Modern Home Theaters Need Work…

I’ll admit. Some of my home stereo gear is old. As in better than fifteen years old. So?

It works.

It also makes no difference to what I’m about to discuss, which is: It is wayyyy too complicated for normal people (non-technical adults who are not gadget-geeks of some sort) to work their TV / home theater setup.

Case in point: Our widescreen gets cable piped directly in. It also gets the DVD player and VCR piped directly in, and echoes the sound out to the surround sound receiver.

So far so good. Unless I really want to listen to my iTunes library I never, ever change my stereo inputs. Turn on the TV and select the right input and *bam* there ya are. TV goodness.

But, we stumble into the first conceptual obstacle. You see, the TV remote, like many remotes supplied these days, is a universal remote. This means it’s universally useless for anything except perhaps the TV because the one critical feature you need for any other device (separate play-pause buttons, forex), are just not included on the remote surface, and the TV is complicated enough that little widdy biddy buttons require you to squint through bleary eyes.

The conceptual problem comes when Unsuspecting Normal Average Person with a Life picks up the remote, and, following your instructions turns on the TV and the stereo and cannot get it to change from the TV tuner.

Someone, recently handling the remote, must have hit the “dvd” button, and so neither the remote nor the TV care that you are mashing down the “source” button to change the input. The geeks response, knowing that the remote has multiple modes, will be to switch the remote back to TV mode.

This is NOT intuitively obvious to the normal average person. I’ll have to look at getting one of the programmable Logitech remotes because I’ve been told they actually really work – and divide up the settings by what you’re doing rather than by what device you need to control at the moment. The upshot is if you’re “watching a DVD” it controls the stereo volume via the volume buttons, sets the TV to the input designated as “DVD”, and the play controls manage the DVD player – all without you constantly switching modes.

The next common bugaboo, and one I’ll fix at my house with a little piece of RCA patch cable, is the famous “why is there no sound?” Receivers and pre-amps have many input selections. When my Onkyo was made, equalizers were common, and commonly hooked up at the in and out ports for “tape 2” (in case you actually bought two separate tape decks). For the EQ to do it’s job the receiver had to route sound back out from its selected input via the tape 2 “record/out” jacks, and listen to the tape 2 input no matter what the original source was.

Needless to say, if you don’t have an EQ or a second tape deck there are probably no cables there. The secondary consequence is that accidentally turning on “Tape 2” effectively mutes your stereo, with very little indication that it’s even in Tape 2 mode as you’ll still see the input for “Tape 1” or “Video 1”, etc.