September 29, 2002

Beginning of the Road

By Dane Sorensen


Can you remember the simple days when you could sit back in your favorite chair in the living room and watch a good show on TV? Days were simple when there were only a few channels. I even remember when the average household TV was a Black and White and had enough vacuum tubes to heat a small home. Now we have Entertainment systems. Don't get me wrong, the picture on today's digital television is a wonder to behold. No lines, no shadow image and colors that are more real than life.

However, to enjoy your Entertainment Center you practically need a Microsoft Engineer Degree. It is not enough to just attach a TV to an antennae or a cable box, now you must interface with your VHS recorder, your DVD player, the amplifier, and figure out what kind of sound you want. Today you don't just have a choice of stereo. You have Dolby, Surround Sound, 5.1 Channel sound, Concert sound, Live Sound, Super Bass and good old fashion Mono.

Remember how happy we all were when TVs starting coming with remotes? No more getting up out of your seat to try and adjust the sound or pick a new channel. Now the average house is filled with these suckers. In our living room we have 7 remotes. This is in spite of the fact that every box is a Sony, except for one Daewoo DVD player. Now what is interesting is that each remote can usually control more than one box. The trouble is it can't do everything that the remote which came with each box can do.

Perhaps my error was not being born a Rockefeller. Maybe if you could buy your TV, DVD, VHS, Amplifier with Theater Sound, CD Player, Receiver and Tape Deck all at the same time you could get one of those $10,000 systems with ONE REMOTE. However, most of us have to live within the economic constraints of the middle class and build up an Entertainment system box by box. Thus we end up prisoners of our remote controls.

I could have had a simpler system if I did not go for two DVD players, but that is just another argument I have with the electronics industry. Why it is in the 21st Century we can't buy a DVD from anywhere in the world and play it is beyond me. These Captains of Industry have deemed it necessary to create regions. The good old USA is Region One. Poor Canada is included in with us. Region 2 is Europe. Asia is another number. I think there are about 5 regions in all. A Region 2 DVD most likely will not play on your USA bought DVD player. This really is stupid. Thank heaven the recording industry for music has not followed suit with CDs. You can still buy a CD in London and have it work on your CD player. However, thanks to this Region plan, you cannot pick up any local programming in a foreign country and bring it home. Unless you go on ebay and buy one of those DVD players that have been cleverly altered to ignore a DVD's region bias. This is what I did and I am glad for it, except for the extra remote!

At times I have been tempted to duct tape them to my easy chair. Then at least I could sit there like Captain Kirk and call up the photon torpedoes, I mean the TV without hunting for the correct remote.

There is a solution to all this that does not require buying a $10,000 system all at once. Sony does make a Universal Remote for about $100.00. Just make it one of those purchases you make over time for another box, except this time you don't get a box, only a super duper remote. I bought it and it only took 7 hours to program. Considering I started programming it at 8PM you can figure when I finally crawled into bed - sore fingers and all. The only fun thing about it was that the new remote could literally steal the coding from another remote to program a key to do something it did not know how to do. You faced the removes eyeball to eyeball and had them trade signals until the super duper remote could mimic the other one. It even learned how to mimic my Daewoo remote.

Now thanks to my Sony RM-VL-900 remote I can do everything but flush the toilet from my easy chair. The only remaining complaint I have of the electronic industry is when are they going to make good on this wireless promise. My system has more wires than you can shake a stick at. Five speakers - five cables, two DVD players - 4 cables, plus many, many more wires criss-crossing the living room.. It makes my computer set up look simple in comparison. We need to get Henry Kissinger out of retirement and get him to make all these companies to work together. One remote, no wires, except for the power cord. And they all should set themselves up to work right. As they say in the computer world - Plug and Play!

My only other complaint is that I am sick and tired of all the buttons being labeled on these boxes with colorless type. Not even car loan contracts are written in as small a type as is imprinted on these electronic boxes. The worst are the black boxes with indented type with no contrasting color. Not even my 18 year old daughter can read it without squinting. We need Congress to pass a law that every button shall be labeled with contrasting type at least a quarter of an inch high.

It is only then that we will be free from fear. Yes, fear! Fear of accidentally pushing the record button instead of the play button. Fear of accidentally turning off the power to the VCR when it is busy rewinding a tape. Fear of turning on the parental control feature and not being able to watch TV for a week. Yes, it is time we face fear and make the manufacturer's obey us, just as our TVs should obey us. Couch Potatoes of the world unit, we shall overcome our buttons, remotes and wires!



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