The enormous success of Hewlett Packard’s Movie Writer last year proved what just about everybody already knew: A lot of people would like to copy movies and other video to DVDs. Now Plextor has entered the market with a combination of two pieces of equipment: one to capture the video signal, the other

to write to the disc.

The Plextor ConvertX box can handle incoming video signals from a TV, VCR, camcorder or DVD player and move that into a Windows computer. The software that comes with it can compress incoming video into MPEG-1, suitable for writing to video CDs, or MPEG-2, just right for DVDs. At this point there’s only one thing missing from this equation: the CD or DVD writer.

So Plextor sells those too; in fact, that’s its main line of business. The numbers break down this way: The ConvertX box sells for US$79 from Plextor’s own Web site; the model PX-708A CD/DVD writer sells for US$189. This gives us a grand total of US$268, only slightly less than buying Hewlett Packard’s box, which sells for US$299 on HP’s Web site. But if you buy both the Plextor units together, it will knock US$50 off the price of the combo.

That makes it US$218 for the Plextor combo versus US$299 for Hewlett Packard’s unit. In the real world, however, HP’s DVD Movie Writer sells for US$129 to US$239 from discounters on the Web. So what it comes down to is money saved buying the HP Movie Writer compared with the performance advantage of newer, but more expensive equipment from Plextor. Check out the specs at www.hp.com and www.plextor.com. Then check out the prices somewhere else.

NOTE: If you put a TV tuner in your computer, you can watch TV and record shows directly to a CD or DVD writer. Most new computers have one of these already built in. TV tuners come as part of the All-In-Wonder video card made by ATI (www.ati.com) or as a stand-alone from Hauppauge (www.hauppauge.com).

ARE WE THERE YET?

This is a small thing, but it could make it easier to deal with the small things in the back of the van.

Targus makes a travel case for mounting a portable DVD player either between or behind the front seats of a car or van. The 3-pound case costs US$70 and can hold a DVD player, four disks and a remote control. A strap prevents the case from moving.

Since DVD players mounted in new cars generally cost around US$1,200 to US$1,400, this seems like a significant savings. We bought a Panasonic DVD player last year for US$700. So if we add US$70 for the Targus case, we would still save about US$500 compared to an in-car installation. And we’re still able to use the DVD player somewhere else. The Web site: www.targus.com.

SOFTWARE ENCRYPTION

MoleBox is for software developers. It encrypts the executable file of a program as well as the program’s DLL and data files.

What is the point of this? Well, if you are a software developer, especially a fledgling developer, this will prevent your program from being copied by a competitor. This would be a good protective approach for many businesses as well. A lot of companies that are not software houses nonetheless create software that is specific for their business. It’s expensive and time-consuming and they might want to keep other companies from skipping that process and simply copying it.

MoleBox Pro 2.2 costs US$99 for a single user or US$299 for a company-wide site license. More info at www.molebox.com.

INTERNUTS

At www.freakyfreddies.com you can visit a site for product samples and other free stuff. Current offers include a US$50 gift certificate for KB Toys if you provide your address and phone number. We got a free ream of Hewlett Packard inkjet printer paper for filling out a short survey. PaperMate is giving US$40 worth of free classroom supplies to teachers. There are hundreds of other freebies.

SciFi fans should visit www.sfsite.com. This site has author interviews, book reviews, convention news. One of many science fiction sites. Nice interview with Gene Wolfe.

BOOKS

“”How to Do Everything With eBay”” by Greg Holden; $25 from Osborne/McGraw-Hill (www.osborne.com).

Along with tips and more on how to win an eBay auction (something we have never been able to do), this book has an interesting section on some of the odder items up for sale on the world’s largest open market. There was the “”world’s longest french fry,”” for example, which actually sold for $200. A nuclear missile silo that had been converted to a private home (provided you didn’t mind living underground) was listed for $2.1 million, and eventually sold for that amount. For those who prefer an above-ground home, you can bid on converted Boeing 727s mounted on concrete columns. A possible risk is that the house might take off in a hurricane.

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