We moved last week. This resulted in switching from Cox to Time Warner for cable, Internet and telephone service. These services seem to come all in one – which is nice and convenient – but there is no competition. Depending on your address, you have to use one company or another.
Our cost for services actually went down a bit, the kinks we experienced with Cox are gone, but there are new ones with Time Warner.
Let me start out saying that I am a computer programmer, with special expertise in device programming. Early in my career I spent years making embedded systems work, programming systems on the chip level, using logic analyzers, oscilloscopes, EProm burners and the like. You would say I am a highly technical person. I can figure things out.
But when it comes to alarm clocks, sprinkler systems, microwaves and finally televisions, I like things to be simple.
A decade ago, when you bought a television set – if it wasn’t a home theater unit with surround sound – you simply plugged the cable into the back of the unit, turned it on, and started clicking through the channels on the remote. And everything worked. You clicked to the next channel, and bang, there was video and audio. You could rapidly flip through ten channels in two seconds. It was quick and responsive, and it always worked. You selected channel 45, and there was channel 45, just what you’d expect. Also, the picture was always right. There was no horizontal or vertical distortion.
Now we have this digital video recorder (DVR) that Time Warner gave us. Supposedly we can program it to record shows, so we can watch them later. There are movies on demand that we can buy. And there are a host of other features that I don’t have the patience to figure out. There is also a channel up and down button that I like to use to flip through channels. So far so good.
However, when I select a channel number using the keypad, it takes at least two seconds after I push the last key before I have video and audio. Sometimes I get video right away and audio starts some seconds later. At other times, audio seems to be there first.
When you flip from one channel to the next, it takes several seconds, and while it’s figuring out what to display, you see several control screens. You see the blue screen (nothing on it at all), you see a channel information screen, and eventually you see the screen with the program you want to watch. If they are trying to prevent channel surfing, they are successful. It’s very tedious to surf channels when the system is this sluggish in its response.
I have also had situations where there seems to be no response. I hit the channel button over and over again, and nothing at all happens. It’s just locked. After I finally give up, 30 seconds later, all of a sudden it wakes up and rapidly rattles through all the channels, ending up somewhere random. Then I have to find my way back to where I started.
Occasionally, the whole unit goes on the fritz. It just stops working, the screen goes blank. There is no other way to get it back but to power the whole thing down, unplug it for a few seconds, and then turn it back on. It then takes literally minutes to get restarted.
And finally, what’s with the picture aspect ratio? I swear, I can’t figure out how to get the right aspect ratio for the programs I am watching. It seems to be different for television shows and movies, but it’s not consistent. I for one cannot get used to long faces and wide faces. I want my faces to be correctly proportioned in both directions. I have a display button that I have to press repeatedly and look at every display to figure out which one best approximates the true proportions. I am suspicious that not one of them is actually true. I find that the smallest is usually the best, but that one literally takes only half the display surface of our television unit, and there are black bars of wasted screen space on all four sides of the image.
Why isn’t there a button that allows all channels to be displayed in the right proportions? Why do I have to figure this out one channel at a time? Why can’t we build and design display units that just work with correct aspect ratios, or standardize our media?
If a techie like me does not have the patience to figure out how to use his television, how do we expect my grandmother to cope? We have a long way to go before television goes back to be the simple appliance it was back in the sixties and seventies. At least then, it just worked. Now we have digital television. I just can’t figure out why this is better for the consumer.