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Keurig goes 'Kold'

You might be hard-pressed to remember the last time you cracked open a can of soda and thought to yourself: "There's gotta be an easier way to drink this."

Yet the problem that probably doesn't exist is now the project that Keurig is leaning its hopes on.

Nearly 18 years after the company revolutionized how coffee drinkers prepare their morning cup of joe, Keurig is searching for its next stage of growth amid dwindling sales of the Keurig brewer.

That's where Keurig Kold comes in.

The cheekily misspelled cold drink machine, which launched in Canada on Tuesday, promises to serve up "fresh" glasses of popular soft drinks and flavoured waters using a variation of the same K-cup technology from its coffee machines.

But there are several other distinct differences with the new cold drink-maker — in particular its lack of convenience and the price.

At a hulking 23.7 pounds, the Keurig Kold machine weighs almost as much as a small microwave oven and sells at more than twice the cost. Its suggested retail price is $399.99 in Canada.

Each K-cup makes eight ounces of the beverage, a convenient serving, but that amounts to about $1.30 to $1.50 per glass. Simple math says that's more expensive than a 12-ounce can of soda.

"It's for the one that really wants to have a premium experience," said Keurig Canada president Stephane Glorieux when asked about the hefty costs that come with buying a Keurig Kold. "Although it seems very simple, there's a ton of technology behind this."

The Keurig Kold is more complex than its predecessor, which boils up some water and shoots it through a plastic pod and into a cup.

Inside the Kold machine, an "aerospace-inspired" contraption of thermoelectric conductors and a small propeller draw water from a reservoir up into the machine and help cool it to about four degrees Celsius, meaning ice is unnecessary.

Then the machine fires the liquid into a larger version of the K-cup, which stores both the flavour syrup and — in the case of some beverages — a new carbonated bead technology that adds the fizz.

The end result is a tasty and sweet treat that for a brief moment distracts from the reality that none of this process is really needed for a glass of soda or flavoured water.

Keurig built its reputation as a symbol of speed and convenience with machines that tucked into the corner of kitchen counters and eliminated the need to brew an entire pot of coffee just for one or two good cups.

The new machine is almost an antithesis to the company's early appeal. Aside from its large size, the Keurig Kold takes 90 seconds to make a beverage, which is a lot longer than it takes to pry open a can of Coke.

Keurig Kold is a direct play at a corner of the drinks market dominated by Sodastream, which uses CO2 cannisters to carbonate water and create flavoured sodas.

Sodastream does not have partnerships with the world's major soft drink makers, but Keurig counts Coca-Cola as its biggest outside partner, which means Coke, Coke Zero, Diet Coke and Sprite are among its 13 flavours in Canada.

Keurig Kold launched in the U.S. earlier this fall, but in Canada it will only be available online through the Keurig website and a couple other retailers during the crucial holiday season. The company said it plans to be in Canadian retail stores next year.

The approach suggests that even Keurig executives aren't entirely convinced the machine is going to be a hot seller.

"It's going to be a very structured approach to make sure that we build the install base," Glorieux said as he described the rollout. "This is not going to be a wild fire."

Last week, Keurig Green Mountain Inc. chief executive Brian Kelley told investors the new machine is still in its infancy.

"We know that the first product we put out in a new technology is never going to be perfect," he said.

"Consumers want it to be smaller. They want it to be less expensive. They want to have more sizes of drinks available. They want a broader selection of drinks. They want all of the brands they are used to drinking, just like they have in Keurig hot."


Skills not matching need

The head of one of Canada's largest banks says the country's post-secondary institutions are not producing enough graduates with the right skills to drive future economic growth.

CIBC chief executive Victor Dodig tells The Canadian Press in an interview that much of Canada's eventual growth will come from entrepreneurs who commercialize new ideas and technologies for all sectors of the economy.

He says Canada boasts high participation rates in post-secondary education, but it lags when it comes to increasingly important disciplines for innovation, such as science, engineering and mathematics.

He says there should be a better connection between the kinds of programs offered to students and the specific needs of industry.

Dodig says Canada needs to foster the innovation segment of the economy rather than always hoping for a low dollar or worrying about low energy prices and the struggling manufacturing sector.

He says more effort is needed in areas such as funding and intellectual-property protection to help innovative small companies grow into big, job-creating players.

Lost luggage worse in winter

Heading into winter, fliers should take extra precautions with their checked luggage — December and January are traditionally the worst months for lost bags.

To avoid problems, arrive at the airport early enough to let your bag get to the plane, and print out a copy of your itinerary from the airline's website and stick it inside just in case all the tags get ripped off.

In the U.S. during the first nine months of this year, 3.3 bags for every 1,000 passengers didn't make it to their destination on time, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. That's not great if you are one of those people whose bag is delayed or lost. But consider this: during the 2007 peak in air travel, airlines were mishandling more than twice as many suitcases — 7.2 bags per 1,000 passengers.

Globally, the baggage-mishandling rate has fallen 61 per cent from its peak in 2007, according to SITA, an aviation communications and technology provider. That has saved the industry $18 billion.

The vast majority of bags — 80 per cent — aren't lost but just delayed, according to SITA. And it takes about a day and a half to reunite passengers with their bags. Another 14 per cent are damaged or have their contents reported stolen. And nearly 6 per cent of bags are lost or stolen completely.

December and January tend to be the worst months because there are a lot of infrequent travellers checking multiple bags, and a few snowstorms can add to delays and suitcases that miss connections.

The overall improvements to baggage handling come after carriers spent millions of dollars to upgrade their systems.

Tug drivers now get real-time updates of gate changes so they can change their path and ensure that bags make their connection. Scanners allow bags to be tracked throughout the system, preventing a suitcase bound for Chicago from being loaded onto a plane to Detroit. Gate agents have printers to help tag bags that are checked at the last minute because of full overhead bins. And, overall, fewer bags are being checked because of bag fees.

"We continue to invest in technology and in processes so we understand where bags are at all times, and we can manage the failure points," says Bill Lentsch, senior vice-president for airport customer service and cargo operations at Delta Air Lines.

Airlines are also starting to empower passengers — or at least keep them better informed.

Delta was the first airline to allow fliers to track their own checked luggage, first on the airline's website in 2011 and then on its mobile app in 2012. Bag tags are scanned when the suitcase is dropped off, loaded onto a plane, loaded onto a connecting flight and then again before being placed on the carousel at baggage claim. Passengers can see all those scans.

American Airlines followed suit in August, allowing passengers to see when a suitcase was loaded or unloaded from a plane. Right now, it is only available on the airline's website but will eventually be part of the mobile app.

Sitting on a plane ready for takeoff and knowing that your suitcase isn't in the hold below might be frustrating. But airlines say they would rather have passengers know it then and talk immediately to a baggage representative, once on the ground, instead of standing at the carousel waiting for a suitcase that isn't there.

If your bag is late, you might be able to get some bonus frequent flier miles or even a voucher toward a future flight.

Since 2010, Alaska Airlines has promised that suitcases will be on the carousel within 20 minutes of the plane arriving at the gate. If not, passengers get a $25 voucher for a future flight or 2,500 bonus frequent flier miles. Delta copied that policy this year, offering 2,500 bonus miles to existing members of its frequent flier program — but no voucher. Act quickly: Alaska requires you to reach out within two hours of arrival; Delta within three days. And ultimately it's your stopwatch against the airlines' — they are the final arbiter of tardiness.

And if you wanted to get that $25 checked bag fee refunded, you are out of luck.


Future of self-driving cars

Federal transportation officials are rethinking their position on self-driving cars with an eye toward getting the emerging technology into the public's hands, according to a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Transportation

Just two years ago, the agency struck a cautious tone. Its official policy statement, published in May 2013, holds that cars should be limited to testing and not "authorized for use by members of the public for general driving purposes."

For several years, Google and several traditional automakers have been running prototypes equipped with a suite of sensors and cameras around public streets and highways, mostly in California.

Those cars must have someone behind the wheel, ready to take over. Some have gotten into collisions, though companies say in each case a person in another car caused the accident.

Google has advocated spreading self-driving cars into the public, once the tech titan concludes the technology is safe.

While states have taken the lead on regulating self-driving cars, policy makers in Washington hold some sway over states' decision-making. California's Department of Motor Vehicles in particular has asked for federal guidance as it struggles with how to move the cars safely from small-scale road tests to broader adoption.

In a written statement Monday, U.S. Department of Transportation spokeswoman Suzanne Emmerling said that with rapid development of the technology, federal policy is being updated.

"Breathtaking progress has been made," Emmerling wrote. She said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx ordered his department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration update its 2013 policy "to reflect today's technology and his sense of urgency to bring innovation to our roads that will make them safer."

It's unclear what the new policy will be, though the tone of the statement signalled that Foxx is interested in endorsing the technology.

Specific language the traffic safety administration in revisiting holds that states which do permit public access after testing should require that a qualified driver be behind the wheel.

Google has argued that once cars can drive as safely as humans, it would be better to remove the steering wheel and pedals so that people don't mess up the ride. A Google spokesman had no comment on word of the federal review.

The California State Transportation Agency has interpreted the 2013 federal guidance as urging caution. The federal update "reaffirms that the topic is evolving and one worthy of continued discussion and public input," spokeswoman Melissa Figueroa said. She said that the Department of Motor Vehicles is working to publish draft regulations by year's end. They were due last Jan. 1, but concerns such as proving that the technology is safe have held up those rules.

Advocating restraint has been the non-profit group Consumer Watchdog.

"We commend the DMV for its thoughtful and thorough approach, and urge that you continue to act in the public's interest, rather than succumbing to corporate pressure," John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog wrote last week in a letter to the department of motor vehicles. "The important thing is getting the regulations right, not rushing them out the door."

Coca-Cola pulled the strings

A non-profit founded to combat obesity says the $1.5 million it received from Coke has no influence on its work.

But emails obtained by The Associated Press show the world's largest beverage maker was instrumental in shaping the Global Energy Balance Network, which is led by a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Coke helped pick the group's leaders, edited its mission statement and suggested articles and videos for its website.

In an email last November, the group's president tells a top Coke executive: "I want to help your company avoid the image of being a problem in peoples' lives and back to being a company that brings important and fun things to them."

Coke executives had similarly high hopes. A proposal circulated via email at the company laid out a vision for a group that would "quickly establish itself as the place the media goes to for comment on any obesity issue." It said the group would use social media and run a political-style campaign to counter the "shrill rhetoric" of "public health extremists" who want to tax or limit foods they deem unhealthy.

When contacted by the AP about the emails, Coca-Cola Co. CEO Muhtar Kent said in a statement that "it has become clear to us that there was not a sufficient level of transparency with regard to the company's involvement with the Global Energy Balance Network."

"Clearly, we have more work to do to reflect the values of this great company in all that we do," Kent said.

The Atlanta-based company told the AP it has accepted the retirement of its chief health and science officer, Rhona Applebaum, who initially managed the relationship with the group. It said it will not fill the position as it overhauls how it goes about its health efforts. It also said it has stopped working the Global Energy Balance Network.

It's just the latest example of Coke working with outside experts to promote messages that benefit the company.

Coke has long maintained that the academics and other experts it works with espouse their own views. But the collaborations can be fraught and blur the lines between advertisements and genuine advice. In February, several health and fitness experts paid by the company wrote online posts with tips on healthy habits. Each suggested a mini-soda as a snack idea.

One dietitian wrote five such posts in less than a year.

The Global Energy Balance Network came under fire in August after The New York Times reported it was funded by Coke. On Nov. 6, the University of Colorado School of Medicine said it was returning $1 million from the company because of the distraction it was creating. The University of South Carolina said it plans to keep $500,000 it received from Coke because one of its professors is also among the group's leaders. The school said there was no misuse of funds.

On its website, the Global Energy Balance Network says it received an "unrestricted gift" from Coke, but that the company has "no input" into its activities.

Behind the scenes, however, Coke executives and the group's leaders held meetings and conference calls to hash out the group's mission and activities, according to emails obtained through a public records request. Early on, Applebaum informed the group's president, James Hill, that those involved would need to be open about collaboration with private industry.

"That is non-negotiable," she wrote.

Relatively minor matters, such as the group's logo, were also covered.

"Color will not be an issue — except for blue. Hope you can understand why," Applebaum.

Coke's cans are red, while Pepsi's are blue.

"It seems like another one of these classic cases of money coming from industry with no strings attached — that's the official message. But it's a very different kind of story taking place," said Leigh Turner, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota's Center for Bioethics, who studies academic integrity and conflicts of interest.

The exchanges weren't strictly limited to discussions about the group, and included Applebaum expressing approval or disapproval of health articles, and talk of other work with Coke. In an email to another Coke executive, Hill proposes research on "energy balance" that would be "very specific to coke interests."

Coke has long stressed the idea of "energy balance," or the need to offset calorie intake with physical activity. It's a basic concept few would disagree with, but critics say the company uses it to downplay the effects of sugary drinks by shifting more attention to the need for exercise.

In an introductory video, one of the Global Energy Balance Network's leaders said the media focuses on "eating too much, eating too much, eating too much — blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks and so on." The video has since been taken down, and the group said the idea that it only focuses on physical activity is inaccurate.

Hill declined a request for a phone interview, but said in an email that the group's strategy benefits "all who are concerned about obesity." He said Coke provided input into the group's "organizational structure," but that it was understood the company would be "hands off."

The group wants to continue its work, he said.

Since 2010, Coke said it gave $550,000 to Hill that was unrelated to the group. A big part of that was research he and others were involved with, but the figure also covers travel expenses and fees for speaking engagements and other work. It does not include money from Coke's overseas divisions or industry groups such as the American Beverage Association.

A new climate image

The advent of new leadership in Ottawa and Alberta will allow Canada to shed its international reputation as an environmental pariah, premiers asserted Monday as they arrived for their first formal meeting with a prime minister in nearly seven years.

Premiers praised Justin Trudeau's willingness to take national leadership on the climate change file at next week's United Nations climate summit in Paris.

And they applauded Alberta Premier Rachel Notley for unveiling Sunday a climate strategy that includes a hard cap on greenhouse gas emissions from the oilsands, which have been labelled "dirty oil" by international critics, including U.S. President Barack Obama, and have become a symbol of Canada's alleged environmental neglect.

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark said the international focus on the oilsands has obscured measures provinces have been taking to combat climate change, including B.C.'s carbon tax which she labelled the best in the world.

"We have had a black eye for a long time on environmental issues and we have not deserved it," she said.

"But now we're getting a chance to show the world really what we've been doing all these years and I think they'll be a little bit surprised."

The first minister's meeting is not expected to produce any new national target for reducing emissions or policies for achieving it. It is aimed more at demonstrating a new tone in the run-up to the Paris summit. Within 90 days of the summit, Trudeau has promised to hold another first ministers conference to hammer out a national climate strategy.

At that point, the prime minister will have to mediate conflicting demands from premiers over how to disperse the billions he's promised in federal funding to help provinces reduce their carbon footprint.

But the potential for a squabble over money didn't dampen premiers' enthusiasm Monday for finally having a federal partner in the fight against climate change.

Under former prime minister Stephen Harper, B.C.'s Clark said Canada tended to "talk about economic growth more than the environment on the international stage." She predicted Trudeau will do a good job in Paris of emphasizing the country's environmental stewardship.

"We're really lifting the curtain on Canada's success to show the world and we can only do that if we have a strong voice on the international stage. And that is a big change for us," she said.

Moreover, having Alberta, the primary oil-producing province, on side in the fight against climate change "is going to tell the world that we really are doing a lot," Clark added. "It's really going to make a difference."

Notley's plan includes imposition of a carbon tax and phasing out coal-fired power plants.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said Paris presents an opportunity to "rebrand" Canada.

"Our country needs a serious effort in rebranding on this theme of climate change and energy," he said.

"Not only are we an important producer of oil ... but we're also the third largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world."

With Alberta's new plan added to measures already taken to curb carbon emissions in B.C., Ontario and Quebec, Couillard added that almost 80 per cent of Canadians are now living in jurisdictions that have imposed a price on carbon.

"Nobody knows that in the world," he said. "It has to be known, it has to be said, it has to be repeated."

While his fellow premiers waxed enthusiastic about the leadership shown by Notley and Trudeau on the climate file, Saskatchewan's Brad Wall sounded the one note of caution. He noted that some 30,000 jobs have already been lost in Canada's energy sector with the plunge in oil prices over the past year.

"We can't forget the economy," he said. "We cannot forget the jobs that quite literally are at stake in a sector that's undergoing a lot of stress right now due to $40 oil. We've got to find that right balance."

He was also less glowing than other premiers about Alberta's plan, remarking only that it "removes an excuse" used by some critics who have objected to pipelines because western provinces weren't doing enough to combat climate change.

Saskatchewan announced earlier Monday that SaskPower will develop wind, solar and geothermal power with the goal of providing 50 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. The utility would still use some coal-fired power.

Wall reiterated his concern that the Trudeau government has talked about setting a more ambitious target for emission reductions than the Harper government, which proposed last spring a 30 per cent reduction below 2005 levels by 2030 — a target Wall had already complained would be "onerous" for his province.

For his part, Trudeau offered no new details as he opened the public portion of the gathering. Rather, he quickly ceded the stage to Notley, giving her a national podium from which to tout Alberta's new climate plan, which he called "historic" and "a strong positive step in the right direction."

"Today we come together in our national capital for the first time in a very long time to speak the truth about climate change, to stop denying there is an issue and to begin doing our part instead," Alberta's NDP premier said.

Before Trudeau and the premiers went behind closed doors, they were treated to a presentation from climate scientists, intended to persuade Canadians of the seriousness of the climate change crisis and to demonstrate that the Trudeau government is determined to craft public policy based on evidence, not politics.

Federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair welcomed the Trudeau government's new tone on climate change but warned that words have to be backed by real action.

Conservative environment critic Ed Fast urged the Liberals to make sure Canada's economic interests are not hurt by ambition on climate change.

Sask. eyes green power

SaskPower says it's going to develop wind, solar and geothermal power so that 50 per cent of power will come from renewable sources by 2030.

SaskPower CEO Mike Marsh calls it a directional target and says details about where wind or solar facilities might be located still have to be worked out.

About 30 per cent of power capacity could come from wind by 2030, but that doesn't necessarily mean wind will produce 30 per cent of Saskatchewan's power.

Marsh says wind is an intermittent power source and can only be counted on about 40 per cent of the time.

Bill Boyd, minister responsible for SaskPower, says the utility will still use coal and look to carbon capture to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Just three per cent of Saskatchewan's power was wind generated last year, while 44 per cent came from coal.

Fraud losses could hit $70M

Mass marketing fraud is big business and Canadians continue to fuel the enterprise. According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), Canadians were scammed out of nearly $69.5 million by mass marketing fraudsters in 2014.

This year is shaping up to be more of the same, with $35 million in reported losses as of the end of June. One local expert says part of the problem is Canadians may not realize they possess the means to protect themselves.

“The solution isn’t technology alone,” says Lindzee Herring, assistant vice-president of corporate security for Valley First, a division of First West Credit Union. “While technology helps, the most powerful tool for protecting yourself against fraud is common sense.”

Herring points out that fraud attempts often have a “too-good-to-be-true” quality to them. CAFC statistics indicate 40 per cent of fraud reported in 2014 was scams offering a service, prize or merchandise.

“When you hear or read an offer you can’t quite believe, that’s usually the first clue that something is fishy, that you need to slow down, think and avoid making an emotional response,” says Herring. “Acting emotionally can result in you becoming a victim.”

Much of today’s fraud uses what security experts call social engineering.

“Essentially, fraudsters craft messages in a way that’s intended to persuade or pressure you to do something, like clicking a link in an email that will infect your computer with malware or providing your credit card information over the phone,” says Herring. “This is why stopping to think and not feel pressured is so critical. When you realize you don’t have to act immediately, the pressure is off and the power rests with you.”

While a full two-thirds of reported financial losses originate online, through email or malicious websites, Herring reminds consumers to remember their regular mail and confidential documents are at risk as well.

“Identity fraud still occurs through mail theft or confidential documents that are not disposed of properly,” she says. “You should keep tabs on your mail to make sure those bills or statements are arriving consistently—and invest in a home office shredder to shred confidential documents”

Herring also recommends people consider electronic billing and statements and using mobile alerts to monitor their bank account activity. She says learning about common scams with materials like the Little Black Book of Scams is worthwhile too.

“People don’t need to be afraid,” adds Herring. “The truth is, once you become informed, you’re in control of the situation. You can evaluate the message, you can delete that email or hang up the phone.”

Art putchase reaps points

Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian, who doesn't exactly struggle to afford a plane ticket, can now likely fly free, in first class, with his whole family, anywhere in the world, for the rest of his life.

All because he bought a painting.

Liu was the winning bidder for Amedeo Modigliani's "Reclining Nude" at a Christie's auction this month — offering $170.4 million — and when the sale closes he'll be putting it on his American Express card.

Liu, a high-profile collector of Chinese antiquities and art, has used his AmEx in the past when he's won art auctions. He put a $36 million tea cup from the Ming Dynasty on his AmEx last year, according to reports, and put other artifacts on his card this year. He and his wife said they plan on using their American Express card to pay for the Modigliani, according to news reports after the sale.

American Express will not confirm Liu Yiqian's Modigliani purchase, or say if it would be the biggest ever on their cards, citing privacy reasons. But it can be done.

"In theory, it's possible to put a ($170 million purchase) on an American Express card," said American Express spokeswoman Elizabeth Crosta. "It is based on our relationship with that individual card member and these decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, based on our knowledge of their spending patterns."

Liu has an American Express Centurion Card, also known as the AmEx "black card," an invitation-only card that is given only to AmEx's biggest spending clients. The card has no official credit limit — and it earns points, just like most of the cards non-billionaires carry around.

Each AmEx card issued in each country accrues points differently. But using a baseline of one point per dollar, what American Express uses for its U.S. Platinum and Centurion Cards, Liu will earn 170,400,000 Membership Reward points for his painting purchase, which doesn't include tax or the fees Christie's charges. He has likely earned tens of millions of points for his earlier fine art buys, like the expensive tea cup.

Liu and his wife, in an interview with The New York Times, said they plan to use the points to allow their family to travel for the rest of their lives.

That shouldn't be a problem, according to Zach Honig, editor-in-chief of the travel rewards site ThePointsGuy.com.

"He's probably reached that goal with that single painting," Honig says.

Honig estimates that if Liu converted his Membership Rewards points into one of a number of airline frequent flier programs, he and his family could travel anywhere, in style. He could fly 3,000 times between the U.S. and Europe in the ultra-deluxe first class suites offered by Singapore Airlines (estimated cost: $17,800 round trip), if he converted points to Singapore's program. Even if Liu wanted to use his AmEx points to pay for flights, a less efficient use of them, he could still redeem those points for hundreds of first class flights anywhere in the world.

Lui, who is worth $1.4 billion according to Forbes, probably didn't use his Amex for the points. China allows its citizens to transfer no more than $50,000 out of the country in any year, and using his card could help him get around this limit because he's just paying back American Express or the bank in China who issues his card.

It's a common tactic, says Bill Majcher, a former financial crimes investigator for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who is now based in Hong Kong working as an investment banker.

"One simple little black AmEx card or one credit card, you never know what somebody's limits are," he said. "And some people have unlimited amounts based on their wealth and ability to pay."

One potential loser here could be Christie's. Every time an American Express card holder uses the card, AmEx charges the merchant a fee. That fee is usually 2 to 3 per cent, depending on the merchant. For a $170 million painting, millions of dollars could flow to AmEx instead of Christie's — enough, presumably, for AmEx to pay for the Liu family's future flights, and then some.

ABC deal for Miss America

The Miss America organization has agreed to a new three-year broadcast deal with ABC.

The deal announced Monday between the organization and Dick Clark Productions will keep the pageant on ABC through 2018.

The pageant is televised from Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall each September.

The Miss America pageant began in Atlantic City in 1921 as a way to extend the summer tourist season for a week after Labor Day. It moved to Las Vegas for six years before returning to Atlantic City in 2013.

4K TV: do you need it?

If you're shopping for a TV, get out a tape measure and do some quick calculations before you head to the store. And count the number of gadgets you'll want to connect to your screen.

Buying a TV is no longer just choosing how big a screen you want.

Here are some big decisions you'll face:



There's an emerging picture standard that offers four times the pixels of today's high definition. It's known as ultra-high definition, or 4K. But do you need it?

Measure the distance between your couch and the spot for your new TV. If you're sitting far away, a regular HD set will be just fine — for $100 to $200 less.

The farther away you sit, the less the extra pixels matter, as your eyes won't notice the difference. Conversely, the bigger the screen you have, the worse the resolution will be, and you'll notice that more when you're closer up.

How good is good enough?

A rough rule of thumb: You should sit back a little more than 1.5 times the diagonal length of the screen for TVs with full HD, also known as 1080p. So if a screen is 48 inches, or 4 feet, that's 6 feet back. For 4K, it's one to one, or 4 feet for that same screen. If your couch is 7 feet back, having 4K isn't worth it because you won't be able to tell the difference anyway. But it might if your couch is 4 or 5 feet back.

The calculation isn't that easy, but we've created this online tool to help you: http://interactives.ap.org/2015/tv-buying-guide/

Also consider how little 4K content there is. A few streaming services, including Netflix, Amazon and M-Go, offer some 4K content, and a standard for 4K Blu-ray discs is coming together this year. But 4K broadcasts are potentially years away. Buying a 4K TV now is mostly about being ready for the future.

You also have to consider whether you'll be sitting so close to a big screen that you'll have to move your head to look left or right. Jim Willcox, senior editor at Consumer Reports, says the ideal viewing width is about 30 to 40 degrees. Our online tool will warn you if you are too close and might want a smaller screen instead.



The more the merrier. TVs will have at least two, but I recommend three or four. If you pay for cable or satellite TV, you'll need one for your set-top box, then one more for a streaming device or Blu-ray player. If you want to add a game console or sound bar, you see how quickly they can fill up.

Switches that let you connect multiple HDMI devices sell for $9 to $30, but that could mean another remote control to fiddle with, or getting up to press a button. Better to get extra ports with your TV.



Many TVs come with Wi-Fi connectivity and apps from major services like Netflix and Hulu. Using this for streaming will save you an HDMI port.

But stand-alone streaming devices have more features. If voice control is your thing, for instance, go for more ports to plug in your Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV or other device. Some TVs have voice control, but Apple's Siri will be better at recognizing your voice because it gets fine-tuned through millions of interactions on smartphones.

If you plan to use a smart TV for streaming, consider the type of Wi-Fi it comes with. The best right now is 802.11ac, which can deliver several gigabits per second of data. You'll want the best, especially for 4K video.



Manufacturers fudge how fast images are refreshed on screen with technologies called "AquoMotion" or "Motionflow" that show "effective" refresh rates. These help smooth out fast-action scenes that might otherwise look stuttered or blurry. It's largely a matter of taste and personal sensitivity.

The minimum native refresh rate you'll see these days is 60 frames per second, or 60Hz. The most is around 120 Hz.

Steve Kindig, senior editor at electronics retailer Crutchfield.com, says that even though 60 frames per second is the highest that will come from Blu-ray discs or video games, higher rates on a TV will still cut down on blur. Either the TV's processor will interpolate frames between each actual frame, or the backlight will blink, reducing the stutter.

He says to play down effective refresh rates that are wildly higher than the native, though "it's not totally bunk because they are doing something."

Consumer Reports rates specific models with blur tests, but doesn't generalize about brands or numbers.



Curved screens just look cool sitting on a stand, and some people say it cuts down on reflective glare, according to Kindig. They're about $200 more than non-curved screens and mostly made by Samsung. But he says they don't look good mounted on a wall.

Organic light-emitting diode screens are pricey, but will give you true blacks and better colour representation because each pixel illuminates on its own. Regular, LCD screens require a backlight, which can wash out the colours a bit. If you're willing to pay for OLED, you'll likely get every other goodie thrown in besides 4K.

More expensive sets might also offer 3-D. "Active" glasses require batteries, which add to the weight and trouble of wearing them, but will offer better resolution. "Passive" glasses, like the ones you get in movie theatres, will suffice for those few times you want to settle in for a 3-D movie, likely on disc. Content is still limited.


Buyout builds pharma giant

Pfizer and Allergan are joining in the biggest buyout of the year, a US$160-billion stock deal that will create the world's largest drugmaker.

It's also the largest so-called inversion, where an American corporation combines with a company headquartered in a country with a lower corporate tax rate, saving potentially millions each year in U.S. taxes.

The deal is valued at $363.63 per Allergan share. Allergan shareholders will receive 11.3 shares of the combined company for each of their shares, while Pfizer stockholders will get one share of the combined company.

Pfizer, which makes the cholesterol fighter Lipitor, will keep its global operational headquarters in New York, but after its . But the drugmaker will combine with Botox-maker Allergan as a company that will be renamed Pfizer Plc and will have its legal domicile and principal executive offices in Ireland.

Several U.S. drugmakers have performed inversions through acquisitions in the past several years, in part to escape high U.S. corporate tax rates. The list of companies includes Allergan, which still runs much of its operation out of New Jersey, and the generic drugmaker Mylan.

U.S. efforts to curb the practice have so far proven ineffectual.

Last year, Pfizer unsuccessfully tried to buy British drugmaker AstraZenenca in a roughly $118-billion deal that would have involved an inversion. Those talks eventually collapsed when the two sides couldn't agree on a price.

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