Are you the publisher? Claim or contact us about this channel


Embed this content in your HTML

Search

Report adult content:

click to rate:

Account: (login)

More Channels


Channel Catalog


Channel Description:

Consumer Reports

older | 1 | .... | 335 | 336 | (Page 337) | 338 | 339 | .... | 384 | newer

    0 0

    Jamaican Lottery Scammers Gained Skills in Call Centers

    It happens to thousands of Americans every year. The phone rings and on the other end is a scammer who makes vulnerable seniors believe they've won millions of dollars in a lottery. Many hang up the phone when they get such a call, but others end up paying thousands of dollars to cover bogus expenses such as taxes, and never receive any prize.

    Some of these calls came from a particularly notorious group that runs a complex, organized crime known as the Jamaican lottery scam. These scammers are highly organized. They know how to keep their victims on the phone for as long as possible, engage them in conversation and even connect with them on a personal level.

    To boost their credibility, the scammers may use web-based tools such as Google Earth to get details about their victims such as the color of the car in their driveway, or the distance of their home from a local bank. They may research their potential victims on websites such as Instant Checkmate and Spokeo to get details such as their previous home addresses and even divorce records.

    An Education in Customer Service

    How did these scammers become so convincing? Ironically, some honed their phone skills while employed in customer-service call centers set up by legitimate U.S. and Canadian companies, according to Corporal Kevin Watson, a police officer with Jamaica's Major Organized Crime and Anticorruption Agency, Jamaica's equivalent of the FBI. These call centers, located in Kingston and in St. James Parish, had once been used by airline companies, car insurers, computer manufacturers and credit-card companies. Watson, in testimony that was part of a court case against a scammer, said that young Jamaicans were hired and trained in customer service and taught how to communicate and empathize with the people they called.

    But things started to go wrong in the 1990s when some of those employees began using the empathy skills they had learned for more nefarious purposes. They began to target the elderly who often had retirement assets and may also have been suffering from dementia or loneliness.

    They got their names from people who develop and sell “lead lists” or “sucker lists” of potential victims.  Watson explains that scammers usually make cold calls to surprise their victims. "He'll say, 'You are the winner of $3.5 million.' And then he'll say, 'You're going to also receive a 2012 or 2013 BMW motor car.' And then ask, 'How are you feeling?'

     

    To prevent detection, the crooks tell their marks to keep quiet about their winnings so that others don't become jealous. And they'll follow up with their victims, sometimes calling them multiple times a day to remind them of their good fortune. These scammers pursue their American victims relentlessly and the result is that many elderly Americans are convinced that the calls are legitimate. They then send thousands of dollars to the scammers so to get them to release the promised sweepstakes winnings. 

    Accomplices in the U.S. collect and launder the money victims send, often moving it by “mules” back to Jamaica and other countries where the scammers live.  For many, the consequences of the Jamaican scam could be dire: Some victims lose not just their life savings, but also their lives.

    'I Want to Be a Scammer'

    There is hope that fewer of these scams will take place in the future. A 2013 Jamaican law has made prosecution easier and law enforcement has been cracking down on the scams and working with the U.S.  

    In May, for example, Sanjay Williams, a seller of "lead lists," was found guilty in federal court in Bismarck, North Dakota, of conspiracy to commit wire fraud or mail fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and 35 counts of wire fraud. Sentencing is scheduled for late November.

    Even so, there are plenty of others who see scamming as a way to make a great living. In his testimony in the Sanjay Williams case, Watson said, "A lot of Jamaicans, especially in the western parishes, have seen this as the only source of income. You also will find children who grow up to believe that it's okay to get involved in lottery scamming."

    Watson recalled being asked by an elementary school teacher to talk to her 35 students because half of them had told her they wanted to become lottery scammers. "I asked the little boys, 'Why do you want to become lottery scammers?' Their answers were the same: All lottery scammers drive nice cars, they own big houses, and all they have to do is make a call."

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    A Surprising Way Big Pharma Keeps Drug Prices High

    Ten years ago, consumers were on the verge of getting a lower-priced, generic version of the brand name antibiotic Doryx (doxycycline). But the drug's manufacturer, Warner Chilcott, stopped making the drug in its original capsule form and instead began producing it as a tablet. This seemingly minor change meant that generic manufacturer, Mylan, was blocked from being able to market the matching generic tablet it had been developing.

    Warner Chilcott is now embroiled in a lawsuit that charges it used those and similar tactics—such as adding score lines to the tablets and ceasing production of the unscored tablets—to manipulate the patent and generic laws to stay one step ahead of generic manufacturers.  

    That tactic, called “product hopping,” is a strategy drug makers have begun using in recent years to stall the development of generic versions of a medication so they can keep brand-name drug prices high. But it is coming under fire from the Federal Trade Commission and several consumer groups, which charge in a federal court case that it’s a violation of antitrust law that bilks consumers of millions of dollars in high drug prices.

    In the case, the generic-drug company Mylan accuses Warner Chilcott of using product hopping to prolong its patent on Doryx. A district court in Pennsylvania sided with Warner in April, ruling that its product hopping tactics did not violate antitrust law.

    But Mylan has appealed the decision. And last week it got a boost from several consumer groups, including Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, AARP, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Families USA, U.S. PIRG, and others, which jointly filed an amicus brief in support of the appeal.

    The FTC also flexed its muscles, filing a separate amicus brief in support. The consumer groups and the FTC fear that if the initial decision is left to stand, it will open the door for other drug companies to use product hopping to stifle generic competition and keep drug prices high. And that would mean consumers would be stuck with a hefty bill.

    The delay of getting even one generic drug on the market could easily cost consumers hundreds of millions of dollars, says George Slover, a senior policy counsel for Consumers Union. “If product hopping is allowed to become standard practice, the cost to consumers could be staggering."

    Slover says there’s hope the courts will declare product hopping illegal. In May, a different federal appeals court, the Second Circuit, upheld a ruling that Actavis’ product hopping with its Alzheimer’s medication Namenda was illegal. In that case, New York state accused Actavis (now Allergan) of switching Namenda from an immediate-release to an extended-release formulation to delay generic immediate-release alternatives from being launched.

    When we contacted Allergan, which now owns both Doryx and Namenda, for this story, it declined to comment on either case.

    It could take a prolonged battle in the courts to finally settle the law against product hopping. But Slover notes that it took more than a decade for consumer advocates to stop another generic-blocking scheme called “pay for delay.”

    Under that tactic, the brand-name drug maker pays off a generic manufacturer to delay the launch of its generic formulation of the drug, so the brand name can continue to sell at a high price. For years, courts ruled that drug companies were shielded from the antitrust laws because of their patent. The FTC ultimately took the fight against pay for delay to the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2013 that the antitrust laws apply to the scheme.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Structural Weakness Found in Recaro Performance RIDE Child Seat

    Best known for engineering seats for race cars and the automotive aftermarket, Recaro also manufactures high-end child seats for passenger cars. In Consumer Reports' latest tests of convertible child seats, the performance of one model from Recaro raised safety concerns. In some forward-facing tests, the harness of the Recaro Performance RIDE loosened—a result that gives us concern for the seat’s ability to best protect its small passengers in actual frontal crashes that have similar or more severe conditions than our test.

    We recommend that owners currently using the seat in the forward-facing position consider replacing it with a seat that could provide a greater margin of safety. As we have no reservations about use of the seat in its rear-facing orientation, a safe interim solution may also be to return your child to a rear-facing orientation, if the child is still below the 40-pound weight limit and 22.5-inch seated height (from posterior to top of head) limit for the rear-facing position.

    Here’s what you need to know—and what to do. We notified the company and its response is below. We also notified the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the government agency with oversight over car seats.  

    What Is the Concern?

    • In our simulated crash performance tests, the harness support hardware at the rear of the seat shell in the child’s shoulder area on the Recaro Performance RIDE convertible seat broke. This allowed the harness to pull through the seatback and loosen as the child-sized dummy moved forward.
    • This problem occurred in three of four tests using the 35-pound, 3-year-old dummy. In all three cases, the seat was installed on the test sled by lower LATCH anchors and top tether, not a three-point seat belt.
    • The seat did not exhibit any signs of structural degradation when installed in the rear-facing orientation.
    • Tests run with the larger 52-pound, 6-year-old dummy installed with the three-point seat belt and tether showed similar harness support breakage and harness pull-through.  

    Why Is This Type of Structural Issue a Concern?

    The potential risk of a harness that loosens in an actual vehicle crash would be the increased forward movement of the head and added potential for a child’s head to contact some surface in the vehicle interior. There also is increased risk for the child to be ejected from the seat, and for the harness to no longer secure the child for any secondary or subsequent impacts or events.  

    What Can You Do?

    • If your child is currently riding rear-facing in a Recaro Performance RIDE, we have no concerns regarding the seat’s performance in that orientation based on our test results. The issues described here affect only the forward-facing orientation.
    • If your child is riding forward-facing but is still below the 40-pound allowable weight limit and 22.5-inch seated height (from posterior to top of head) limit for rear-facing, then returning your child to a rear-facing orientation is safest until you can replace the seat. We realize this may be difficult for children who might have already become used to a forward-facing orientation, but it’s still a safer alternative.
    • We would recommend that parents and caregivers shopping for a new convertible seat consider models that performed better in our stringent tests over the Recaro Performance RIDE. Simply put, no other convertible model of the 25 we put through our new crash performance test, introduced in the spring of 2014, showed the propensity for the degree of structural failure as this seat. See our current Ratings for convertible seats for guidance.
    • Note that the current published convertible seat Ratings reflect crash performance Ratings based on the test protocol we applied to these seats up until last year and do not yet reflect performance in our new test. However, as noted above, because no other convertible seat we’re in the process of rating in the new, more stringent test exhibited the same degree of structural compromise as the Recaro Performance RIDE, we think it a safer option to choose a different seat.
    • If you are using the seat forward-facing for a child who exceeds the rear-facing limits, then we would recommend you replace the seat as soon as possible but continue to use the seat as instructed until you do so. Even with our concerns, any child car seat provides a significantly higher level of safety over none at all.
    • To contact Recaro customer service, call 888-973-2276 or write to info-usa@recaro-cs.com.

    Was This the Only Seat That Had a Problem?

    • Of the 25 convertible child seat models tested in this latest group, five, including the Recaro Performance RIDE, exhibited some structural issues when tested with either the 52-pound, 6-year-old test dummy or its weighted (62 pounds) counterpart.
    • What separates the Recaro Performance RIDE from those other models is that the harness structure failure for the Recaro seat occurs with the smaller 3-year-old dummy.
    • Performance for this condition causes us to have a higher level of concern for this seat. At 35 pounds, the 3-year-old dummy represents only 54 percent of the seat’s 65-pound rated capacity. In addition, a 3-year-old child is also at the optimal age to be using this seat in a forward-facing orientation. Only the Recaro Performance RIDE exhibited this level of structural failure with the 3-year-old dummy.
    • Though structural issues with the larger dummies are also a concern, they represent less risk in terms of exposure as more kids at the higher weights allowed by this seat are likely to already have transitioned to a booster seat.

    Are These Seats Causing Injuries in Real-World Use?

    Although we know of no real-world injury related to the structural failure revealed in our crash tests, the performance of this seat in our test was enough of a concern to us compared with the performance of other models to warrant public release of these results prior to those of the entire test group, which is expected for late fall. At that time, our Ratings of convertible child seats will also be updated to reflect results from our new test. Our published Ratings of infant child seats already reflects performance in our new frontal impact tests. 

    Tell Me More About the Test

    • Our new crash test introduced for infant seat testing in the spring of 2014 is designed to more closely simulate the crash and vehicle conditions that a child seat experiences in contemporary vehicles and to better differentiate child seats that provide higher levels of safety.
    • To accomplish this, the new test includes three important changes: 1) Child seats are installed on a test seat that better replicates the stiffness and geometry of a current model vehicle by using the cushions and hardware from an actual vehicle. 2) The test includes a surface that simulates the back surface of an automobile’s front seat to more accurately represent an actual vehicle environment. 3) The test is conducted at a speed of 35 miles per hour—which is 5 miles per hour more than the 30-miles-per-hour minimum standard—and with crash characteristics that more closely mimic contemporary vehicle crashes in terms of maximum acceleration and the rate of deceleration.
    • Though the conditions are more challenging than current government tests and our tests therefore do not indicate performance under those standards, these simulated conditions are well within the reality of conditions that could be encountered in a real crash.

    Wasn’t the Recaro Performance RIDE Already Recalled?

    • The Recaro Performance RIDE was also recently subject to recall (September 15, 2015) for the potential of the top tether to detach from the seat in compliance crash tests conducted by NHTSA.
    • This recall is unrelated to the seat’s performance in our tests or our results.
    • Our tests included recently produced versions that already incorporated the tether remedy provided by the recall, and the results were the same.
    • The recall’s corrective action is the addition of a “load limiting” strap that attaches to the existing top-tether strap and provides an additional attachment point to the back of the seat shell.
    • We recommend top tether use for all forward-facing seats, as we have seen tether use result in significant benefits for reducing forward head motion in our tests and encourage owners to pursue the corrective actions for the tether associated with this recall.

    What Did Recaro Say?

    After sharing our results with Recaro, the company responded:

    "The Recaro Performance RIDE convertible car seat has saved the lives of many children involved in a car crash and has never experienced a field failure after being in the marketplace for over five years. Recaro tests to meet and exceed all National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash test requirements. The research by Consumer Reports was conducted with a crash test at 40 percent more energy at its peak than current NHTSA standards. We want to reassure our consumers that we take all aspects of a child’s safety seriously and will examine these findings closely. Recaro appreciates Consumer Reports' interest in child passenger safety."

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Waffle Makers That Make Your Morning

    On any given day in Consumer Reports' labs, blenders are whirring, cameras are snapping, and lightbulbs are burning. But our favorite tests are those that involve cooking—burgers, pizza, cookies, and most recently, waffles. Round waffles, square waffles, and the popular Belgian waffle.

    So get out the maple syrup. All six waffle makers tested by Consumer Reports turned out perfectly good waffles, but the $100 Cuisinart Breakfast Central Belgian Waffle Maker WAF-300 served up plate after plate of Belgian waffles that were nicely and evenly cooked on both sides, whether on low or high heat.

    You’ll hear a beep when the waffle maker is ready to go and when the waffles are done. “Especially if you’re in the throes of preparing a brunch, the beep brings your attention back to the waffles so you don’t burn them,” says Sara Brown, a Consumer Reports tester who trained at the Culinary Institute of America. “And the Cuisinart can cook four waffles at a time, allowing you to join your friends at the table a bit faster.” There’s a limited three-year warranty for this waffle maker, and the nonstick waffle plates are easy to clean. Remove them and snap in the pancake plates. And check out the manual’s recipe for blueberry sour cream pancakes—it sounds delicious.

    The waffle recipe does make a difference, says Brown. “If there isn’t a lot of liquid you’ll get denser, less crispy waffles.” We tried five recipes made from scratch plus two store-bought mixes, and our favorite recipe was Aretha Frankenstein’s Waffles of Insane Greatness that we found on the Food52 website. The waffles were light and crisp, and insanely good.

    Waffle Maker Roundup

    Here are the other five waffle makers we tested, appearing in order of overall performance, based on consistency, repeatability, and how easy it was to set a proper temperature.

    Waring Belgian Waffle Maker WMK200, $58
    If you can live with non-removable plates—cleaning is a bother, especially when waffles stick—then the Waring is a good choice. The heat is adjustable, and regardless, waffles were consistently cooked, with little difference between tops and bottoms. But pay attention, as it lacks an audible alert.

    All-Clad Belgian Waffle Maker 2-Square NS, $175
    Waffles turned out about the same whether we used the low or high heat setting, and were nicely browned on both sides, over and over again. There is an audible alert, but the plates cannot be removed for cleaning.

    Hamilton Beach Breakfast Master 26046, $35
    We found a small difference in our waffles using the high and low heat settings. Waffles turned out progressively lighter over four multiple batches, and one side of the waffles was browned more than the other.

    Black & Decker Double Flip WMD200B, $50
    Consistently turned out waffles that were evenly cooked on both sides. But you can’t adjust the heat so selecting how browned your waffles turn out involves a bit more guesswork. Cooking plates aren’t removable for easy cleaning, and there’s no beep that alerts you that the waffles are done.

    NordicWare Stovetop Belgian Waffler 15040, $40
    The only stovetop waffle iron tested, we found that consistently turning out nicely cooked waffles was challenging and takes practice, timing, and carefully managing your burner settings.  It also requires the most attention when preheating and cooking, and gave the most variable results.

    Whichever waffle maker you choose, you'll enjoy adding this breakfast staple to your repertoire. You can find plenty of recipes online including these from Food & Wine, the Joy of Cooking, and the The New York Times.  

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    CR Names Former CBS News Exec to Lead Media Relations

    Kelli Halyard Appointed Director of Strategic Media Relations and Organizational Communications

    YONKERS, NY – Consumer Reports, the largest and most trusted consumer organization in the world, has named former CBS News executive Kelli Halyard as its new Director of Strategic Media Relations & Organizational Communications.

    Ms. Halyard will drive CR’s media relations strategy, fostering deeper relationships with key media during a period of dynamic change for the organization. As part of her role, she will advance CR’s efforts to reach new audiences through creative digital platforms, forge innovative partnerships that raise consumer voices and drive marketplace change, and deliver unrivaled content and analysis to consumers where they are. Ms. Halyard also will lead CR’s internal communications team.

    She is the most recent of several high-profile hires steeped in new media made by CR this year to drive CR’s digital transformation, including VP, Digital Jason Fox, who joined CR from Thomson-Reuters; Chief Technology Officer Pete DiRenzo, from Re/Code; Director of Engagement Geoffrey MacDougall, from Mozilla; and Director of Social Media Kevin Winterfield, from IBM.

    “We’re delighted to welcome another terrific talent like Kelli to our team as we engage new audiences through new media platforms and channels,” said Robert McEwen, VP, Communications. “Kelli is a digitally-savvy veteran whose expertise and experience in media will be invaluable as we create the breakthrough stories and trusted content consumers demand to navigate an ever more complex and crowded marketplace.”

    As Executive Director of CBS News Communications, Ms. Halyard managed a staff of seven public relations professionals, overseeing all media and talent relations, public affairs, strategic planning, day-to-day publicity, and external communications.

    She was responsible for communications strategy for a wide range of CBS News broadcasts and platforms including CBS Evening News, CBS This Morning, CBSNews.com, and the CBS News Polling & Survey Unit. During her nearly 20 years at CBS, she managed public relations for the debuts of multiple new programs and worked closely with network news personalities including Katie Couric, Bryant Gumbel, Bob Schieffer, and Lara Logan.

    “I'm thrilled by the opportunity to join Consumer Reports at such an exciting time for the organization,” Ms. Halyard said. “I’ve admired CR’s rigorous reporting and breakthrough stories on consumer issues, made possible by their remarkable product testing capability and policy work. I'm honored to be part of a talented team whose work impacts the marketplace in such positive ways for consumers.”

    About Consumer Reports
    Consumer Reports is the world’s largest and most trusted nonprofit, consumer organization driving marketplace change to improve the lives and amplify the voices of consumers.  Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has achieved substantial gains for consumers on food and product safety, financial reform, health and other issues. The organization has advanced important policies to cut hospital-acquired infections, prohibit predatory lending practices and combat dangerous toxins in food. Consumer Reports' independent testing and rating of thousands of products and services is made possible by its member-supported 50 plus labs, state-of-the-art auto test center and consumer research center. Consumers Union, a division of Consumer Reports, works for pro-consumer laws and regulations in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace. With more than eight million subscribers to its flagship magazine, website and other publications Consumer Reports accepts no advertising, payment or other support from the companies whose products it evaluates.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Consumers Union Petitions California Medical Board to Require Doctors on Probation to Notify Their Patients

    Nearly 500 California Doctors Are on Probation but Patients Are Kept in the Dark

    SACRAMENTO, CA – Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports, filed an administrative petition with the Medical Board of California today urging it to require doctors who are on probation to notify their patients.  Nearly 500 doctors in the state are on probation, but they are not required to disclose that information to the patients they treat. 

    “Californians deserve the right to know whether their doctor is on probation for serious misconduct that could jeopardize their health,” said Lisa McGiffert, manager of Consumers Union’s Safe Patient Project.  “But right now, most patients have no idea when their doctor has been disciplined and put on probation by the Medical Board.”

    Doctors can be put on probation by the Medical Board for a variety of offenses, including repeated gross negligence, substance abuse, sexual misconduct, and other miscellaneous violations.  For a list of California doctors on probation as of September 29, 2015 compiled by the Medical Board of California and obtained by Consumers Union in accordance with the California Public Records Act, see California Doctors on Probation.  In addition to the physicians listed in this spreadsheet, an additional 48 physicians were issued probationary licenses by the Medical Board and continue to be on probation as of September 29, 2015.      

    In 2012, the staff of the Medical Board of California recommended that doctors on probation should be required to inform their patients, however that proposal was rejected by the Board, which is made up mostly of doctors.  Instead, the Medical Board posts information about the doctors who are on probation on its website and distributes that information upon request.  Doctors on probation must disclose their disciplinary status to hospitals and malpractice insurers, but they have no obligation to tell their patients.  

    The California Research Bureau found that doctors who have been sanctioned by the Medical Board for serious offenses are far more likely to be disciplined in the future than doctors who have not been sanctioned.  Indeed, the Medical Board’s own research reached the same conclusion.  It found that 17 percent of the 444 doctors who were actively practicing while on probation during FY 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 required additional discipline or surrendered their licenses while on probation.  By comparison, similar research has found that less than 1 percent of doctors who were unsanctioned were subsequently disciplined during a follow-up period studied.  

    “Patients shouldn’t be kept in the dark when their doctor has been put on probation,” said McGiffert.  “The Medical Board of California needs to put patients’ interests first by requiring doctors on probation to inform those they treat.”

    Consumers Union is the public policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports.  Consumers Union works for health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace. Consumer Reports is the world’s largest independent product-testing organization.  Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually.  Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website, and other publications. 

    Media Contact:
    Michael McCauley, Consumers Union, 415.431.6747 ext. 7606 or mmccauley@consumer.org

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Ultra HD Blu-ray Players Probably Won't Arrive Until 2016

    As we reported in January, 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray players were supposed to arrive by the end of this year. They probably won't. And if you're a fan of 3D TV, you won't see 3D movies in 4K glory, though some manufacturers might offer players that can accommodate current high-def 3D titles.

    That disappointing news is among the takeaways from a recent briefing by the Blu-ray Disc Association, or BDA, which said the industry is moving into licensing and product deployment now that the specifications for Ultra Blu-ray have been completed. While the BDA can't speak for manufacturers, it did acknowledge that it expected to hear several product announcements at CES in January.

    Is there any chance Ultra HD Blu-ray players will emerge before the holidays? That's looking unlikely. Earlier this week, Panasonic announced it would ship its first UHD player, the $3,000-plus UBZ1, to stores in Japan in November. There are no firm plans for a U.S. launch. Samsung previously reported that its first UHD Blu-ray player won't arrive until 2016.

    Some Good News

    • When Ultra HD Blu-ray players do finally hit the market, Ultra Blu-ray players—paired with high-performing UHD TVs—should provide the best picture quality consumers have ever seen. The specifications include 4K (3840x2160) resolution, 10-bit color with support for color gamuts beyond the current Rec.709 standard, and rates of up to 60 frames per second.
    • Ultra HD Blu-ray players that offer high dynamic range support will all conform to a baseline SMPTE specification, but manufacturers and movie studios will decide for themselves whether they want to support additional, optional HDR formats from brands such as Dolby (Dolby Vision) and Philips as well.
    • The new Ultra HD Blu-ray discs will feature the more efficient HEVC video encoding adopted by almost all the streaming services that offer 4K content. They will also support both Dolby (Atmos) and DTS (DTS-X) object-based audio. Current standard high-def Blu-ray discs can be played on Ultra HD Blu-ray players, but the new UlHD Blu-ray titles won't work on regular Blu-ray players.

    Some have questioned whether Blu-ray discs will have a future in a world increasingly enamored with streaming. The industry's response is simple: Ultra HD Blu-ray player and discs provide the best possible picture quality for those who own high-performing UHD TVs. The picture quality of the 4K content from services such as Amazon and Netflix is highly dependent on the viewer's broadband connection and the amount of network traffic inside and outside the viewer's home.

    With a constant bitrate in excess of 100Mbps second—four times the FCC's definition of what constitutes broadband—Ultra Blu-ray promises a consistent, reliable, high level of performance currently unmatched by streaming.

    At the same time, the industry has acknowledged the shifts in viewer habits with an Ultra Blu-ray feature called "copy and export." As its name suggests, copy and export lets you make a bit-for-bit copy of an Ultra HD film or program and store it on an authorized hard drive. That means you can probably expect to see Ultra HD Blu-ray players with 1TB or more hard drives.

    Using the export feature, you'll be able to transfer a file—presumably a lower-quality version of the content—to authorized mobile devices. But you can't transfer it directly on your own to that device; it will have to go through a third-party service such as Vidity or UltraViolet. Both the movie studio and the player will have to implement this feature for it to work.

    Just like current Blu-ray titles, Ultra Blu-ray discs can carry lower-quality content, such as 1080p programs or movies, but manufacturers must clearly state that in the tech specs box on the package. One advantage to doing this would be to include an entire series on a single disc. There will be three disc sizes: 50GB, 66GB, and 100GB, depending on the length of the program material and which extra features—wider color gamuts, HDR, etc—are included.

    While some company could still surprise us and ship Ultra HD Blu-ray players in time for the holidays, it's less likely with each passing day. We'll continue to monitor new developments.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Netflix Will Now Cost New Subscribers $10 a Month

    The tech industry usually rewards procrastinators with lower prices. Not Netflix. If you've been lingering over the decision to join the streaming service, you'll now pay $10 a month for the standard plan, the company's most popular plan. That's a buck more than the fee for current Netflix subscribers, who get to hold onto their $9 monthly payment for at least another year.

    The $10 plan allows for two simultaneous high-def streams. There's still an $8 basic plan that provides a single standard-definition stream; the $12 premium plan offers four simultaneous HD streams.

    This is Netflix's first increase since May 2014, when the company raised rates for new subscribers from $8 to $9 a month. The additional revenue will help Netflix acquire more content, securing exclusive deals in an increasingly competitive arena.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0
  • 10/09/15--10:28: New Deals on LG OLED TVs
  • New Deals on LG OLED TVs

    If the only thing that's been standing between you and a new OLED TV has been the price, here's some good news: LG just aggressively cut prices on a major portion of its 2015 OLED TV lineup. The new deals mean you can now get a 55-inch 1080p model for $1,800—the same TV cost $14,000 when it launched two years ago.

    Of course, you're still paying a lot more for an OLED set than for a comparably sized and featured LED LCD TV. But the 30 to 45 percent price cuts do make these  state-of-the-art TVs more affordable. The 55-inch LG 55EG9600, a 4K UHD curved set, is among the best TVs we've ever tested. (LG recently announced that some 4K OLED sets will support high dynamic range content when it becomes available.)

    Here are the reduced-price models:

    4K UHD OLEDs

    • 55-inch 55EF9500, $3,000
    • 65-inch 65EF9500, $5,000
    • 55-inch 55EG9600, $3,000 (curved)
    • 65-inch 65EG9600, $5,000 (curved)

    1080p Curved OLEDs

    • 55-inch 55EG9100, $2,000 (new model available starting the week of October 18)
    • 55-inch 55EC9300, $1,800 (while supplies last)
     

    We're excited about OLED TV technology, which we think will eventually replace plasma TVs as the top TV choice for those who really care about picture quality. Right now LG is going it alone, but we're hoping to hear at CES 2016 that additional companies will start offering OLED TVs later in the year.

    We just purchased the 65-inch LG 65EF9500; we'll add it to our TV Ratings once testing is completed.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    5 Predictions for Black Friday 2015

    Black Friday is about seven weeks away, but our attention is already turning to this annual shopping extravaganza. Once again we expect electronics—specifically TVs—to play a starring role in retail promotions.

    While a lot of TV deals in the past were short-lived doorbuster specials on bare-bones models from lesser-known brands, recently we've seen major players step up with special deals of their own, sometimes for Black Friday "derivative" models you won't find at other times of the year. That means that on November 27 we're expecting to see some great deals on larger, better-featured televisions, too.

    With that in mind, we're offering five predictions about what's to come for the 2015 holiday shopping season. We'll be ramping up our Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and holiday shopping coverage across many electronics categories, so keep checking back for buying tips and information. 

    1. UHD TV Prices Will Hit New Lows

    Prices for 4K UHD TVs have been dropping, but you'll still typically pay $1,500—and in some instances a lot more—for a full-featured 60- or 65-inch set from a major brand. On Black Friday 2015, we expect to see a few sets this size hovering near the $1,000 mark, and perhaps some doorbuster specials from secondary brands for as low as $800.

    Prices for smaller sets will be even more aggressive. (Note that the benefits of the higher UHD TV resolution become less evident as screen sizes shrink, unless you'll be sitting very close.) We expect to see 49- and 50-inch UHD TVs from major brands for about $550, and sets from lesser-known brands for as low as $420. We expect 43-inch UHD sets from better-known brands to go for as little as $350.

    2. Hottest Deals Will Be on 60- and 65-inch 1080p TVs

    It wasn't so long ago that a 60-inch TV seemed gargantuan, but that's no longer the case. Last year we saw prices for 60-inch and larger 1080p sets drop significantly; Vizio's sub-$650 65-inch set was among the hottest Black Friday deals last year. This year we think you'll see prices from secondary brands fall to around $500, and some major brands will react with prices in the $600 to $700 range. But if you're looking for a smaller set, the most dramatic prices could be on 40-inch sets, which might go for as little as $100.

    3. Price Matching Will Become More Common

    Gone are the days when getting the best Black Friday deal meant poring over the circulars in the Sunday paper and bringing an ad into a store to see whether the retailer would match a competitor's price.

    Today, more retailers are matching online and in-store pricing. Just two weeks ago Target announced that it would expand its in-store and online price-matching policy by adding 24 online competitors, including warehouse clubs. Last year, Walmart started matching the prices of about 30 online competitors, and Best Buy has been price matching with seven online retailers, including Amazon, for years. These are all part of what we believe will be a growing trend that can help you get the best deals.

    Two things to consider, though. One, the item almost always has to be an exact match; one reason retailers like to get exclusive derivative models is that they can't be priced matched. Secondly, the product has to be in stock.

    Oddly, price-matching policies aren't really used very much. Research we've seen shows that only 2 to 3 percent of shoppers take advantage of them. That could mean that the process is too onerous, or that shoppers should be more assertive if they want to get the best deals.

    4. More Retailers Will Be Social-Media Savvy

    More retailers have become social-media proficient, offering the best deals only to those who follow them on Facebook and Twitter, get their Pinterest and Instagram feeds, or sign up for text and email alerts.  Some retailers might use the geolocation feature in your cell phone to alert you to special deals when they know you're in one of their stores, nearby, or even at a competitor's location. So make sure you're following your favorite retailers on social media and have signed up to get alerts well in advance of Black Friday.

    5. Pricing Will Become More Transparent

    Since much of the Black Friday activity is all about prices, consumers will increasingly leverage all the options at their disposal to make sure they get the best deal. That will make the differences in pricing more transparent.

    According to Chicago-based research firm Market Track, 85 percent of all shoppers this year will research prices online and then buy in stores, a marked increase from last year. Electronics will be the most heavily compared products online. But the survey revealed another statistic that might be a bit deflating to brick-and-mortar stores: 84 percent of shoppers plan to shop on Amazon.com, citing low prices as their reason.

    Noting that each year the differences between in-store and online prices have narrowed, Market Track also says that retailers are shifting their messaging from one that focuses strictly on price to one that stresses convenience. That means they will be emphasizing services such as order online/pick up in store, faster delivery of online orders, and free shipping on out-of-stock merchandise.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Jamaican Lottery Scammers Gained Skills in Call Centers

    It happens to thousands of Americans every year. The phone rings and on the other end is a scammer who makes vulnerable seniors believe they've won millions of dollars in a lottery. Many hang up the phone when they get such a call, but others end up paying thousands of dollars to cover bogus expenses such as taxes, and never receive any prize.

    Some of these calls came from a particularly notorious group that runs a complex, organized crime known as the Jamaican lottery scam. These scammers are highly organized. They know how to keep their victims on the phone for as long as possible, engage them in conversation and even connect with them on a personal level.

    To boost their credibility, the scammers may use web-based tools such as Google Earth to get details about their victims such as the color of the car in their driveway, or the distance of their home from a local bank. They may research their potential victims on websites such as Instant Checkmate and Spokeo to get details such as their previous home addresses and even divorce records.

    An Education in Customer Service

    How did these scammers become so convincing? Ironically, some honed their phone skills while employed in customer-service call centers set up by legitimate U.S. and Canadian companies, according to Corporal Kevin Watson, a police officer with Jamaica's Major Organized Crime and Anticorruption Agency, Jamaica's equivalent of the FBI. These call centers, located in Kingston and in St. James Parish, had once been used by airline companies, car insurers, computer manufacturers and credit-card companies. Watson, in testimony that was part of a court case against a scammer, said that young Jamaicans were hired and trained in customer service and taught how to communicate and empathize with the people they called.

    But things started to go wrong in the 1990s when some of those employees began using the empathy skills they had learned for more nefarious purposes. They began to target the elderly who often had retirement assets and may also have been suffering from dementia or loneliness.

    They got their names from people who develop and sell “lead lists” or “sucker lists” of potential victims.  Watson explains that scammers usually make cold calls to surprise their victims. "He'll say, 'You are the winner of $3.5 million.' And then he'll say, 'You're going to also receive a 2012 or 2013 BMW motor car.' And then ask, 'How are you feeling?'

     

    To prevent detection, the crooks tell their marks to keep quiet about their winnings so that others don't become jealous. And they'll follow up with their victims, sometimes calling them multiple times a day to remind them of their good fortune. These scammers pursue their American victims relentlessly and the result is that many elderly Americans are convinced that the calls are legitimate. They then send thousands of dollars to the scammers so to get them to release the promised sweepstakes winnings. 

    Accomplices in the U.S. collect and launder the money victims send, often moving it by “mules” back to Jamaica and other countries where the scammers live.  For many, the consequences of the Jamaican scam could be dire: Some victims lose not just their life savings, but also their lives.

    'I Want to Be a Scammer'

    There is hope that fewer of these scams will take place in the future. A 2013 Jamaican law has made prosecution easier and law enforcement has been cracking down on the scams and working with the U.S.  

    In May, for example, Sanjay Williams, a seller of "lead lists," was found guilty in federal court in Bismarck, North Dakota, of conspiracy to commit wire fraud or mail fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and 35 counts of wire fraud. Sentencing is scheduled for late November.

    Even so, there are plenty of others who see scamming as a way to make a great living. In his testimony in the Sanjay Williams case, Watson said, "A lot of Jamaicans, especially in the western parishes, have seen this as the only source of income. You also will find children who grow up to believe that it's okay to get involved in lottery scamming."

    Watson recalled being asked by an elementary school teacher to talk to her 35 students because half of them had told her they wanted to become lottery scammers. "I asked the little boys, 'Why do you want to become lottery scammers?' Their answers were the same: All lottery scammers drive nice cars, they own big houses, and all they have to do is make a call."

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    A Surprising Way Big Pharma Keeps Drug Prices High

    Ten years ago, consumers were on the verge of getting a lower-priced, generic version of the brand name antibiotic Doryx (doxycycline). But the drug's manufacturer, Warner Chilcott, stopped making the drug in its original capsule form and instead began producing it as a tablet. This seemingly minor change meant that generic manufacturer, Mylan, was blocked from being able to market the matching generic tablet it had been developing.

    Warner Chilcott is now embroiled in a lawsuit that charges it used those and similar tactics—such as adding score lines to the tablets and ceasing production of the unscored tablets—to manipulate the patent and generic laws to stay one step ahead of generic manufacturers.  

    That tactic, called “product hopping,” is a strategy drug makers have begun using in recent years to stall the development of generic versions of a medication so they can keep brand-name drug prices high. But it is coming under fire from the Federal Trade Commission and several consumer groups, which charge in a federal court case that it’s a violation of antitrust law that bilks consumers of millions of dollars in high drug prices.

    In the case, the generic-drug company Mylan accuses Warner Chilcott of using product hopping to prolong its patent on Doryx. A district court in Pennsylvania sided with Warner in April, ruling that its product hopping tactics did not violate antitrust law.

    But Mylan has appealed the decision. And last week it got a boost from several consumer groups, including Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, AARP, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Families USA, U.S. PIRG, and others, which jointly filed an amicus brief in support of the appeal.

    The FTC also flexed its muscles, filing a separate amicus brief in support. The consumer groups and the FTC fear that if the initial decision is left to stand, it will open the door for other drug companies to use product hopping to stifle generic competition and keep drug prices high. And that would mean consumers would be stuck with a hefty bill.

    The delay of getting even one generic drug on the market could easily cost consumers hundreds of millions of dollars, says George Slover, a senior policy counsel for Consumers Union. “If product hopping is allowed to become standard practice, the cost to consumers could be staggering."

    Slover says there’s hope the courts will declare product hopping illegal. In May, a different federal appeals court, the Second Circuit, upheld a ruling that Actavis’ product hopping with its Alzheimer’s medication Namenda was illegal. In that case, New York state accused Actavis (now Allergan) of switching Namenda from an immediate-release to an extended-release formulation to delay generic immediate-release alternatives from being launched.

    When we contacted Allergan, which now owns both Doryx and Namenda, for this story, it declined to comment on either case.

    It could take a prolonged battle in the courts to finally settle the law against product hopping. But Slover notes that it took more than a decade for consumer advocates to stop another generic-blocking scheme called “pay for delay.”

    Under that tactic, the brand-name drug maker pays off a generic manufacturer to delay the launch of its generic formulation of the drug, so the brand name can continue to sell at a high price. For years, courts ruled that drug companies were shielded from the antitrust laws because of their patent. The FTC ultimately took the fight against pay for delay to the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2013 that the antitrust laws apply to the scheme.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Structural Weakness Found in Recaro Performance RIDE Child Seat

    Best known for engineering seats for race cars and the automotive aftermarket, Recaro also manufactures high-end child seats for passenger cars. In Consumer Reports' latest tests of convertible child seats, the performance of one model from Recaro raised safety concerns. In some forward-facing tests, the harness of the Recaro Performance RIDE loosened—a result that gives us concern for the seat’s ability to best protect its small passengers in actual frontal crashes that have similar or more severe conditions than our test.

    We recommend that owners currently using the seat in the forward-facing position consider replacing it with a seat that could provide a greater margin of safety. As we have no reservations about use of the seat in its rear-facing orientation, a safe interim solution may also be to return your child to a rear-facing orientation, if the child is still below the 40-pound weight limit and 22.5-inch seated height (from posterior to top of head) limit for the rear-facing position.

    Here’s what you need to know—and what to do. We notified the company and its response is below. We also notified the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the government agency with oversight over car seats.  

    What Is the Concern?

    • In our simulated crash performance tests, the harness support hardware at the rear of the seat shell in the child’s shoulder area on the Recaro Performance RIDE convertible seat broke. This allowed the harness to pull through the seatback and loosen as the child-sized dummy moved forward.
    • This problem occurred in three of four tests using the 35-pound, 3-year-old dummy. In all three cases, the seat was installed on the test sled by lower LATCH anchors and top tether, not a three-point seat belt.
    • The seat did not exhibit any signs of structural degradation when installed in the rear-facing orientation.
    • Tests run with the larger 52-pound, 6-year-old dummy installed with the three-point seat belt and tether showed similar harness support breakage and harness pull-through.  

    Why Is This Type of Structural Issue a Concern?

    The potential risk of a harness that loosens in an actual vehicle crash would be the increased forward movement of the head and added potential for a child’s head to contact some surface in the vehicle interior. There also is increased risk for the child to be ejected from the seat, and for the harness to no longer secure the child for any secondary or subsequent impacts or events.  

    What Can You Do?

    • If your child is currently riding rear-facing in a Recaro Performance RIDE, we have no concerns regarding the seat’s performance in that orientation based on our test results. The issues described here affect only the forward-facing orientation.
    • If your child is riding forward-facing but is still below the 40-pound allowable weight limit and 22.5-inch seated height (from posterior to top of head) limit for rear-facing, then returning your child to a rear-facing orientation is safest until you can replace the seat. We realize this may be difficult for children who might have already become used to a forward-facing orientation, but it’s still a safer alternative.
    • We would recommend that parents and caregivers shopping for a new convertible seat consider models that performed better in our stringent tests over the Recaro Performance RIDE. Simply put, no other convertible model of the 25 we put through our new crash performance test, introduced in the spring of 2014, showed the propensity for the degree of structural failure as this seat. See our current Ratings for convertible seats for guidance.
    • Note that the current published convertible seat Ratings reflect crash performance Ratings based on the test protocol we applied to these seats up until last year and do not yet reflect performance in our new test. However, as noted above, because no other convertible seat we’re in the process of rating in the new, more stringent test exhibited the same degree of structural compromise as the Recaro Performance RIDE, we think it a safer option to choose a different seat.
    • If you are using the seat forward-facing for a child who exceeds the rear-facing limits, then we would recommend you replace the seat as soon as possible but continue to use the seat as instructed until you do so. Even with our concerns, any child car seat provides a significantly higher level of safety over none at all.
    • To contact Recaro customer service, call 888-973-2276 or write to info-usa@recaro-cs.com.

    Was This the Only Seat That Had a Problem?

    • Of the 25 convertible child seat models tested in this latest group, five, including the Recaro Performance RIDE, exhibited some structural issues when tested with either the 52-pound, 6-year-old test dummy or its weighted (62 pounds) counterpart.
    • What separates the Recaro Performance RIDE from those other models is that the harness structure failure for the Recaro seat occurs with the smaller 3-year-old dummy.
    • Performance for this condition causes us to have a higher level of concern for this seat. At 35 pounds, the 3-year-old dummy represents only 54 percent of the seat’s 65-pound rated capacity. In addition, a 3-year-old child is also at the optimal age to be using this seat in a forward-facing orientation. Only the Recaro Performance RIDE exhibited this level of structural failure with the 3-year-old dummy.
    • Though structural issues with the larger dummies are also a concern, they represent less risk in terms of exposure as more kids at the higher weights allowed by this seat are likely to already have transitioned to a booster seat.

    Are These Seats Causing Injuries in Real-World Use?

    Although we know of no real-world injury related to the structural failure revealed in our crash tests, the performance of this seat in our test was enough of a concern to us compared with the performance of other models to warrant public release of these results prior to those of the entire test group, which is expected for late fall. At that time, our Ratings of convertible child seats will also be updated to reflect results from our new test. Our published Ratings of infant child seats already reflects performance in our new frontal impact tests. 

    Tell Me More About the Test

    • Our new crash test introduced for infant seat testing in the spring of 2014 is designed to more closely simulate the crash and vehicle conditions that a child seat experiences in contemporary vehicles and to better differentiate child seats that provide higher levels of safety.
    • To accomplish this, the new test includes three important changes: 1) Child seats are installed on a test seat that better replicates the stiffness and geometry of a current model vehicle by using the cushions and hardware from an actual vehicle. 2) The test includes a surface that simulates the back surface of an automobile’s front seat to more accurately represent an actual vehicle environment. 3) The test is conducted at a speed of 35 miles per hour—which is 5 miles per hour more than the 30-miles-per-hour minimum standard—and with crash characteristics that more closely mimic contemporary vehicle crashes in terms of maximum acceleration and the rate of deceleration.
    • Though the conditions are more challenging than current government tests and our tests therefore do not indicate performance under those standards, these simulated conditions are well within the reality of conditions that could be encountered in a real crash.

    Wasn’t the Recaro Performance RIDE Already Recalled?

    • The Recaro Performance RIDE was also recently subject to recall (September 15, 2015) for the potential of the top tether to detach from the seat in compliance crash tests conducted by NHTSA.
    • This recall is unrelated to the seat’s performance in our tests or our results.
    • Our tests included recently produced versions that already incorporated the tether remedy provided by the recall, and the results were the same.
    • The recall’s corrective action is the addition of a “load limiting” strap that attaches to the existing top-tether strap and provides an additional attachment point to the back of the seat shell.
    • We recommend top tether use for all forward-facing seats, as we have seen tether use result in significant benefits for reducing forward head motion in our tests and encourage owners to pursue the corrective actions for the tether associated with this recall.

    What Did Recaro Say?

    After sharing our results with Recaro, the company responded:

    "The Recaro Performance RIDE convertible car seat has saved the lives of many children involved in a car crash and has never experienced a field failure after being in the marketplace for over five years. Recaro tests to meet and exceed all National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash test requirements. The research by Consumer Reports was conducted with a crash test at 40 percent more energy at its peak than current NHTSA standards. We want to reassure our consumers that we take all aspects of a child’s safety seriously and will examine these findings closely. Recaro appreciates Consumer Reports' interest in child passenger safety."

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Waffle Makers That Make Your Morning

    On any given day in Consumer Reports' labs, blenders are whirring, cameras are snapping, and lightbulbs are burning. But our favorite tests are those that involve cooking—burgers, pizza, cookies, and most recently, waffles. Round waffles, square waffles, and the popular Belgian waffle.

    So get out the maple syrup. All six waffle makers tested by Consumer Reports turned out perfectly good waffles, but the $100 Cuisinart Breakfast Central Belgian Waffle Maker WAF-300 served up plate after plate of Belgian waffles that were nicely and evenly cooked on both sides, whether on low or high heat.

    You’ll hear a beep when the waffle maker is ready to go and when the waffles are done. “Especially if you’re in the throes of preparing a brunch, the beep brings your attention back to the waffles so you don’t burn them,” says Sara Brown, a Consumer Reports tester who trained at the Culinary Institute of America. “And the Cuisinart can cook four waffles at a time, allowing you to join your friends at the table a bit faster.” There’s a limited three-year warranty for this waffle maker, and the nonstick waffle plates are easy to clean. Remove them and snap in the pancake plates. And check out the manual’s recipe for blueberry sour cream pancakes—it sounds delicious.

    The waffle recipe does make a difference, says Brown. “If there isn’t a lot of liquid you’ll get denser, less crispy waffles.” We tried five recipes made from scratch plus two store-bought mixes, and our favorite recipe was Aretha Frankenstein’s Waffles of Insane Greatness that we found on the Food52 website. The waffles were light and crisp, and insanely good.

    Waffle Maker Roundup

    Here are the other five waffle makers we tested, appearing in order of overall performance, based on consistency, repeatability, and how easy it was to set a proper temperature.

    Waring Belgian Waffle Maker WMK200, $58
    If you can live with non-removable plates—cleaning is a bother, especially when waffles stick—then the Waring is a good choice. The heat is adjustable, and regardless, waffles were consistently cooked, with little difference between tops and bottoms. But pay attention, as it lacks an audible alert.

    All-Clad Belgian Waffle Maker 2-Square NS, $175
    Waffles turned out about the same whether we used the low or high heat setting, and were nicely browned on both sides, over and over again. There is an audible alert, but the plates cannot be removed for cleaning.

    Hamilton Beach Breakfast Master 26046, $35
    We found a small difference in our waffles using the high and low heat settings. Waffles turned out progressively lighter over four multiple batches, and one side of the waffles was browned more than the other.

    Black & Decker Double Flip WMD200B, $50
    Consistently turned out waffles that were evenly cooked on both sides. But you can’t adjust the heat so selecting how browned your waffles turn out involves a bit more guesswork. Cooking plates aren’t removable for easy cleaning, and there’s no beep that alerts you that the waffles are done.

    NordicWare Stovetop Belgian Waffler 15040, $40
    The only stovetop waffle iron tested, we found that consistently turning out nicely cooked waffles was challenging and takes practice, timing, and carefully managing your burner settings.  It also requires the most attention when preheating and cooking, and gave the most variable results.

    Whichever waffle maker you choose, you'll enjoy adding this breakfast staple to your repertoire. You can find plenty of recipes online including these from Food & Wine, the Joy of Cooking, and the The New York Times.  

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Why a Generator Needs a Transfer Switch

    Sales of portable generators tend to spike around major storms, from just before to weeks afterward. But getting a generator up and running in a hurry often means bypassing the recommended installation procedure and making do with extension cords, which can be unsafe. That’s why you should plan ahead and do it right by installing a transfer switch. There's also another way to connect a generator to your electric service that costs significantly less.

    Why a Transfer Switch

    The power receptacles on a generator are helpful for when you need to power something too far away from your home to use house power. But for the house, a transfer switch lets you easily and safely power what you need most—your refrigerator, furnace or boiler, a sump pump, and more.

    Power to your fridge can come from your generator or your utility—not both. The transfer switch works by having a dedicated set of switches for each of the circuits you want to power. Skipping the transfer switch and connecting your generator directly to your electrical service panel could fry appliances, endanger utility workers who might be working on power lines, or damage your generator. You also won't know when utility service is restored unless you see your neighbors' lights go back on.

    With a transfer switch (about $500 to $900 to install, including labor), you’ll have one connection to make—plugging one end of a cable into the generator and the other into a dedicated box connected to the transfer switch. You’ll need at least a 5,000-watt generator to use one. Stationary (standby) generators have a transfer switch that automatically comes on when the power goes off.

    A Cheaper Alternative

    Most manufacturers of service panels and many third-party manufacturers make a small connector called an interlock device. Each is intended for a specific model of panel, but all work the same way: They let you attach your generator to your service panel without a transfer switch but without the hazards of a direct connection.

    An interlock kit, $50 to $150, should also be installed by an electrician, who will tell you whether it will work with your electrical system and whether it meets code. When in place, the interlock covers your service panel’s main cutoff switch so that you can’t switch it on while the generator is running. Once utility power is back, you slide the interlock back to its usual position. Power thus flows in only one direction.

    Since this route is more manual than using a transfer switch, you’ll need to follow a certain sequence to avoid getting a spike of energy from the generator. But that’s the price you pay to save hundreds on buying and installing a transfer switch.

    Looking for a portable or stationary generator? Check our generator buying guide before plugging into our generator Ratings of nearly four dozen portable and stationary models.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Bathroom cleaning products that make it shine

    Getting the bathroom ready for company takes a little more effort than hanging holiday-themed guest towels. It’s time to polish the porcelain and scrub the tub. Fortunately, the experts at Consumer Reports are seasoned grime fighters who test cleaning products all year long. Here are some of our recommended bathroom cleaning products and others you can skip.

    Paper towels

    Sponges can be magnets for bacteria and a bathroom is germy enough. Try cleaning with paper towels that you can then discard. In our tough paper towel tests, we measure absorbency, wet strength and how a paper towel holds up when used to scrub a rough surface. For everyday wipe-ups, Bounty Extra Soft was excellent for absorbency and very good for scrubbing and wet strength. But for bigger jobs use the Bounty DuraTowel, which was excellent on all three tests and the top-scoring towel in our tests by far. But it’s more expensive than most so you may want to reserve it for tougher jobs.

    All-purpose cleaners

    Liquid Pine-Sol Original was the only all-purpose cleaner in our tests that didn’t leave streaks on a mirrored surface so that should be your go-to cleaner for the bathroom. It was also very good at removing soap scum and at cleaning up food stains more commonly found in the kitchen. In our tests, three spray cleaners were also very good at tackling soap scum but they all left streaks on the mirror. They include such familiar brands as Seventh GenerationClorox, and Trader Joe's. And if your grout is discolored, you’re better off relying on a tried and true cleanser like Ajax or Comet than on those as-seen-on-TV grout cleaners. In our tests of the Groutinator and Grout Bully, both about $10, they were tricky to apply and neither lived up to its claims. 

    Vacuums

    A cordless sweeper vacuum with wet and dry options sounds like a good option for a bathroom floor. But in our vacuum cleaner tests of the Dyson Hard DC56 and the Swiffer Sweeper/Vac, neither of the hybrids vacuumed as well as the best hand or stick vacuums in our tests.

    Instead, try one of our top three hand vacuums, which were all excellent at cleaning bare floors and getting into edges. They include the battery-powered Shark Pet Perfect II, $60, and the corded Eureka Easy Clean, $50, and Bissell Pet Hair Eraser, $35.

    Our top stick vacuum, Dyson V6, $300, was excellent at cleaning carpet, pet hair, bare floors, and edges. But it might be a bit pricey for a vacuum dedicated to the bathroom. For that try the Dirt Devil Accucharge BD20035RED, $70, which was very good at bare floors and edges and quite quiet.

    Toilet paper

    If you're stocking up on toilet paper, you can’t go wrong with White Cloud Ultra Soft & Thick from Walmart, which was our top scorer. It was excellent at softness, strength and disintegration.  

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    2016 Honda Civic Strives to Be Premium Again

    Redesigned from the ground up, the 2016 Honda Civic hopes to recast the automaker’s mainstay small car as premium and aspirational, rather than just a big-selling commodity. While this represents a significant shift, the Civic just may have the goods to pull it off.

    There's some history here: Once upon a time, the Civic was the class act among compact sedans, a well-honed jewel in a segment known for cheap wheels. But the current Civic, introduced in 2012, turned out to be a detour, scoring so low in Consumer Reports' Ratings that we didn't recommend it. Updates improved the car some, but many competitors outscore and "out nice" the Civic.

    Longer, wider, and sleeker, the 2016 Honda Civic works hard to escape its recent mundane past. The cabin is more stylish, with nicer materials and a pass-through center console. Practicalities aren't missed, with decent visibility despite the slicked-back styling, and more rear-seat leg room. A prominent touch screen in higher-trim models brings both blessings—Apple CarPlay and Android Auto—and the curse of Honda's own unintuitive interface. 

    The new base engine is a 2.0-liter four cylinder; higher-trim models feature the first turbocharged Honda car engine in America, a small-displacement 1.5-liter. While a manual transmission is available on the base LX trim, most Civics will have a continuously variable automatic.

    Competition in this segment is fierce, and this new Civic isn't the only compact sedan that's trying to hit above its weight class; for example, 2016 brings a promising new Chevrolet Cruze.

    We’ll have more details soon on the 2016 Honda Civic in a First Drive. Further down the road, we will see how both the Civic and Cruze fare when we buy them to test at the Consumer Reports test track.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0
  • 10/14/15--05:00: Where Are Your Tires Made?
  • Where Are Your Tires Made?

    Looking down a highway, it is plain to see that the automotive industry is truly a global enterprise. Cars are often assembled in countries far afield from the corporate headquarters, using parts from myriad countries. The same can be said for tires, as evidenced by the hundreds we bought to test last year.

    The 72 car tire models we tested this year came from all over the world. This batch included 21 brands, with those tires made in 19 countries.

    Tires manufactured in the United States were most numerous, but no single country was a majority source, as you'll see below. However, it is possible the production balance could shift stateside in the future, as several new tire plants are slated for construction in the U.S. in the next couple of years.

    BFGoodrich, Cooper, Dunlop, Firestone, General, Goodyear, Michelin, and Yokohama currently build tires here in America, although these are not all truly American brands.  

    For instance, BFGoodrich is owned by Michelin, based in France; Firestone is owned by Bridgestone (Japan); and General is owned by Continental (Germany). Yokohama is a Japanese company.

    Complicating national pedigree further, manufacturers might not build all their models exclusively in any one country. The Goodyear tires we tested were built in Canada, Chile, Germany, and the U.S. Michelin tires were manufactured in Italy, Spain, and the U.S., but none came from France. And the tires we tested from Italian tire maker Pirelli were made in Mexico and Russia.

    Our testing program showed no clear trend that would correlate performance with country of origin, even by tire type. Still, it is interesting to see that 40 percent of the all-season tires were made in the U.S.; in contrast only 1 of 23 winter tires was built here.

    So, national bragging rights have no traction—especially when so many tires are not built in the brand’s home nation. The closest trend we found is that Consumer Reports’ top scoring all-season, performance all-season, and winter tires came from Italy, Mexico, Portugal, Spain, Russia, and the U.S.

    If you’re looking for the best tires for your car or truck, review Consumer Reports performance Ratings rather than judge by a tire’s nationality.  

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0
  • 10/15/15--13:20: Why Do Batteries Leak?
  • Why Do Batteries Leak?

    If you own a flashlight, a spare TV remote, or a talking teddy bear, you’ve almost certainly learned what happens when you leave alkaline batteries installed in a device for too long. It’s not pretty.

    But what causes batteries to leak that crusty, white mess? 

    To start, it helps to think of a battery as a tiny fuel tank built to house a chemical reaction. As the elements in that tank interact, generating power through use or self-discharge, the liquid electrolyte breaks down, releasing hydrogen gas. And gas—as we all know—creates pressure.

    “It’s like water expanding,” says Prashant Kumta, Ph.D., a chemical and materials engineering professor at the University of Pittsburgh. “It can rupture the seals and cause a leak.”

    The Great Escape

    Once the insulating seals at the ends of the battery have been breached (in some cases, the outer steel canister might rust and corrode as well), the hydrogen escapes without notice. But the liquid electrolyte—in this case, potassium hydroxide—exits with it. Beware: Potassium hydroxide can cause eye, skin, and respiratory irritation. If you come in contact with it, rinse well and consult with a doctor to see whether you need medical care.

    In general, though, the potassium hydroxide reaches the open air and reacts with carbon dioxide to form potassium carbonate—that white powder that cakes on the battery’s shell. “That’s one of the most stable compounds in the world,” says Venkat Viswanathan, Ph.D., an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. “It’s essentially like rock salt.”

    To be safe, you should still wear gloves when you handle the powder and refrain from breathing it in or eating it. As you’ve probably noticed, the potassium carbonate also has an adverse effect on the performance of your device.

    So What Do You Do?

    To clean a gadget caked with the aftermath of a leaking battery, dip a cotton swab in an acid such as lemon juice or distilled white vinegar and dab it on the potassium carbonate—that neutralizes it. Go slowly. You don’t want the acid to wreak havoc on the device’s other components. The liquid will start to fizzle as it interacts with the potassium carbonate. Once the white powder softens, you can gently rub it away with a cloth or toothbrush.

    When you’ve finally restored your prized possession to working order, consider using lithium batteries in place of alkaline. They’re more expensive but far less prone to leaking and less likely to self-discharge, too.

    For more tips and information, check our battery buying guide and Ratings.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Sharing Passwords Before an Emergency

    What if you were suddenly incapacitated and the person you rely on to take care of you didn’t know the passwords to access your online accounts?

    Couples often talk about sharing passwords for important information, but many never get around to actually doing so. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, fully one-third of Internet users in a marriage or committed relationship have not shared the password to one or more of their online accounts with their spouse or partner. 

    Another frequent scenario: The spouse in charge of your family’s financial affairs might  have diligently compiled a list of all of the passwords she uses but didn’t indicate which are obsolete, leaving you to sift through all 106 combinations exactly when you don’t need the additional stress.

    Compiling a list of passwords isn’t as complicated or time-consuming as it might first appear. The most difficult hurdle, probably, is making the decision to do it. A variety of technological and nontech solutions make collecting and storing the passwords easy. That’s key when it comes to sharing passwords: You want to be able to readily access the information so that you can keep it up to date. 

    The Digital Solution for Sharing Passwords

    One of the best ways to manage your passwords—and manage how you share them—is with a password manager. These are programs, some of them free, that you can download and install on your computer. You set one username and password to log into the program; this becomes the only username and password you ever have to remember.

    The password manager typically requires a plugin for your browser (also typically free). Once the plugin is in place, the password manager shadows you when you log into sites, captures your login credentials, and uses your usernames and passwords to log you into those sites automatically in the future.

    Some of the password managers include a feature that lets you share your username and password with someone else, without them being able to see the information. They download the same password manager and are automatically given access to your site. Or you can write down your username and password, and tell your spouse or partner where this information is. If you’re concerned about security, one option is to seal the paper with your username and password in an envelope, and sign your name across the seal.

    Some free password managers that have a sharing feature are: Last Pass, Dashlane, Keeper, and PasswordBox. Just be sure to keep the person you’ll rely on updated if you change your username or password. Keeper, for example, permits multiple tries to access your information, then it wipes out everything in the file. 

    Back to Basics

    A non-tech backup is always a good idea. Nothing beats a basic notebook—think of the black-and-white composition books you used in high school or their spiral-bound cousin. They’re cheap, they make it easy to collect and add information, and they scream “useful information inside,” especially if you affix a label outside. Allot a page for each category, such as financial accounts; electronics, such as your phone, computer and email; and medical information websites if your physician stores your records online. List the websites and passwords for each.

    Then stash the notebook in a locked, fireproof box in an easily accessible place, such as under the bed or in the closet. Keep the key in a bureau drawer or wherever you store important keys. Remember to label the key. 

    We’ve all been taught, “Never share your passwords!” But such advice doesn’t take into consideration needs in an emergency. It only takes one frustrating denial when you try to withdraw money on your partner’s ATM card to demonstrate why sharing passwords—or at least some of them—makes sense. 

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

older | 1 | .... | 335 | 336 | (Page 337) | 338 | 339 | .... | 384 | newer