2013-03-24

[Technology] Playing with technology





Last year I acquired a nice, free Sanyo television from the OCUS
lounge.  It is a CRT, but it's 36" and has good picture and sound
quality.  It did not come with a remote control, but I seldom used a
television, except to watch the occasional film or anime episode with
friends, so I never really minded.


TV Usage


Recently,
however, I moved to and now have a housemate or two, and I have
discovered the YouTube app for Wii.  Also, over the past two years, I've
finally interested myself in Internet video, largely in part to
Nerdfighteria (Vlogbrothers, the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Crash Course,
SciShow, the Brain Scoop, etc.)  So, now the TV has two new uses:
feeding a housemate's insatiable urge for Netflix, and becoming a
preferred way to enjoy my YouTubery.



One issue that's
been had is variable volume.  A video is too quiet, so we turn it up,
manually, and then afterwards, the television is too loud.  Or, we turn
off the Wii, but then the TV is still on, and people leave it on.  An
unused, on TV is a tragic waste of energy.


Dollarama






So,
today I was in Dollarama and saw they sold a $2 Universal Remote, the
Electra RM-V301 (which supposedly works identically to Sony's RM-V301). 
Since I hadn't found one previously at the local thrift stores, I
acquired it.  Also, I found that Dollarama now sells $2 pairs of
rechargeable batteries branded as Sunbeam.   Despite traumatic memories
of the portable phone battery I had purchased from a dollar store in the
Quebec St. Mall which started smoking once used (and instantly killed
the portable phone), I decided that Sunbeam (and Dollarama) were just
reputable enough that I would risk their rechargeable batteries in my
battery charger and this universal remote.  What's the worst that could
happen?  Death?  Pa!


Remote programming


Once
home, I was initially disappointed to discover that none of the codes
for a Sanyo television worked correctly.  The first would do things to
the TV, but all the wrong things, and none of the others had any
response.  I ended up doing the code search technique, which after going
through 120 codes or so had no reaction (even though I should have
encountered some reaction when I hit the one that worked incorrectly).  I
remained hopeful that I could find a code set for the remote that could
effectively control the TV, though, as I've had good luck in the past
with remote controls working across brands.



Eventually,
I started applying the stupid brute force method of attempting them all
starting from 000 and going up.  Eventually I found a working code:
025.  Much to my chagrin, though, the code was one of the ones originally listed for my television.  I clearly recall trying it a
few times.  I believe it may have failed because my attempts to push the
buttons were inaccurate; they're these floppy rubbery things that leave
you doubtful of whether the press registered, and there is no red light
to provide feedback either.


Thoughts


So, that might seem pretty boring, but it leaves me with some thoughts.



It's
interesting that televisions all end up with their own sets of infrared
signals to control them, though one brand will reuse a small set of
them. It's interesting that some brands will use compatible sets, which
is probably intentional.  However, there's no apparently attempt to
standardise the codes.  I would imagine you could create a code set that
was extensible for the future but mostly standard, and yet there's no
real pressure for it.



If there was a standardised
control set, then people could more easily substitute controls, which
would be nice.  The universal remote market would probably shrink, but
it would also be simpler, and perhaps people could have fewer remotes in
their homes to begin with.



I also find it interesting
that universal remotes are primarily simple, dumb, closed devices.  I
briefly tried to search for discussion on how to reprogram the codes on a
universal remote.  The first code that I had tried that did not
correctly work but had a response was 054.  I can imagine having a mode
on the phone to calibrate a remote for a particular TV.  Perhaps first
you'd program power, and you'd press power, and it would send a signal,
and then you'd affirm or deny it whether it worked, and then after
finding the signal for power, you'd move to channel up and down, volume
up and down, numbers, and then perhaps a few other common ones.  It
would end up requiring a lot of time for the user, but it would help
guarantee that the device could remain useful for many more cases and scenarios than were originally anticipated. 



Alternatively,
it would be nice if modern universal remotes could interact with a
computer and be reprogrammed from there.  A little USB port, or
bluetooth, or even IR (two of my old computers could do IR, though not
my current one).  Perhaps you could then program them to do many more
things involving IR, like controlling a garage door.  Basically,
increasing usefulness by not restricting the device to a single purpose,
and allowing the willing to use the technology as they like.  Perhaps
some already do this.



For a brief while, I had
considered acquiring a Nintendo Wii U, as its game pad can operate as a
Universal Remote apparently.  Unfortunately, IR isn't as popular as it
once was, or perhaps more smartphones would have IR
blasters/transmitters.  I feel like installing an app to your phone to
use it as a remote control for electronics would be very natural.  I
haven't paid too much attention to new televisions, but since many of
them are basically a giant monitor with a tiny computer built in,
hopefully that's possible.



I basically enjoy
programmable devices that can be used for a broad range of functions,
rather than simply having single-purpose devices.  I also enjoy open
devices where the user is allowed to go beyond the original intent.  I
was thinking about how neat it would be if I had the equipment readily
available to reprogram existing universal remotes.  I sort of expect it
might be possible to remove the casing and flash the ROM inside, if
there is one.  I think that's why I've never gotten too in to hardware:
the cost of equipment.  Software, thanks to Open Source, allows you to
go many places very inexpensively.



So, hooray for technology.  Hooray for users.  And hooray that my household can now switch content and be able to adjust for the shocking variations in volume. :)

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