The last remote I’ll ever need

This is the 14th in a series of articles about my recent quest to replace a broken VCR in this era of DVDs, DVRs, and other newfangled gadgets. Click here for the beginning of the series.

Before I try to explain why on earth I would want to start from scratch yet again and asked Dad to rewire a second Sony remote that was especially difficult to work on, I need to go back and tell you some other history that was going on at the time.

Dell W1700This entire adventure to replace my broken VCR began in early April 2007. All of the discoveries about tunerless VCRs and my failed first attempt to rewire a remote to use a new VCR all occurred at around that time. Then in early June my 17 inch Dell W1700 HDTV that I use my bedroom suddenly quit working (see image on the right). I had purchased it on eBay for about $275 as a factory rebuild. It originally retailed for about $700. I’ll tell you about the replacement that I bought in a moment but first I’ll say I gave the broken unit to a guy that Dad works with who likes to tinker with broken equipment. He discovered why factory rebuilt units were available. The luminescent back panel had a poorly designed circuit that burned out easily. Whenever you sent them into the factory they simply replace it with another identical copy of the poorly designed circuit. He had already tinkered around with it quite a bit before he found out about the replacement part and he was scared to invest $80 in it in case he had broken something else along the way.

 Polaroid TLA-01191CAt the time I bought the TV on eBay you couldn’t get a widescreen HD capable monitor anywhere near that inexpensive but as I looked around for a replacement I saw a number of 19 inch widescreen HD monitors available various places for just under $300. We went to Wal-Mart and got a Polaroid TLA-01991C 19 inch HDTV for about $285 (see image on the left).

When I got it home I was seriously disappointed. 95% of the time I watched the TV in bed so I’m laying down looking up at it. From that angle the LCD display washes out almost completely. I had to tilt the mount at a downward angle in order to get a halfway decent picture. And that’s exactly what I got… a halfway decent picture. It was not nearly as good as the 17 inch Dell that I’d had before. There was one other problem however that was a deal breaker. In order to watch HD programs you need to use 5 component video cables or an HDMI digital cable. To watch the VCR you need three composite video cables. You have to switch the TV input back and forth depending on whether or not you’re watching VCR or HDTV. On the Dell TV a single button toggled through the various input settings. On the Polaroid you hit the “input” button and it called up a menu. You then had to hit up or down arrow to get to the proper input and then hit a “select” button to select it. It would have taken three additional buttons on the remote control just for this one function.

Magnavox 19MF387B_27I ended up taking it back and getting a Magnavox 19 inch 19MF387B_27 HDTV at Best Buy (see image on the right). It cost just over $400 which was more than I wanted to spend but I didn’t have any choice. Before I bought it I went to the Magnavox website and downloaded the user manual to make sure that you could change the input function using a single key. When I got it home I discovered it still had the same viewing angle problems that the Polaroid had. It probably had the same LCD in it as the other model with different software and a different brand name on the outside. At any rate I just have to put up with having the television angled downward. The picture quality still wasn’t as good as I hoped at first. It took a lot of adjustment of the various color, brightness, contrast controls to get something that I could live with. It’s been performing pretty well ever since then but it sure took a lot of adjustment.

I mentioned earlier that a second VCR went bad on me and I had a hard time finding a Sony replacement for it through an internet closeout reseller. This entire adventure was a real wake-up call for me that the days of using nine or even 11 micro switches to control my TV and equipment from bed were eventually going to be numbered. VCRs were probably going to become a thing of the past and would be completely replaced by DVRs and DVD recorders. All of these were going to require more and more buttons to use.

Suddenly I had a brainstorm!

If I dedicated some of my buttons to the device select functions on the remote then all of my other buttons could have multiple functions. For example out of the 11 switches, if I made three of them device select buttons then the remaining nine switches could control a total of 27 different functions! Although you can reprogram almost any button on a learning remote to do any function, the one thing you cannot program it to do is be a device select button. That is with one exception… the Sony remote I’ve been using has four buttons at the bottom labeled A, B, C, & D. They are described as “System Control” buttons. They are actually macro buttons that can be used to store an entire sequence of key presses including device select buttons. If I wired into those System Control buttons I can use it to switch which device I was using and I could also put a function of some kind in there. That would give me 27 functions out of the nine non-macro functions plus four more functions piggybacked onto the macro buttons that I use for device select.

With this many buttons there would be all sorts of opportunities to use more sophisticated equipment. I can get a DVD burner if VCRs eventually are totally discontinued or I could have a second DVR in my bedroom. In fact the hassle of swapping tapes and keeping track of what programs were on what tape was getting to be a really big hassle. For just six dollars extra per month I could have my own DVR in the bedroom.

I talked it over with Dad and he said he wouldn’t mind starting from scratch and rewiring another Sony learning remote. We were in no hurry to do it. I already had a remote that was working really well so we didn’t have anything to lose except a little money, time, and effort.

Well we went for it and we did it!

Since the Sony remote has 4 macro buttons, I decided to go ahead and add one more micro switch to the cluster. This gave me 13 buttons. Four of them would be device select buttons and would have a function besides that. Nine of them would be function buttons that depending on which device I had previously selected it would now have 36 different functions available. Surely that would be enough to last me for a very, very long time.

In the next and final installment I will describe what I did with all those functions.

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