S&V Q&A — July/August 2006


Q. Some time ago, I read that the current CableCARD module for HDTVs doesn't let you use the set's picture-in-picture feature. At the time, I was about to buy my first flat-panel HDTV, but luckily I read about the PIP issue before making my final decision. Do you know when the second-generation CableCARD module allowing PIP will make its appearance at the retail level? Pierre F. Schlemel Via E-Mail

A. Al Griffin says: Cable TV set-top manufacturer Scientific Atlanta recently announced a next-generation CableCARD that offers enhanced functionality over the current CableCARD version 1.0. By processing multiple video streams simultaneously, the company's new M-card (scheduled to ship to cable service providers in late 2006) enables functions like PIP and dual-tuner DVR recording. Contact your cable company to check on availability and to set up installation of the M-card, which is designed to be compatible with all CableCARD 1.0-ready HDTVs.

Hard-Driving iTunes

Q. I have an old PC with a 160-gigabyte hard drive that I'd like to use for my media center. I thought I'd copy all of my CDs to the hard drive using iTunes. Since I have plenty of storage space, I'd want the best sound quality - as close to CD quality as possible. Which format should I use? Steve Bonifede Oak Park, CA

A. Ian G. Masters says: Since you'll be using iTunes, you'll have Apple's AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) format available, which isn't a bad option - many listeners feel that, for a given bit rate, it offers higher-quality audio than MP3 or Windows Media Audio. And I'd go for a relatively high bit rate: at least 192 kbps. Perhaps an even better option is to go with one of the lossless codecs, such as Apple lossless (included in recent versions of the iTunes software), WMA-Lossless, FLAC, etc. These provide bit-for-bit reconstruction of the original audio signal; hence the term "lossless." It's hard to know how much you'll gain from going lossless versus a high-bit rate rip in one of the "lossy" codecs (which actually throw away some data based on psychoacoustic theory to save space). But if you've got a high-end audio system, every little "bit" probably helps.