After taking a few measurements, technology reviewer Stephen Manes recently determined that a new monitor advertised as HDTV-capable displayed...
After taking a few measurements, technology reviewer Stephen Manes recently determined that a new monitor advertised as HDTV-capable displayed hi-def signals in the wrong aspect ratio, creating basketball players that were even taller and skinnier than usual.
Manes checked with the manufacturer and was met with a lot of hemming and hawing. Eventually, he got the truth: “You’re the first person who’s asked, and you’re right.”
That kind of passion for precision is something I came to appreciate as Manes’ co-author of “Gates,” our biography of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, and it distinguishes his columns in Forbes and PC World magazines. It also made public television’s “Digital Duo,” which Seattle-based Manes co-hosted from 1999 to 2001, the most-watched TV show on technology before its exit in the dust of the dot-bust.
Happily, the departure was temporary. Tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. the program, renamed “PC World’s Digital Duo,” returns to KCTS with the first of 26 gadget-packed half-hour episodes and a dynamic new co-host, former Seattle Weekly technology columnist Angela Gunn. Already the show has been picked up in public-TV markets covering more than 60 percent of the U.S. population.
This time around, the series is being produced in KCTS’ state-of-the-art studios instead of the logistically problematic Boston (post-production is still done there). And Gunn’s return to Seattle from Washington, D.C., where she was tech editor at USAToday.com (for whom she still writes a column), makes planning and rehearsing episodes all that much easier.
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While Gunn had little previous TV experience, “she turned out to be a natural in front of the camera,” Manes said. Gunn says she had a lot of help, crediting director Bob Comiskey and executive producer Dennis Allen for encouragement and advice. KCTS’ “naturally geekish crew” aided the comfort factor as well, she said.
The result is a peppery on-screen chemistry reminiscent of early “Siskel and Ebert” shows. One-liners lighten up content that could bog down in product specs, and the “Duo” are at their most entertaining during “Save or Delete” sessions (a la “thumbs up” or “down”). Visuals are snappy and informative, with lots of equipment close-ups, and Comiskey keeps the camera hopping to give the show “a real kinetic feel,” Gunn said.
Jaded tech-TV watchers will appreciate the detail of content that the Digital Duo imparts in a very short space. Manes attributes this to careful scripting, as opposed to the ad-libbed, talking-heads approach rampant in what TV calls journalism.
And the critical eye Manes and Gunn bring to their reviews is a welcome change from the “infotainment” or “advertorial” puffery dominating the airwaves. No product escapes a dart or two, and they are careful about adding caveats even to raves.
At a time when payolalike scandals are rocking print and broadcast, the “Duo” places a premium on credibility. Manes gives the nod to PC World, which generated sponsorship for the series on an arm’s-length basis that averts potential conflicts of interest.
“People know I’m a pretty independent guy,” said Manes, who has been unflinchingly reviewing tech products for more than two decades. Explains Gunn: “There’s nothing quite like listening to Steve ‘deal with’ a pushy PR person over the phone.”
You have to pay attention while watching the “Duo,” as products and zingers fly by without pause. Gunn surprised even Manes with a one-liner on the “jaws of deletitude” near the end of one segment.
“It just blurted out,” she said with a laugh. “I hope the camera caught Steve’s expression.”
If you do miss something, PC World’s affiliated Web site, www.pcworld.com/digitalduo, offers replays of episodes and a welter of supporting information.
Note to readers:
As of this column I will be taking a four-month hiatus. I’ve been writing weekly technology columns since 1989 and it seems like a good time to hit the reset button. Thanks for all of your support over the years and see you on Labor Day!
Paul Andrews is a freelance technology writer and co-author of “Gates.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.