Monday, February 16, 2009

Ask Rick: Pico Projectors, Switching ISPs, PS Health Hazards, Digicam Movie Formats

Pocket Projectors
I have an occasional need to display images about twice the size of my current 15-inch Apple Laptop, and I am interested by recent reports about 'Pico Projectors'. I have so far found 4 models, but doubtless there are others? Most seem not to be available in stores and so a demonstration is not possible. Do they work?
Robin Hazelton, by email

Yes they work, sort of, but at this stage of the game I have to say they're a bit of a gimmick. Don't forget a conventional video projector, capable of displaying a decent sized image, 40 or more inches across, will have a light output of between 1000 and 2000 lumens, and it still needs to be used in a semi-darkened room. That sort of light output requires a powerful and very expensive bulb that gets extremely hot and needs a lot of elaborate cooling. Pico projectors that fit in your pocket mostly use a single extra bright LED and have light outputs in the order of 10 - 15 lumens or about as much as a pocket torch, so the image isn't going to be very big, or bright, even when used with a high performance screen.

Clearly a pocket-sized projector would be very convenient, but I am not convinced that they are yet ready to have a serious role in video presentation. The ones that I have seen produce a barely acceptable display, only a little larger than your laptop screen, and that's in near dark conditions, or with a specialised screen heavily shielded by black cloth, but give it time...

Heading for Trouble?
How safe is it to be in close proximity to a PC (base unit) health-wise? I recently had to reorganise my computer layout, and since doing so my head is now about 18-inches from two PC base units. I have noticed I now seem to feel a bit queasy when working on the PCs. Is there any possibility that the computers are responsible?
Peter Vick, by email

I cannot begin to imagine the kind of bizarre setup that compels you to work with two PC system units so close to your head. If nothing else, the noise from the cooling fans and chattering disc drives will eventually drive you potty... PCs, like pretty well all electrical and electronic devices generate a wide spectrum of electromagnetic and radio frequency emissions but they are at a very low level and usually well shielded by the metalwork of the case and chassis.

I am not aware of specific health concerns relating to PC system units; research into this area tends to be patchy and inconclusive, nevertheless this sounds like a really unwise arrangement. At the very least I would be worried about banging my head on the boxes - PC cases can have really sharp edges - and getting tangled up in the cables so I strongly suggest you find somewhere else to put the boxes.

Is Switching ISPs Safe?
I am considering switching to a satellite service for faster Internet speed. I currently use Outlook Express for my emails. If I change providers, will I lose all my current contacts, folders etc.? I have an external hard drive, can I transfer them onto that, and how might I do that? Any light you can shed on this tedious situation would be most appreciated.
Linda, by email

Don't worry, how your PC connects to the Internet has no bearing on your existing email messages and contacts, they should be quite safe, though it's always a good idea to backup your irreplaceable data, even if you are not changing ISPs. There's advice on how to Export your Outlook Express essentials to another drive in Boot Camp 490 (, and there's a more general piece on PC backup Windows XP in Boot Camp 376 (

Incidentally, satellite broadband has had a chequered history and you should check how the system you're considering actually works. Some services provide fast download speeds but rely on a slow ‘dial-up' connection, using your phone line as the ‘back channel', to request web pages and upload data, so the costs can be significant. If BT has told you that you can't get broadband where you live it's worth checking several other broadband suppliers websites. If there enough of you in the same boar in your locality BT may be persuaded to upgrade your lines, and there are a number of alternative systems suitable for remote areas. There's also 3G mobile broadband - if it is available where you live -- and some of the data packages can be quite attractive, especially for those who only want or need basic web-surfing and email.

Fiddling with Formats
I have recently purchased a Sanyo Xacti digital video camera that records video clips in .mp4 format. Unfortunately, 'Movie Maker' on my Windows XP PC, does not recognise this format. Can you help?
Geoff Spencer, by email

Although .mp4 has been around for quite a while - it's a variant of Apple QuickTime (.mov) -- it's success, as a video recording format on portable devices seems to have caught a lot of people by surprise. The choice of decent editing software is still quite limited and programs have problems reading files created on some devices, but not on others so it can be a bit hit and miss. My solution is to convert your .mp4 files to .wmv or .avi format so Windows Movie Maker can read them. Try a freeware program called Quick Media Converter (, it's a little quirky but it does work. Otherwise there are plenty of paid for conversion programs to choose from. AVS Video Converter ( is one of the best and it costs $59, however, that includes access to a wide range of useful multimedia programs.

Unfortunately Windows Movie Makers doesn't have a facility to create DVDs but that's not a problem and you can use another freeware program, called DVD Flick ( to burn your edited movies to blank DVDs.

Source :