Friday, March 04, 2005

Blasters, and not the cool kind from Star Wars

image from

I mean those devices that allow a computer, PVR, or other device to control a TV or set-top box by transmitting infrared signals and making it think that the signals are coming from its own remote control.

In case you are currently innocent of the dark, dank dungeon of "media center" computing, I am not kidding. These things and the need for them are real.

Is this not the most hacked up, Rube Goldberg-like system you've ever heard of? It sounds like something that some geek would build and show photos of on his blog, and get lots of laughs from lots of folks, not something that major companies would actually be manufacturing and selling as a neccessary component of entertainment systems costing hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars.

Considering that a computer capable of recording the output from your digital cable box is the worst nightmare of a lot of big companies, I'd be surprised if the blaster hasn't been challenged as a violation of the DMCA by somebody, somewhere.

How about some kind of a protocol for the kinds of devices to actually, you know, talk to each other straight over the wires, like civilized machines? But, we all know that ain't gonna happen.

The whole situation reminds me of the early generation of remote controls that involved a sensor and small motor to physically turn the dial on old TVs. Acoustic modems. The game "Mousetrap". The debugging device I always wanted to build to hit the F7 key every time I turned a fishing-reel-type crank attached to the keyboard. That time Fred Flintstone hooked up his car to the baby elephant that watered his lawn to invent the world's first rotating lawn sprinkler (this being the only instance in Flintsones history in which a car was depicted as being able to turn its own wheels rather than being pushed with the feet.. maybe it only worked because it was that gangster car that Fred bought at that auction).

Hardcore media/entertainment geeks are probably mocking at me at this point for just learning about all this. But it really is shocking to see such a thing in two thousand freaking five.


My digital cable box (Motorola DCT-2000) has a serial port on the back explicitly for remote control purposes, and my replayTV is smart enough to control such a device, but Comcast has disabled it, so I have to use an IR blaster. It sucks. It takes approximately 5 seconds to change the channel, and about 1% of the time, one or more of the digits gets "lost," so instead of (eg) recording channel 404 at 3am, I get 44.