Can’t we just turn on the TV?

A thousand channels and five remote say no

Jon Peddie


“You wanna watch TV?” She said. 

I sighed, “Who’s going to turn it on?”

“It’s your turn,” she said. “I did it last night, AND the night before that. You can help out a little around here too.” She was right, I had been dodging my responsibilities.

“OK,” I said, trying not to sound too burdened, although that’s how I felt.

We have four excellent TV systems (five counting the guest room). I say systems because they are not just a TV; although, there are a few similarities.

The TV is, most of the time, the display. In one of the four systems, the “TV” is actually a projector, but let’s not quibble.

And, as good as TVs and projectors are today with 4K high-dynamic-range UHD color, thin and gigantic TVs—up to 65-inches—they don’t have great sound quality. And if you’re going to spend hundreds to thousands of dollars on a beautiful big display, it should have a big beautiful amplifier to go with it, and that’s part of what goes into the system. 

The TV and projector each have a remote-control device. The sound system has a remote-control device, the amplifier has a remote control, we have a lot of remote-control devices. 
“You want red or white?” She asked. I said red. I always say red, but still, she likes to give me a choice. That’s the problem with our lives, we have too damn many choices.

A TV has choices. The first choice on a TV is the information source. In the old days that was an antenna, and a round mechanical knob on the front. Today most homes use cable or satellite. Most modern TVs also offer WiFi as a source because they’re smart. And then there are third-party systems like AppleTV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Google’s Chromcast, and even Nvidia’s Shield TV, plus others. 

These are basically little devices about the size of a very thick stick of gum or a can of tuna. Typically, they have an HDMI connector on one end that plugs into the back or side of the TV. That stick thingie is also a WiFi node, it can receive and send WiFi signals to/from your home router. Everybody has a router now because everybody wants to get Facebook on their laptop when they’re at home.

We have a couple of those TV sticks and cans. Our favorite flavors are Apple (can) and Roku (stick), although we have tried everyone available at one time or another. Each of those thingies has its own remote-control device.

“How about a snack?” I ask. She doesn’t answer and I can hear her chopping things as I gather up the remotes.

Another source, in addition to your satellite or cable and your WiFi stick thingie, is a game console and/or DVD player. Modern game consoles offer a built-in DVD player. And modern game consoles come with their own menu of TV choices, as well as web surfing. Game consoles use a game controller as a remote-control(RC) device, and if you haven’t tried that, you’re in for a real treat. Want to guess what YXBA stand for? Don’t ask me, I have no idea, I just know you push them until something happens.

Schematically, I can show how to get a signal to one of our TVs and which RC to use. The sources, the satellite box, the Apple TV, the game console/DVD, and the Roku, all connect to the HDMI inputs on the audio-video receiver (AVR), which also has an FM tuner in it and drives the six or eight speakers connected to it. It also has a microphone so you can get the speakers volume properly balanced for the given room. Coming out of the AVR is another HDMI cable that goes to the TV/projector. Simple enough, right? Well yeah, but, oh, never mind, I’ll tell you about that later.

She brings a tray of crackers, salami, two types of cheese, and some charred shishitos. I get the wine; we’re settling in for a nice Friday night as normal people do. But I wonder, is it normal to have all these TV system complexities, and all the sources for movies, and TV?

So, we begin. I turn on the TV with its RC. Of course, nothing happens, that is nothing shows up because without an input signal from one of the sources there’s nothing to display. So,I put down the TV RC, pick up the AVR RC, and press its little red power button. Still nothing, gotta wake up one of the sources, let’s start with the satellite. Pick up its RC and press its black power button—you wouldn’t want all the power buttons to be the same color or in the same place would you—where’s the sport in that? Voilà the screen flickers, the DirecTV logo flashes by and then the menu with all the choices appears—or maybe not. OK, check the TV—what input is it looking at, there are usually three to six choices, HDMI-1,2, or 3and then the free over the air (OTA) stuff that the TV’s tuner picks up—yes, TVs still have tuners. And there’s also the AUX input for god knows what. Now search for the Input button, ah, found it. If no one was messing with the TV last, it should be on HDMI-1, but if there was a power failure, then it might be on who knows what input. I select HDMI-1, and nothing happens.

She pours the wine and smiles at me. It’s a knowing, sinister smile, the kind the bad guy in the movie gets just before he kills the hero.

“OK, what input is the AVR set at?” I say to the room and the cat, neither answers me. Remember, the TV has four choices: satellite, game console/DVD, AppleTV, and Roku. We were going to watch Anderson Cooper on satellite because our satellite system (yet another system) has a DVR—and we recorded it. Checking the AVR, I find it is looking at the AppleTV, so I push a little white button for Satellite and the DirecTV screen finally appears. Elapsed time from when she said, “It’s your turn,” till an image appeared—about five or six minutes, possibly a new record.

I take a sip of wine and munch on a shishito. Life is good. Except it’s not. She turns on a tablet and checks Facebook. The cat yawns stretches and goes back to sleep. Exciting Friday night, no question about it.

“No,” she says. “You know the new season is only available on CBS’s All Access, which as far as I can tell means no access. Pick something else.”

CBS’s All Access is one of the many subscriber networks which is difficult to find, a pain in the ass to log into and another pain in the ass to watch because of the way they serve commercials—all of them, some of them, or none of them, with a different, higher price for each level. If you make the mistake we did and select, and pay for, some of them, you get treated to jumps where CBS tries and fails to provide a DVR-like capability and instead of putting you at the end of the commercial it puts you god knows where in the story. BTW, if you select all commercials, you must still pay CBS for the privilege of watching those commercials. Nice huh.

“OK,” I say, “How about City on a Hill”?

She rolls her eyes, “OK,” she says with a tone of fatigue and surrender.

And then the clicking begins. Clickety-click to select Netflix, clickety-click to log in. Clickety click to enter her cryptic password with its upper and lower case letters and numbers, all being done one character at a time using the archaic matrix on the screen.

On some devices, the matrix is arranged ina QWERTY layout just to befuddle you, and others in an alphabetical layout with a special button for selecting an upper or lower case, and on some other device, a button to select whether you want alphabetic or numeric. What could be simpler than that? And god forbid you should make a mistake on the password because you can only see asterisks.

Clickety click and shazam! Netflix reveals its wonderous menu of choices. Elapsed time since she said Let’s watch TV—20 minutes and a half a glass of wine. The cat is actually snoring.

Now she scrolls and rolls and finally decides to search for the Search icon so she can try typing in the name of the show—which must be absolutely correct—no spell check or autofill in on this baby.

She perseveres, because that’s just how she’s constructed—don’t ever tell her no or you can’t because she’ll kill herself doing it. Clickety click, clickety-click, a couple of damn its, clickety-click, and a mere twenty-five minutes later the opening screen of the show appears—PFM—pure freeking magic! And we pay extra for this service too.

The crackers are gone and the glasses empty, helluva night. The cat has wandered off and I wonder why we didn’t just read a magazine or something.

Twenty or twenty-five minutes doesn’t sound like a long time, don’t try holding your breath that long. Or think about the last time you were in commuter traffic for twenty to five minutes, remember how pleasant that was? This is worse. We’re tired, we’ve dealt with technical problems and people for the last ten or more hours, we’re hungry and this is our moment of relaxation, this is how we relax. Watch a little TV, have a snack, sip some wine—clickety-click cruse, clickety-click.

Why can’t we just watch TV?