No New TV

Volume 6, Issue 79; 03 Sep 2003

Even with the old TV, getting all the cabling right is a challenge.

When the politicians complain that TV turns the proceedings into a circus, it should be made clear that the circus was already there, and that TV has merely demonstrated that not all the performers are well trained.

Edward R. Murrow

Labor Day sales (how else would Americans celebrate?), zero percent financing, and the fact that reception on our aging TV is starting to become unreliable combined to inspire the purchase of a new television.

Now, I know what you're thinking: large, with a flat screen display in the proper 16:9 aspect ration, maybe a plasma thing that hangs on the wall. This is the point where I should point out that I'm cheap. Four figures for a TV? Not this year, anyway.

As you might have guessed, the working title of this essay was “New TV” and I was going to show the before (dwarfing our old, small TV) and after (full to the gills) pictures of our TV cabinet. But somewhere between the sale and the warehouse and the delivery truck, they didn't have a TV to deliver as scheduled. C'est la vie.

However, I've managed to salvage something for this essay: a few thoughts on the complexity of modern electronics.

"Simple" CATV Diagram
"Simple" CATV Diagram

I'm “the computer person” for my family and friends. I bet a few of you are too. I'm happy to setup computers and electronics, it's usually pretty straightforward and it's a bit like Lego™ bricks, which I've always loved.

When the TV was obviously not coming today, I set out to patch back together all the cabling I'd ripped apart. What I expected to be a simple and obvious task stumped me for a moment or two. I had to stop and make a diagram, that one over there on the right.

Does it really have to be that hard? I'm not sure what the answer is. I guess the first question is, what the heck are we trying to do? Well, the goal is the ability to watch one program while another is being recorded. Does anyone really need that much TV, probably not, but Murphy's Law says if there are only two good programs on this week, they'll be on at the same time, right? Yes, a combined Tivo/cable box unit would help a lot, but they're not available in our market.

If you look at that first diagram for a moment, you might perceive a weakness. Sure, we can record the Sopranos while we watch Masterpiece Theater, but we can't watch the Sopranos while we record the other. That's because the “unscrambled” output from the cable box always goes through the VCR.

Complete CATV Diagram
Complete CATV Diagram

Surely that can be fixed? Of course it can. But as far as I can see, not any more simply than the diagram on the left. Really.

And honestly, that's just a little silly, isn't it? Three A/B switches and more remote controls than you have hands must be overkill.

Of all the things that could be made simpler here, the one that I'd like to see first is the removal of that “selector” device near the bottom. (No, that's not going to have a huge impact on the complexity, but it's a moral issue.)

You see, the VCR has an “auxillary input”, so what I did originally, was run the DVD through the VCR. But if you do that, some DVDs won't play properly. It's a copy protection scheme of some sort and I find it offensive to be treated like a crook. Really, deeply offensive.

On a more practical note, I wonder if Bluetooth™ couldn't be used to get rid of a lot of this cabling alltogether. Even after you've figured out where the cables go, it's still requires a contortionist to get them all plugged in.

In any event, both of these diagrams are just for the CATV signal. I'm not sure I've got the audio figured out exactly yet. Partly it depends on whether or not the new TV has “audio out” jacks or not. At least I think it does. I've decided not to think about it until the new TV arrives, anyway.