UNWIRED: Too many remote controls

UNWIRED: Too many remote controls

I have four remote controls on my coffee table. By anyone’s estimation, this is at least two too many. There’s one to control my TV (essentially by now an on/off switch, but we’ll get into that later), one to control the amplifier, one for the pay TV and one for the DVD player. If people come over to watch “legacy” movies (videos), my count rises to five, plus one or two game controllers. I could buy a universal remote, but, in my opinion, this is attacking the symptom rather than the cause. There are too many devices in my life.

I have more than 300 CDs that are catalogued according to my left-brain dominant mind in some kind of arcane system that only I can discern. My wife is consistently driven mad by the fact that Stevie Ray Vaughn is next to ZZ Top “because they’re both from Austin, Texas.”

Of course, like any geek worth half his salt, I have ripped most of my CDs to mp3 and have stored them on my hard drive, but my computers are in the study, and no amount of pleading has enabled me to move one of them into the living room for the sake of running music and movies from it. I toyed briefly with the idea of running a cable through the wall, but signal loss and the sheer mechanics of drilling a hole in the floorboards nipped that idea in the bud. I’m useless with tools that don’t have a user-friendly interface, and the last time I checked cordless drills weren’t on the list.

So where is it? Where’s the consumer electronic (read: not ugly) solution that will allow me to easily access my media collection, be it DVD, CD, cable TV, the Internet or any other format from the couch?

There has been tentative moves towards this idea by various manufacturers: Sony’s Playstation 2 allows you to play CD’s, DVD’s and games but it doesn’t have 5.1 surround sound support, so what’s the point? Microsoft’s X-Box also plays both CDs and DVDs, although the latter only work with the separate purchase of a DVD remote control (Why is it, one wonders, that the Playstation allows control of DVDs with the built in controller?) and the former only work after they’re copied to the device’s onboard hard drive.

But, to date, no one machine will play what I want, when I want it. Unless I want to build one myself, which is exactly what a bunch of geeks around the world are doing. An American company, Broad Q, has just released a piece of software for the Sony Playstation 2 called Qcast Tuner. Turning your PS2 into a kind of multimedia server, it appears to allow you to hook up to your home network, download songs and movies, and play them using your TV. Wait a minute. Network cables? No surround sound support? Are we back to square one?

Bill Dennis can be contacted at

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