Wednesday, February 04, 2015

[Tech] TechnoBedlam

Wherein I let up on my car this month -- whatever its ergonomic failings, it drives like a dream -- and take up arms against a different type of machine.

I have an enormous and stunningly beautiful 65" Panasonic flat screen in the basement. One of the last of the plasma TVs, it will likely be a collector's item one day. It weighs something on the order of 3 tons and gives off close to 50,000 BTUs of heat (all numbers approximate). But it has a failing that virtually every modern TV has today and that is there is no audio out, other than a somewhat weird optical audio out which requires a special sort of cable.

You see, the proper way to hook up your entertainment system in 2015 is to a) get a smart TV and, b) get a set of modern powered speakers; something like a 5.1 setup, which means 2 front, 2 rear, 1 center, and subwoofer (the subwoofer the .1, don't ask me why). Typically that weird audio output thing will hook up directly to the subwoofer which is then wired to all the individual speakers or, if you are sufficiently advanced, bluetooth instead of wires. This is a good set up. Your TV remote controls the volume, the TV source (streaming or cable), and you use your cable remote for changing channels and setting the DVR. You can theoretically drop to a single remote of the remote is programmable (more on that in a minute).

I am, of course, congenitally incapable of doing anything the easy way, and even when I try, circumstances conspire against me.

I have the non-smart, big-ass TV, a low-end Pioneer receiver, a Sony smart DVD that I use to stream (I don't actually have any discs), a Polk subwoofer, and a pair of Mission speakers that I have a had since forever and am quite attached to, a lastly my Charter cable box/DVR. Thus I am a living example of how technology is making life into swamp of soul-sucking bedlam.

Try to follow this: The cable box plugs into the TV's HDMI 1 port. The DVD plugs into the TV's HDMI 2 port. The TV's weird optical audio output goes to the receiver. The receiver powers the speakers. This setup affords me the genuine pleasure of using the maximum number of remote controls possible. They are arrayed in front of my sectional like a selection a hors d'oeuvres: 1) TV remote to switch between HDMI sources, 2) cable remote to change channels, 3) DVD remote to run streaming services, 4) receiver remote to control volume. I have to really think it thorough anytime I attempt an action. I can't conceivably suggest a guest enjoy some TV on my big screen without some form of fairly intensive preparatory lessons, after which they deem me to be some sort of sociopath and settle for watching Netflix on their phone.

Now, a lot of this could probably be solved with a good programmable remote, and the Charter cable box remote is programmable, but it doesn't work right. For instance, I can get it to power down the receiver, but not power it up. And I can't get it to control the volume on the receiver. And honestly the streaming menu on the DVD is pretty complex; I haven't a clue how that would work.

Why does this have to be such bedlam? The answer: because, by default, the fabric of the universe is woven into the pattern that will cause me the greatest annoyance. That's just plain science. A related, and more constructive, question: Is it conceivable to ever get down to a single remote without investing in a programmable? Theoretically, if you have a smart TV and a smart speaker system and the cable remote functioned exceptionally well and there was no legacy equipment around anywhere, then yes. In the real world, no. In the future, when all TV is streaming TV, you may be able to control your smart TV/bluetooth speaker setup that way but not now.

Related Update: Get this. I had been struggling with a cable box problem for years now. I wasn't sure what I was doing wrong, but I half blamed myself. I shouldn't have.

Some functions, especially the navigation functions when using the DVR, required the buttons on the remote be pressed multiple times, even dozens of time before the box reacted. Didn't matter if I put the remote right up close to the box, didn't matter if the batteries were new. It got so bad that I went and got a new box and remote from Charter (who were very nice about it). Guess what? Made no difference. I was completely confused. What are the chances of getting a defective box and/or remote twice in a row. I tried the remote from the unit in the living room: same problem - so it wasn't the remote's fault.. The cable boxes were entirely different models so unlikely they shared the same flaw. What in the actual hell was going on?

Then I discovered this. Unbelievable. My Panasonic plasma, the best and one the most expensive TVs available a few of years ago, emits enough infrared radiation to confuse the signal to the cable box. I have to figure out a way to shield the box from the TV or at least somehow to move it far, far away. Unbelievable.

Why does this have to be such bedlam?