Cool Tech Reviews

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February 24, 2007

Automatically skip commercials using Windows Media Center

Chris Lanier provides a tutorial on setting up the Media Center editions of Windows XP and Vista for automatic commercial skipping using DVRMSToolbox:

Everyone should know about DVRMSToolbox that lets you do just about anything with your Recorded TV files. However, the more time that goes by the more I see that people are not taking advantage of what DVRMSToolbox has to offer. Today I wanted to give everyone a basic introduction to one of the coolest features, automatic commercial skipping!

Get it while it lasts before the movie and TV studios find a way to rain on the parade.

Posted at 11:36 am. Filed under Companies, Media Center PC, Microsoft, Personal Video Recorders, Software, Utilities

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February 20, 2007

The great retail digital cable pricing scam

One of the oddities of retail electronics sales that always gets my goat is the widely varying prices on cables. While you can make an argument for paying modestly more for better quality analog cables, there’s no reason to do so for digital cables, but don’t expect the retailers to tell you so or even offer a choice. Anyway, Ben Kuchera at Ars Technica had the exact same frustration trying to find an HDMI cable for his Sony PlayStation 3 and did some comparison shopping. Excerpt:

The price differences between cables that are essentially the same can be incredible. $100 one place, $30 someplace else, and $20 online. The fact is many places like Best Buy only carry a few brands and jack the price up. It’s worth spending the afternoon shopping around for your cables. Best Buy had expensive HDMI cables but cheap Wii component cables. Meijer didn’t have Wii component at all but they had a $20 HDMI cable. Don’t get fooled into thinking that just because you’re paying more you’ll see a better picture, or it isn’t worth your time to check around.

If you’re still skeptical, keep your receipts. Buy the $100 HDMI cable at the Sony Store and then a $20 Monoprice cable, and try them both. See if you can see $80 worth of difference. If you don’t, take one back. The price difference will buy you a new game, and it’s worth proving to yourself that the lower-priced cables are just as good.

Much more by following the link and be sure to read the comments which are both hilarious and eye-opening.

Posted at 11:20 am. Filed under Bargains, Cables

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February 17, 2007

AT&T shuts down Iowa free international phone call services

Back in October, I mentioned a phone service called Futurephone that used a loophole in the heavily regulated US long distance telephone rate structure plus cheap Internet bandwidth to provide “free” ad-supported phone calls to numerous foreign countries via a rural telephone company in Iowa. Soon other entrepreneurs jumped on board and there were a number of “712″ (the rural Iowa area code) calling services, but it all came crashing to halt this month when AT&T got a phone bill for $2 million dollars and sued:

Guess who got stuck with a big bill for all those “free” international calls touted by outfits like FuturePhone? None other than AT&T, which has filed a lawsuit in Iowa claiming that “deceitful and unlawful schemes” like FuturePhone’s caused a jump from $2,000 per month to $2 million per month in the fees billed AT&T by an Iowa rural telco.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, Central Division, AT&T’s lawsuit seeks to stop FuturePhone as well as the telcos who provide local infrastructure from continuing with their operations that use regulatory-fee arbitrage and VoIP to provide international calls for only the price of a long-distance call to Iowa. Though the case was just filed on Jan. 29, it has already apparently caused FuturePhone to shutter its service, and has produced nothing but “no comment” replies from the Iowa LECs we contacted who were also named in the suit.

Boiled down, AT&T’s main argument is that because the calls are not actually “terminated” in Iowa — AT&T says Iowa is just a midpoint in what is really an international call — AT&T shouldn’t have to pay the LECs the termination fees.

While it’s certainly satisfying to see AT&T get a big phone bill, it’s now clear that beyond advertising revenues, an essential element of the business model was the receipt of cash subsidy payments from AT&T. The lawsuit will delay those indefinitely while litigation proceeds and this effectively shuts down the “free call” companies. Futurephone has now closed and it’s likely just a matter of time until the others follow, although Pat Phelan, the founder of, claims on his weblog that he plans a workaround. He surely gets points for trying, but I suspect that the ultimate conclusion is that it was fun while it lasted.

Posted at 10:56 am. Filed under AllFreeCalls, Bargains, Brands, Cheap calling, Companies, Futurephone, Telephone

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