Much has changed in the way we watch tv in the past 30 years. Let’s take a look at a few of these changes:
THE REMOTE CONTROL
When I was born in the late 1970s, the only remote controls to speak of were huge, clunky devices that somehow only had room for power on/off, volume “up” and “down,” and channel “up” and “down” buttons. Now most households have a minimum of three remotes – for each television! I have more than three remotes. There’s the main TV remote, the TiVo remote, the digital cable box remote, the VCR remote, the DVD player remote, and the sound system remote. Of course, I don’t use all six remotes. We have discovered how to be efficient, meaning we only use the TiVo, VCR, and DVD remote. Our sacrifice of the sound system remote means that we actually have to stand up and walk across the room to change the speaker settings! (Thankfully the TiVo remote controls the volume, though). Another thought about these remote controls – how many of you have at least 20 buttons on your remote that you have no clue what they are for? In my experience, DVD player remotes are most at fault when it comes to poor design and inefficiency. Moving on, the latest remote control trend is a remote that controls more than your tv – it controls everything in your house! Lighting, thermostat, security system… If someone can design a remote control that is easy to use AND is truly universal, many Americans whose cabinets and coffee tables are littered with various remotes will be very happy.
Back in the mid-1980s, my family would pile into the car and drive over to the local video rental store. We would pick out our movie, take it to the counter, and rent it. But before we left, we would also pay to rent a VCR – you know, so we could watch the movie. Do you remember those days? Before we all owned VCRs? I wonder how long rental stores continued to rent out VCRs. My family splurged and purchased our very own VCR in the late ’80s and proceeded to build a personal video library that rivaled the warehouses of Blockbuster and Netflix. (At least it felt that way to us). And so began the habit of watching tv when you wanted to – by recording it on your amazing VCR! Mom kept a bountiful supply of Disney cartoons and movies to keep us entertained, and she also recorded her soap operas to watch each night. We even bought one of those snazzy Video Rewinders, so as not to overwork our precious VCR. We created a working index of all the movies, cartoons, musicals, and tv shows that we had recorded. Our system involved labeling each video tape with number stickers. Once we had exhausted 1 through 100, we started back at one, adding a B sticker behind the number. I can’t remember how many tapes we accumulated over the years, but the necessity of having an A and a B index lets you know that it was extensive. Some of the often watched titles included: Hoosiers, Superman, Indiana Jones, Bye Bye Birdie, plus a variety of Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse cartoons. Good times, good times.
As the 90s progressed, so did the VCR. By the time I was in highschool, I could have won a VCR-programming speed contest, as I had the fastest remote control trigger finger in all the land. I had lots of practice, since by that time I had developed my own tv tastes, and had my own tv and VCR to feed them. If only I had known then that one day a device would come along that knew what I wanted to watch without me reminding it every week…
But before we get to DVRs, there are a couple of other stops we need to make.
When TV first started, there were very limited options of what to watch, because there were very few channels. Families sat down together to watch whatever was on. Even as recently as the early 80s, most people only had the main networks to watch: NBC, CBS, and ABC. Then things started to get more interesting. I remember getting excited about watching WGN (The Bozo Show!), TBS, ESPN… But still, for the most part, shows seemed geared toward a general audience. Then suddenly, new channels starting popping up all over the place: MTV or VH1 for music lovers, TNT and USA for fans of syndicated tv shows and movies, and even a fourth network – a little channel called Fox – that seemed more interested in being inappropriate and irreverent than the other networks.
Suddenly everyone needed a cable box, to keep track of all those channels. Ten years ago 50 channels seemed like a lot, but now, when my digital cable lineup soars into the 600s, 50 seems miniscule! I could go on for awhile about the irony that although there are so many channels to choose from, there is nothing to watch, but I won’t. Instead I will give a shout out to a few of the cable channels I have grown to love: Thanks to FX for introducing me to Buffy the Vampire Slayer 7 years ago, and continuing to air it so I can enjoy my favorite episodes again and again. Thanks to VH1 for showing music videos at least once a week, so that I can stay in touch with what’s popular. Thanks to Food Network and HG-tv for inspiring me to keep my house and my recipes interesting. And finally, thanks to TNT and USA for showing so many movies, so that if all else fails, I can always watch Signs or Never Been Kissed for the umpteenth time. Cable tv – fear it, loathe it, or love it – it’s here to stay, and it will only continue to grow!
Okay, so DVD players are pretty great, but they have only indirectly changed the way most of us watch tv. The bigger effect of the DVD player was on how we watch movies, but that’s another story. There are people who have DVD Recorders, and so they have moved a step beyond the VCR. Yes, they still have to manually program their shows to record, but the picture quality is so much better. But since most people don’t own a DVD Recorder, the greatest change DVD players have had on how we watch tv is seen in the booming TV on DVD industry. Ten years ago no one owned entire series on DVD, much less waited until a show came out on video/DVD to watch it. Now, however, most shows are released on DVD within months of airing on tv. Based on my personal observations, I think that 24 has been the most popular show to watch on DVD, which makes sense, given its real time format. Many fans of the show don’t want to wait a week between each episode to see what happens next. Especially in the last few years, the trend is to “own it on DVD,” to “add to your library.” So thank you, DVD player, for allowing us to revisit our favorite shows whenever we want to.
So I know the general term is DVR, but TiVo was the original DVR, at least in my house, and so I will always refer to them as such. TiVo’ing has replaced the VCR’s place in our hearts, leaving that silly old-school tape stuff for emergency situations only. Now we don’t have to worry about how much recording space is left while we’re on vacation, or if the electricity will go out and undo all our programming. TiVo knows us better than we know ourselves! Season Pass, Wishlist, Pause/Rewind live tv – these are all concepts I have come to cherish. I do still have a VCR hooked up, because I haven’t yet moved up in the world to the dual-tuner DVRs, and there are times when I need to record two things at once. All good things in time, though.
So, there you have it. A TV technology timeline of sorts: Remote controls, VCRs, DVD players, cable television, and TiVo. Are there any important TV developments that I have left out? Do you have any tv technology memories to share?
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