Tuning in to the latest technology

27 Apr

April 27, 2006

By Geoff Meeker

Are you looking for a way to save those priceless VHS home movies in digital format, before the magnetic tape breaks down?

Interested in software that allows you to write and ‘play’ music, despite your lack of musical ability?

Do you have a collection of old vinyl LPs that you want to convert to MP3 files?

Speaking of MP3, what’s better: the ubiquitous iPod, or one of those other MP3 players?

Are you in the market for a new video camera, but haven’t shopped for one since the days of Hi8?

Then this technology column is just the ticket. I will be talking in plain language about the latest technology, from electronic gadgets to cool software to must-see web sites, and more.

Though not a hardcore ‘techie’ I have always been a keen observer of new technology, and have to restrain myself from rushing to buy the latest thing (it always costs more to buy first generation technology). And too often, I do yield to temptation (I bought one of the first iPods, back in 2002).

Speaking of the latest technology, satellite radio is taking the country by storm. Frankly, I’m a little surprised by its success, given that we already have a bunch of free radio stations. Whether satellite radio is worth the $13 to $15 it costs per month will depend very much on your own point of view.

In a nutshell, satellite redefines the radio experience through greater variety, enhanced sound and better reception. There are two competing service providers in Canada – XM and Sirius – that both offer 100 and 125 channels respectively, with programming that includes music (all genres), talk, comedy and sports. The music channels are commercial free.

Music buffs will be blown away by the variety of channels, and the near CD quality sound. By all accounts, it exposes you to the best of the latest new music, no matter what your musical taste, which for me is the biggest selling point of satellite radio.

If you decide to go digital, don’t cheap out: buy a quality receiver ($100 and up) and have your car installation done by a professional, unless you really know what you’re doing. There are personal and home tuners as well, but there is a charge for every radio you activate. If cost is an issue, look into portable, detachable units that move from house to car.

The sports, comedy and information programming have received excellent reviews. However, it originates nationally, not locally, so you won’t get VOCM or local CBC Radio (though national CBC radio programming is available exclusively on Sirius). This is not a big deal, since many digital receivers can also play AM and FM bands. And what’s to stop us from having both radios at our fingertips at the same time?

People who do a lot of highway driving will appreciate the satellite coverage. The signal doesn’t change and allegedly stays strong across Canada, even on the remotest stretches of highway. However, I’ve heard reception can still be an issue (problems have been reported in Clarenville and up the Bonavista Peninsula) so try to find someone in your area who already has the service and ask them plenty of questions before buying.

I spend very little time on the road and listen mainly to local information shows, so I am taking a pass on satellite radio… for now. At risk of coining a new phrase, I am hitting ‘option overload’. I already have digital TV in HD, a stack of new CDs and DVDs, plus the latest book by Lisa Moore that I still haven’t opened, along with a thicket of work deadlines. For me, satellite radio is that decadent dessert that I don’t really need.

Your case may be entirely different. Visit xmradio.ca and siriuscanada.ca to find out more. An Internet search for ‘Sirius vs XM’ will also locate some objective comparisons between the two.

And hey, I may listen to information radio by day, but I do like to rock out at night!

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