Gordon's TechArt

Monday, November 10, 2003

Universal remote control. A chimera? Perhaps. But something needs to be done. I suppose that we could simply dismiss the call to remote from each new electronic gizmo by disposing of the control that arrives with each new electronic device--but that wouldn't be sporting now, would it? As a result we end up with perhaps a dozen remote controls in various flavors contaminating our coffee table. What to do?

I have perhaps a larger than average--but hardly riduculously inflated--home theatre system and my remote control pile had grown large indeed. I had gone through the usual dalliance with some low-priced "Universal Remotes" from RCA and the like--the sort of thing one finds in Walmart and Best Buy. Best case, they were able to control a few devices. They quickly added to the pile of remotes rather than replaced it. Even the Sony remote that came with my V444ES Receiver did little to improve the situation with its awkward flip-open panel.

However, I seem to have now found a relatively mid-proced remote (~$100) that, for the first time, truly lets me consign the remote pile to a box. The Home Theatre Master MX-500 combines basic programmed codes for a very wide range of devices with the ability to learn codes. It effectively replaces the remotes for all my gear including a relatively old Pioneer CD/Laserdisc player that gave older universal remotes particular conniptions.

$100 isn't cheap. But it's a good price step down from the multi-$100s of some of the fancier all-LCD panel remotes or even the MX-500s bigger brothers that have compuer interfaces and more extensive macro programming. (For detailed reviews and comparisons see these MX-500 and MX-700/MX-800 reviews.) And, from my perspective, the MX-500 does pretty much everything that I need--and in a remote that fits nicely in a hand while I'm watching TV.

The programming takes a bit of fiddling to get it in tune with your individual preferences, but once it's there I find little need to use the individual remotes that came with the various stereo and home theatre gear. That's a first for me.

And some of the limitations I've found are limitations in any remote including the one from the manufacturer. For example, I'd like to use my remote to set up the appropriate video mode on my TV (e.g. component video or S-Video) depending upon the selected input source. In fact, the MX-500 does let you program in a macro that runs when you select a program source. But my Panasonic TV cycles through its video modes as opposed to providing a way to directly select one. This prevents either the MX-500--or any other remote--from directly selecting a video mode through a macro.

Friday, November 07, 2003

To be sure, the previous post's comparisons with PC prices of years back is probably not entirely fair. Although it's difficult to say for sure without analyzing a lot of detailed mid-80's or mid-90's price lists (taking into account street vs. list prices), my memory is that getting to the $5K range in, say, 1990 didn't require getting as far out on the gear bell curve as it does today. On the other hand, I suspect that recollection is also colored by the reality that machines back then were NEVER fast enough whereas today even a fairly mainstream machine is plenty speedy unless you have decidedly non-mainstream needs such as high-end gaming or video editing. (And hence the typical user has little enough need for a $5K screamer.)

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Machrone's "Law" still works. Back in the 80's, Bill Machrone--then editor-in-chief of PC Magazine--coined a law that the PC you want always cost $5,000. The idea was that even as processor speed and disk size and what not spun up exponentially, the high-end system that you really wanted at any given moment still cost the same--about $5,000.

One is tempted to call these sorts of "Laws" observations instead. Certainly there are no underlying physical principles wheter mathematical, chemical, or physical. I do suspect that there are some economical principles though--technology that didn't fit within the Machrone's Law parameters just wasn't part of the consumer landscape. Maybe the video card that cost $5K all on its own was suitable for workstations but it wasn't a "PC" product. Consumers couldn't afford it and consumer-type software like games wouldn't take advantage of it as a result.

But, of course, PC prices have dropped so dramatically that 1980's era economic observations no longer hold of course, right? I'm not so sure.

Just for kicks, I went to Alienware's website. These guys make systems for the gamer marker. Premium to be sure but decidedly mainstream as well. After all, they're sold in Best Buy for god's sake. And guess what? Without any unnatural acts I was able to configure a $5K system. And it soesn't even have a second monitor--a luxury that I find desirable indeed on my own home system that would bring this configuration well over $5K (assuming a 17" LCD as nice dimensions for a secondary monitor).

The lesson? Economic principles and behaviors tend to change far more slowly than technology.

Alienware Full-Tower Case (420-Watt PS) - Cyborg Green
AMD Athlon 64 FX-51 Processor with HyperTransport Technology - $100 Instant Rebate
Ajigo High Performace Heatsink / Fan Unit for Athlon 64 Processors
ASUS SK8N - NVIDIA nForce3 Pro 150 Motherboard
1GB Registered ECC DDR SDRAM PC-3200 - 2 x 512MB Module
Alienware Extreme Edition GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 256MB 8x AGP w/DVI & S-Video
AlienIce Video Cooling System - Terra Green
500GB Western Digital Caviar SE Serial ATA RAID 0 Array
Plextor PX-708A 8x DVD±R/W Drive - Black
Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Platinum Pro - 7.1
Intel PRO/1000 MT Gigabit Desktop Adapter
Alienware 8-in-1 USB 2.0 Internal Card Reader
3.5" 1.44 MB Floppy Disk Drive - Black
Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition
NEC 22" MultiSync FE2111SB Flat CRT - Black
Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 200-Watt THX Speakers
Microsoft Internet Keyboard - Space Black
Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0 - USB - Standard Color

For $4,669 (including a free T-shirt!)

* about.

Thoughts on Technologies and Their Artifacts

This weblog comments on a variety of technology news, trends, and products and how all of those mix together. I cover enterprise server technologies as an industry analyst so I tend to stay away from mainstream corporate IT topics here although I may link to other material that I've published or am quoted in if it seems like something that would be of relatively general interest. Comments and suggestions are always welcome and I'll try to at least acknowledge any communications. Because of travel schedules and other time committments, this will likely be a somewhat irregular undertaking but I'll shoot for postings every few days or so. Just in case it's not blindingly obvious, any opinions herin are solely mine and not those of my employer, Bill Gates, the local barn cat, or the groundhogs burrowed in my basement.

mail : gordon@bitmasons.com

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* Other blogs of interest

The Volokh Conspiracy
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* blog archive

10/01/2003 - 10/31/2003 11/01/2003 - 11/30/2003 12/01/2003 - 12/31/2003 01/01/2004 - 01/31/2004 02/01/2004 - 02/29/2004 03/01/2004 - 03/31/2004

* thx to

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