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The Well-Wired Home


Satellite Radio
Sirius or XM?

What You Need to Know
If you’re a serious radio listener, you should subscribe to satellite radio. Consider the few hundred dollars you’ll pay for a new receiver and the $12.95 monthly fee a small price to pay for freedom (mostly) from commercials—with no static reception and a far greater range of music choice thrown in.

You have a choice between two major providers, XM and Sirius, which are going head-to-head to attract big-time talent and exclusive sports events. Most of you will want to choose Sirius: Although the subscriber base is much smaller (1.2 million versus 3.5 million), the programming is superior. With 150 channels, XM has a ton of Christian rock stations and NASCAR broadcasts—great for Middle America, but not for most New York residents. At 120 channels, Sirius has pro and college basketball and NFL football (XM has baseball) and better talk and edgier music stations: Air America, NPR, a hip-hop channel run by Eminem, the E Street Band’s Little Steven’s fantastic Underground Garage channel, and, in 2006, Howard Stern.

Activating your radio is as simple as logging on to a Website: To get started, all you’ll need is a receiver and a credit card. Make sure you buy a model with a plug-and-play receiver that detaches from the radio—then you can easily move it from home to car to beach (XM does have an advantage here—it’s a standard option in more car models). Be prepared for the occasional signal dropout, even though the newest receivers have a special antenna to minimize this.

What You Don’t Need to Know
On their Websites, both XM and Sirius explain how their satellites are the bee’s knees. Save your eyes. A satellite is a satellite. Both offer great digital signals. Similarly, don’t worry about receiver specs; there’s little difference between them. Don’t even think about the enticing video services each company says they’ll roll out; you’ll probably need a new receiver to get the shows, and they won’t be available until late 2006 at the earliest.

Top: Best
Tivoli Model Satellite No. 175, $299 If you still want AM-FM integrated with your satellite programming, this Sirius radio, with its pretty cherrywood cabinet, is for you (Harvey Electronics; 212-575-5000).

Bottom: Budget
Sirius Sportster, $99
Geared toward sports enthusiasts, this receiver prompts you with a beep and an onscreen message when your team is playing; it’ll also hunt for your favorite song (Circuit City; 718-399-2990).

Home Phone
Landline or Broadband?

What You Need To Know
Your landline is often clogged with static. Your cell phone is unreliable and expensive. It might be time to switch to an Internet line—much hyped since the mid-nineties, now finally ready for neophytes. It’s cheaper—especially on international calls—and often clearer, too. There are about a dozen services to choose from, but the best is Vonage, which has 550,000 subscribers. At $24.99 monthly for unlimited local and long-distance calls within the U.S., it’s cheaper than your landline, with much better functionality than free services like Skype. Vonage has a 911 service (many broadband plans don’t) and a slew of free add-ons like voice mail and caller I.D. If you make a lot of international calls, it’s a bargain: 3 cents a minute to London versus 93 cents from Verizon. And it’s easy to keep your old phone (it plugs into an adapter) and number (although it won’t be published in the book). Installation takes ten minutes: Plug Vonage’s router into your cable modem, then plug your phone into the router, and you’re set.

What You Don’t Need to Know
If you encounter acronyms like PSTN, RTP, and SIP, forget them. They’re all shorthand for the technology protocols that bring the service to you. You don’t need to know how the phone works without slowing down Web surfing or downloading: Just be thankful that it does.


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