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CNET to the Rescue: Is it better to tether?

Guest Brian Cooley helps us with the ins and outs of tethering, as well as how to distribute home video to eight TVs, how to fix inaudible dialogue on a new TV, and when to start hoarding Internet addresses.

CNET's Brian Cooley joins us today to talk (complain, actually) about a form of tethering: connecting your Wi-Fi devices to the Internet over a mobile cellular-to-Wi-Fi gateway, like a smartphone or a dedicated device. Also, your questions answered, from video routing issues to the inevitable upcoming drought of new IP addresses.

If you have a tech question for CNET to the Rescue, CALL US with your questions to get on the next show: 877-438-6688 or e-mail No question is too basic, so if you've got a tech problem that's been getting under your skin, please call us and we'll try our best to help you out.

Now playing: Watch this: Ep. 33: 33: Is it better to tether?


Episode 33: Is it better to tether?

Main topic: Tethering

What is it? What do you need it for?

The big question: Get cellular-compatible devices, or use a mobile hot spot or tethered smartphone?

See Sprint Overdrive; Verizon MiFi.

Will smartphones dominate this market soon, or is there room for the MiFi class of devices long term?

Your questions answered

Paul Mignini: My favorite piece of tech is my iPod Classic. The fact that I can bring my library of 15,000 songs in my car or elsewhere still astounds me. What concerns me is that, as I add more CDs and digital files, I can see a day in the not-too-distant future where I run out of drive space. Further, I would love to get an iPod Touch, but with a maximum capacity of 64 GB, this compounds the capacity issue. Is there any after-market way I can increase the capacity of an iPod Touch or a similar device, such as wiring an external drive into the device? I don't mind if it makes the device bulkier, as I rarely carry it around (mostly car and portable speaker use).

Rafe: Welcome to Apple. The answer is no. Use streaming services instead. Rhapsody or Rdio are two examples. Won't work too well in the car, but decent in your home or workplace.

Brian: There isn't a great alternative beyond the cloud. Even an Android phone like my Droid 2 only supports 32GB in MicroSD expansion and even if it supported more than that, I think the largest card today is 32GB.


Peter Baumgarten: I am aware that very soon the internet will run out of IPv4 addresses and that soon everyone will be highly encouraged to move to IPv6. I have been hearing about the coming crisis for some time and decided to help out my family a bit. For Christmas I decided to get them a new router, a Linksys e2000 router an upgrade from their old WRT54GS router. The router was on sale for less than a hundred dollars which was cheaper than Darren's suggestion of building my own for them for about two hundred to one hundred fifty dollars. I am now hearing some disturbing information that almost all consumer routers do not support IPv6 and I was wondering how can I check to be sure that the brand new router that I got for my family supports the coming IPv6 transition. If worst comes to worst I'll flash the firmware.

Rafe: It's true, we will eventually run out of Internet addresses on the old system, IPv4. There are only 4.3 billion addresses using the 32-bit addressing system, and they're almost all gone. The new system, IPv6, uses 128-bit addressing, for 340 trillion, trillion, trillion (3.4x1038) possible addresses.

Benefit: Every device can have an IP. Setup will be easier. There will be more device-to-device communication. The NAT workaround that slows things down and makes some services difficult to configure won't be necessary.

The problem is, there's no easy way to switch from using one to the other, unless everyone switches all at once, which really isn't possible. So there's going to be a bit of awkwardness as the world switches over. But I wouldn't worry about your $100 router right now. Let you ISP deal with the issue for a while, and expect router vendors to announce software upgrade plans. And stock up on canned food, just in case.


Stu: Say you have a Dropbox account and a home PC and a laptop and a work PC all synced up. Love it. Then you lose your laptop or change jobs and you want your Dropbox folder to be emptied out the next time the PC is turned on. Can it be done? How?

Rafe: There's no simple feature that does exactly what you want, but there are two solutions. The easy way: After you decide to remove the files from a computer, back up the data on the computers you do want to keep. Then, delete the data in the Dropbox folder. This will delete the files on the work (or stolen) computer. Then unlink that computer from your Dropbox account from the Dropbox site. Then put the files back and re-sync.

The hard way is a bit more flexible but requires some setup ahead of time. It uses the new "selective sync" feature that lets you set up folders within Dropbox folders that do not get synced. Full instructions are on the Dropbox forums.

What you're asking for is a popular and often-requested feature for Dropbox, so expect it to be added eventually.


William Burleson: My home has a structured wiring setup and I have a DirectTV system and I want to use just one of my satellite boxes to send video to eight TVs. These TVs are located in my spare bedrooms, game room, etc. locations that will be infrequently used. Now each location where a TV is located has an IR system for changing channels. I do not want to split the DirectTV incoming signal (coming from the LNB) just the outgoing signal from the Sat box. I have been told that this is not possible because the outgoing signal from the SAT box is not RF. Can you tell me if there is a eight port splitter? The runs would be no longer that 50 feet; and what would be better passive or active video switcher?

Brian: You have IR channel changing already in place? Now you just need distribution. Put an RF modulator on the output of your sat box, and then pump the output of the RF mod into an 8x splitter.

You are good to go. Of course, all TV's will be watching the same sat channel. The only way around that is to split the LNB into 8 sat boxes. Pricey. And we're talking about SD video here -- I don't believe there is a cost effective way to do this to ATSC/HD standards due to low demand and some rights protection issues.


Alan Biason: My son plays online games a lot, particularly Warcraft III. I see him logging on to an online server called Garena. I'm not too literate about all the terminology, but the problem is whenever he's playing online, our other computers on the home network can't access the Internet. Is there a way to limit the bandwidth that he's apparently hogging?

Rafe: It is unlikely that playing WoW is causing your internet access issues unless you have an especially limited connection. While games like WoW, as well as the messaging system Garena, are immersive and send a continuous flow of data between the player and the Internet, the amount of raw data that's used when playing is actually rather small. It's more likely that your son is using the net for other bandwidth-hogging activities like media downloads.

It is possible to limit bandwidth at your home's router. How to do so varies depending on which one you have, and it's unfortunately not as easy as it should be. You can also set up filtering or management by replacing your ISP's DNS server, using an alternative like OpenDNS. The problem is, I'm afraid to say, you'll be battling a well-informed adversary (your son) who will likely find work-arounds. The real solution is not technical, it's communication on appropriate use of the Internet, restrictions on times of use, and so on. Good luck.


David Pearse: I just bought a new large screen plasma HDTV. The picture quality is excellent. But I can't hear dialogue very well on the movies I play on my Blu-ray player. I have tried every sound combination imaginable with no appreciable effect. I bought a sound bar that, although it increases the sound overall, does nothing to enhance the clarity of the dialogue. Please help!

Rafe: I would put money on this being a problem with the center-channel audio, which generally carries dialogue. I only say this because I had this exact problem on my PC. I have a 5.1 system on it, and everything was fine except dialogue. Turns out the center channel was not connected. There are two ways to solve this: 1. Connect the center channel speaker. 2. Change the audio output to 4-channel (or 2-channel), so center-channel audio gets split evenly among the two front speakers.


Irv Prais: My noob question: can I buy a cell phone headset, you know one of those little in-ear ones like a Jabra or Aliph for example, and use it with my laptop for Skype? Will any old cell phone Bluetooth headset pair with my laptop's Bluetooth adapter and just work--no problems?

Rafe: Yes, on a laptop this should work, although Skype on a Mac is notoriously finicky about routing audio to anything but the computer's speakers. And if I may editorialize here, one of the most annoying features on Skype for the iPhone is that it will not use a Bluetooth headset. Argh!


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