Monday, July 25, 2005

Home Theaters and Levels of Indirection

After nearly a year of inactivity, I had occasion to mess with the wiring of my home theater system yesterday. The problem at hand was to hook up the 5.1 channel analog audio output from my new home PC to my receiver, so that I could play multi-channel audio off the PC and listen to it on my 6-speaker home theater.

There was only one catch: the receiver had exactly one set of 5.1-channel analog inputs and that was earmarked for the input named "DVD". Since I had already hooked up an optical digital out from the DVD to the receiver via S/PDIF, there was a problem. The solution? Plug in the digital DVD output into the CD input, and the PC's output into the analog DVD input. Of course, in the process, I have also made entirely certain that no one else in the world can figure out how to configure my home theater to do anything at all, just in case anyone thought they could earlier.

Any computer scientist would know exactly how to solve the nightmare of nomenclature that results from hooking up AV equipment in these crazy ways: use a level of indirection!! Why did the receiver manufacturer have to hardwire the name "DVD" to the multichannel analog input? If only the input had been named something harmless like "Input 7" and the receiver menu let you associate different names ("DVD", "CD", "Tape", "AUX", etc.) with different inputs, life would be so much nicer. It'd be even cooler if I could punch in my own names instead of having to hope that the manufacturer had figured out all that I'd want to do.

Ditto with remote controls. Hard-button universal remotes never work because no one can ever anticipate all possible buttons that a device might require and put them all on one remote. My universal is slightly better with semi-programmable "soft" keys but it still leaves a lot to be desired. I have no way of creating my own names for the keys, and macros for performing complex tasks are given names such as "Macro 1" and "Macro 2". I think it's high time all devices migrated to the following system:
  • There is a uniform on-screen menu system on all devices that can be used to perform all functions via a small set of arrow keys plus some additional selector keys.
  • Complex functions, consisting of long sequences of key presses, can be programmed into macros stored on the device itself.
  • Each of these macros is given a short IR code which can be programmed into the remote control. (An alternative would be to store the macros on the remote and use RF to transmit the commands to the device and get it to react super-fast.)
  • The remote control has a surface providing tactile feedback, but comes with soft keys whose names can be programmed by the user.
Anyone reminded of instruction sets and programming languages?

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