3m and ignore the gizmos and don’t buy the value added digital services from the carrier. Look for review comments on RF signal, call quality, ease of use and other aspects of quality. Then choose a carrier that is good in your area and pick one of their newer phones they have on sale. Buy it from the carrier’s site or from an online authorized reseller. My new Sprint V3m phone is fantastic!  It does everything I want it to do and I am maximizing my savings on monthly costs. Plus, with my rebate from Sprint and my online bonus credit, I actually made $19.00 on the deal.

And Rozlo, who hails from Covington, KY, has a query of an entire industry:

Here’s a question for all manufacturers of any product with a remote control. Would it kill you to add a “page” feature (like a cordless phone) so finding the remote wouldn’t take an hour? Sure, the easy response would be to just say “get up to change the channel”, but when was the last time all of the remote control’s functions had corresponding buttons on your TV or stereo? I can’t be the only person to think of this.  

Anyone agree?  If you have a question or comment about anything you’ve seen in this column, don’t be shy. Let us know.