Tuesday, June 19, 2007

There's no Such Thing as a Good Remote

My perfect remote control is an old Marantz RC2000. It was a hungry beast when it came to batteries, but it was an awesome remote when it came to behaving just like you wanted it to, visibility and reliability.

The Logitech Harmony 520 remote, by comparison, was svelte, a battery miser, and an absolutely selfish, manipulative bitch of an appliance. I took particular glee in recycling it's innards when it froze up on me and no amount of replacing the batteries would work. About a week after I had thrown it out, Logitech sent me a very nice e-mail informing me about the remote's "safe mode" boot process. Sorry, too late. I've moved on. Damned if I want an appliance in my life which needs a "safe mode" to boot. Damnit, would it have cost them that much to include a reset button underneath?

I purchased a new Marantz 1400 from Accessories4Less which made it a bargain, and it arrived promptly, with no fuss.

The good news:

  1. Easy programmability, not only text, and buttons but especially, the MACROS are a breeze compared to the lame ass browser/wizard based interface Logitech uses.
  2. Most devices were built in.
The bad news:
  1. Really poor visibility of the LCD
  2. Won't learn new Samsung TV commands (but built in Samsung codes work), leaving me without the compass buttons.
  3. Theta commands not built in.
Am I happier than I was with the Logitech? Yes! Am I completely satisfied? No.

For those of you out there with remotes which do everything you need, tonight, when you are watching Stargate SG-1 re-runs in Dolby Surround, hold the remote close to your breast, and tell it how lucky you really are.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The New Era of Low Quality Appliances

You know, I hate to say this, but my experience lately with high technology gadgets has been really terrible.

Let me explain. Over the last two years I've invested in the following:

  • Samsung 50" 1080p DLP TV
  • HP PC
  • New NVidia 7600 video card
  • Hauppague WinTV-PVR USB2 TV recorder
  • Logitech Harmony 520 remote.
  • Netgear USB Wireless adapter
  • Netgear WGR614v4 Router (not so new)
  • Pentax Optio pocket digital camera
  • Lumix Digital camera
  • Panasonic 3 station phone system
In almost every case, there was some disappointment involved.

First, I really didn't want a 50" TV, but my GF complained about the 37" TVs we saw being too pixilated, and Samsung was really the only brand she liked. So four hours of arguing later, she sees the latest 50" DLP and says "Oh, that's nice" and I'm so frustrated I say "DONE!" and we buy it, for our tiny living room with the couch 5' away from it! Take it home, lug it up the stairs myself, turn it on, and after it's finished scanning all the cable channels, it's working perfectly. For 6 hours. Call up Samsung on 6/2. 6/9 they call me and tell me that the parts they ordered aren't in yet, will have to wait until 6/15 or so to get the repair person out. I'm out $2k for six hours of TV. Also, now that the TV is in, my GF says she doesn't care if I get a small TV or not. The she tells me in the same breath they aren't as good. Lesson learned: Pay for the delivery, so that if the thing breaks you can have them haul it out and exchange it for you.

The HP PC which I am typing this on was sold to me as having half a gig of memory, expandable to 4. Well, the truth is, it had less than 512 Megs usable because part of that was used by the on-board graphics card. And despite the Staple's salesperson's confident assurance that it would take 4 Gigs, it won't. On the plus side, (probably thanks in part to the diligent work of US Attorney's before the Bush purge) the $50 rebate offer was actually paid in a timely manner.

The WinTV-PVR/USB2 appliance stops working if the CPU gets too hot, which is often unless you add a heatsink and fan.

For better performance with Half-Life 2 I purchased a new NVidia 7600 card at Best Buy. The NVidia card keeps having random stuck thread issues when replaying things recorded in Windows Media Player, it's especially bad if I have other windows open.

The Logitech Harmony 520 remote control is now sitting in the trash, because after having to change a configuration again through the stinking Hell Hole of a web site they use to manage your remote, it froze up on me and there's no way to reset it to the original factory conditions. No real "reset" button on the bleeding thing.

Both networking devices purchased from Netgear also are also having reliability problems. I know for a fact that the router overheats, and suspect the USB adapter does as well. How do I know? Well, after adding heat sinks and fan to the WGR614v4 router, the thing ONLY breaks down when the fan stops working. I would totally throw it out if the Linksys routers worked with my VPN software which I use to teleconference from work. But guess what? Even though Linksys and my VPN software are made by different divisions of Cysco, they actually don't work right. Also, I find Linksys installation software to be buggy, and din't integrate well with Windows XP on my previous PC. So I'm basically F*d.

The funny thing is, the Netgear wireless router appliance is about the same size, shape and has the same basic layout as the Hauppauge! WinTV-PVR appliance. Makes me wonder if they share the same industrial design house. Also, I've been really tempted to buy the new Netgear wireless media devices, so I can hook it up to my new Samsung DLP TV (if it's ever working again) but I read a couple of reviews online that complained about it inexplicably dropping out just like the problems I've had with their router and USB wireless adapter. Makes me want to stay away from it unless I can get an Ethernet cable run to the living room.

The Pentax Optio camera froze during a download and wouldn't come back until after I threw it into the trash. My GF rescued it so it's hers. The Lumix camera on the other hand has worked great, but it's sure bulky by comparison.

The Panasonic wireless phone works fine, but if the power is out for too long the base station forgets what time it is. Crap, it's 2007, don't they have that figured out yet?

So, I guess the point to all of this is, I used to like improvements and upgrades, but damn, with the low reliability of electronics being sold these days, I really am put off on ever upgrading anything again. I don't care if they release 100 Gbyte wireless routers. So long as the one I have works, I'm leaving them alone, because it seems to me that I'm going to have to buy 2 of anything in order to get 1 that works. So from now on, I'll double the price of anything I buy before I decide to purchase a new one or not.

Is it wrong of me to want things that are simple, and reliable? I don't want Microsoft running my refrigerator, I don't want a USB adapter in my car, I don't want an operating system in my camera, and I don't ever, ever want to wait for my phone to boot up. I press the button, and it is waiting for me to dial. End of story! No flashing lights, no slide shows as it figures out that it's a phone, nothing.

Based on all of this, go ahead and ask me how many years it's going to be before I give up my landline telephone.