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How to avoid the post-Christmas gadget depression

It's January and if you're like many Canadians, that everything-you-ever-wanted gadget that came under the tree is now sitting in the corner of your living room.

Welcome to the disappointment stage of gadget ownership, something that for Canadians often centres around what kind of content is available for their new device.

Perhaps you bought an Apple TV thinking you could rent your favourite TV show in HD for just 99 cents an episode only to learn that you can't rent TV shows in Canada.

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Or maybe you've tried downloading the Pandora app onto your new smartphone or to access Spotify over your new Sonos system; or the inability to subscribe to the Sirius plus XM satellite radio package or to watch Hulu on your new Boxee Box. You get the picture.

Over many years of running a successful website dedicated to digital devices and trying to help Canadians get the most of their technology, I have discovered a few ways you can turn disappointment in technological happiness:

Update the firmware

Firmware is the term used to describe the software that controls what functions your device is capable of doing and how it operates. In the old days, the firmware was loaded onto a device and never changed. This meant that how the device operated and what it was capable of doing was fixed from the time it left the factory. However, in recent years many electronic devices including Audio/Video receivers, cable set top boxes, satellite receivers, video game consoles, Internet routers, smartphones, HDTVs, and Blu-ray players now have the ability to connect to the internet and download updates to their core software.

These firmware updates often fix annoying and frustrating bugs in the existing software and quite often add many new features that can make your new toy more fun and easier to use. For example, the firmware on the original Apple iPod Touch let you play music and video. Version two of the firmware gave the iPod Touch the ability to download and install software apps. The ability to load software apps onto the iPod Touch is now one of the most compelling reasons for owning one.

When you get a new electronic toy, be sure to go to the support section of the manufacturers website and find out if there are any firmware updates available for download.

Read the manual

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I am the first to admit that whenever I get a new electronic device, I often leave the owner's manual at the bottom of the box. This is usually a mistake because often a tremendous amount of frustration can be been avoided by reading the, often very short, "Getting Started" section.

Reading the manual is especially critical after buying a new AV receiver, HD television, or cable set top box. Every day on the Digital Home website, we have exasperated readers who can't figure out why their new audio receivers sounds bad or why their new HDTV picture looks crappy. In virtually every case, the fault lies with owners failing to set up their home theatre properly. Had they followed the diagrams in their manual, they would have avoided many problems.

Subscribe to a VPN service

If you are frustrated because you can't get access to many of those U.S.-only services, then consider subscribing to a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service such as those offered by StrongVPN. A VPN service lets Canadians access U.S. or U.K sites such as Hulu or Spotify by making it appear as though you are accessing the Internet from there. This is also useful if you want to shop at the U.S. iTunes store, as well. VPN services typically cost between $5 and $10 per month. You should know, though, that accessing sites through a VPN may contravene Terms of Service agreements.

Ask for help

In our technology-obsessed culture, where many of us pride ourselves as being "tech savvy," I have found that many Canadians would rather bury their ignorance rather than ask for help. It's important to remember that at some point, we were all newbies.

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If you don't know how to get something working, ask a friend. If you have no friends, then find a forum such as those on Digital Home, where you'll find plenty of people willing to help. Before asking though, be sure to read the forum's Frequently Asked Question or Sticky threads since they typically answer many common questions.

Hugh Thompson is the owner and publisher of Digital Home , a consumer electronics news and information website. As a voice for the Canadian consumer, Hugh is a frequent guest on radio and television programs across the country discussing the latest in consumer electronics and the business of convergence in the Digital Home.

Hugh's column will appear on the first Wednesday of the month.

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About the Author
Gadget/Electronics Columnist

Hugh Thompson is a Consumer Electronics enthusiast, writer, Internet Marketing Consultant, and former owner of Digital Home, a consumer electronics news and information website. More

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