Windows XP / Beginners

Choosing a microphone

You need a microphone for Internet telephony, teleconferencing, or voice recognition software - software that translates what you say into the printed word.

Don't rush out and buy a voice recognition system just because a vendor (most especially Microsoft) tells you it's the best thing since sliced butter. While voice recognition has its niche uses - certainly many physically challenged people welcome it as a godsend, and for informal note-taking, it can work reasonably well - the fact remains that a 95 percent accuracy rate on voice recognition stinks. Why? Because you either have to send out a letter with loads of words misspelled (or a spreadsheet with one cell in five that's absolutely off the wall), or you have to spend loads of time correcting the stupid machine's errors. Usable voice recognition is still many years, possibly many decades, away.

For telephony or voice recognition, the distance from your mouth to the mike is crucial - varying the distance can screw up voice detection or make your phone conversations boom and peter out - so seriously consider buying a fairly expensive headphone/mike combination. It's the only way to maintain a consistent distance between your mouth and the mike.

Don't expect to find audiophile sound quality in a headset with a microphone. If you want that, buy one headset for listening to music and another for talking.

Picking a digital audio/video player

Call it an MP3 player if you like. Tack on a movie screen and call it a Portable Media Center. You can spend a pittance or a king's ransom, and the technology is changing at breathtaking pace.

When you choose a digital audio or video player, consider these factors:

  • What does it play? If you're stuck with Microsoft-owned formats such as WMA (Windows Media Audio) and WMV (Windows Media Video), you have much less flexibility than you would with industry standards such as MP3 and MPG. If you can only play items downloaded from a single source, expect the price of downloads to escalate accordingly.
  • Total capacity: How many hours of music or video does the player hold? At what level of quality?
  • Expansion: Can you increase the player's capacity by adding a memory card? If so, what type of card? If you have other devices that use memory cards, does the player use the same type?
  • Convenience: Is the player's design convenient for you? Can you understand the %$#@! controls? Some of these gizmos make the 747's cockpit control console look simple.
  • Features: Does the player have any special features that you want?
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