TV tuner cards

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Per Terry Coombs:

Assuming you are running Windows on those PCs... if you tell the PC that does the recording to share the drive or folder it is recording into, you can play on any TV/PC that is connected to the LAN.
--
Pete Cresswell

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(PeteCresswell) wrote:

Yup , that's how I do it .
--
Snag



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I am currently using a Dvico TVIX M6600-A media streamer:
http://www.digitalconnection.com/products/video/tvixm6600n.asp
It's about 9"x9"x3" so it fits easily on my entertainment center. It does not need a fan for cooling, so it is completely silent. In theory you can install an internal hard drive and tuners, but for me that would defeat the advantages of streaming over my network.
Basically, I have my "main" computer in my home office. That's the machine I use to record TV shows, download content from the web, rip DVD's, etc. That keeps all the noise and heat of the PC in the office instead of out in the living room. It also means that when I upgrade my main computer, everything related to TV recording gets upgraded too.
Since my video content is saved on my main computer, it gets backed up with the rest of my data in case there is a virus, drive failure, etc. (I have many home videos going back 50 years that are irreplaceable).
I have a small program that runs in the background on my PC that acts as a media server. I simply point my media streamer to the server on the network, and I can stream all of my video content in full 1920x1080p HD video with 5.1 audio.
The M6600-A does not play back 4K video, but I don't have any 4K material to stream anyway.
The M6600-A is no longer available, but it does everything I need it to. I've had it several years, but if I need to replace it in the future I would probably look at the
Nvidia Shield: (Amazon.com product link shortened) ANDROID/dp/B00U33Q940/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top?ie=UTF8
or the Mede8ter 600x3D: http://www.mede8er.com/mede8er_product_med600x3d.htm

That's basically the way the media streamers work, except you have a tiny dedicated streamer instead of a full blown PC at each TV.
In theory, I could install a media streamer at each TV in our house and each could stream their own content from my main PC. But, I just have the one streamer in our living room.
By the way, if you don't need streaming and just want to play back content on an isolated TV, you might have a look at the Micca Speck:
(Amazon.com product link shortened) Player/dp/B008NO9RRM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid59521413&sr=8-1 &keywords=micca+speck
It is very tiny, about 3"x3"x1". I have one in our bedroom for the few times we watch shows in there. I can copy movies or TV shows to an SD card and plug it into the Speck in our bedroom. We don't use it a lot, but it works great when we do.

I have a gigabit network in our house, but even a simple 100Mbps network should be enough to stream most content. Depending on what you're streaming, many people even stream over Wifi connections (I still recommend wired connections).
How are your videos encoded? The only time I have issues with streaming is with really high bitrate video (i.e. 50mbps MP4 or something). Most shows I record over-the-air are 14Mbps or less MPEG2 in an MKV container. My personal home movies are all 30Mbps h.264/AC3 MP4 files.

Video eats hard drive space like crazy! :) At the moment, my video files are using about 350GB on my hard drive. Of course, I need the equivalent space on my backup drives in order to back up those videos. I use external Western Digital 3TB USB drives for backing up my computer.
Anthony Watson www.watsondiy.com www.mountainsoftware.com
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On 3/31/2016 9:43 PM, Terry Coombs wrote:

You can use a Roku box (or other device) on each TV and turn a PC into a media server. <https://plex.tv/ <https://plex.tv/roku You also have the issue of getting the content onto the server from your cable or satellite service.
For an OTA DVR you can use a Tablo with Roku boxes, but it won't work for you since you don't have OTA.
Of course the easiest way is to get a satellite box with a DVR but you have to pay monthly fees for that.
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On 3/31/2016 9:19 PM, HerHusband wrote:

And which voltages are supported by each variant? I have machines (and cards) with 3.3V interfaces, 5V interfaces, PCI-X "wide" busses, PCI-e x16/x1, etc.
"Standards are great; everyone should have one!"

Sure they do! The space is *in* the PC! The PC tends to be larger as it needs to house the power supply -- which must be capable of powering the additional cards (even if none are ever installed!) There are usually additional interfaces (disk, USB, keyboard) that also require real estate and power.
There are more watts POTENTIALLY dissipated in the case so the case tends to need active cooling (fan) -- which also takes up space.
I currently use: <
http://gallery.techarena.in/data/513/Dell_FX160_1.JPG
at each TV. They'll eventually be replaced by boxes 1/4 this size running on a couple of watts (i.e., *almost* battery powered; in practice, powered *by* the network so the power supply takes up no space in the device).
No disk in them so no need to power (or cool!) it.
IIRC, the Dell boxes draw ~15W; the HDHomeRun requires ~10W -- and that power (heat) is distributed in different places in the home. So, two live programs on 2 displays requires ~40W (in addition to whatever the displays' requirements might be). When a display isn't required, it's ~15W goes away. When not "capturing" OTA broadcasts, those 10W go away as well.
You can, instead, let the HDHomeRun talk directly to a NAS to create a DVR. And/or a wireless router so it can serve video via WiFi (think: tablets, phones).

You have to either: - let the PC that houses the capture card(s) act as media server, or - push the content from that PC onto a UPNP media tank that will later serve it
I keep the HDHomeRun devices on the lowest shelf in a kitchen cupboard -- near the VOIP gateway, PoE switch, UPS and database server (I store audio/video *in* a database just like any other "data" -- including its metadata).
I can record 4 DTV channels simultaneously (and add 2 tuners at a time almost indefinitely -- no "card slot limitations" in a PC to worry about!) AND serve ~30 SD live/stored products simultaneously (using a slow 20MB/s USB disk) where the number of "screens" on which a product is playing doesn't factor into that bandwidth calculation (i.e., if you happen to show the SAME content on 4 different screens in 4 different rooms, it counts as *1*).
[My design target was a family of 4 with each person watching one show while recording TWO others. Adding two more users just means another dual-tuner box attached to the antenna feed]
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The key word is "extra" space. Adding a card to my PC does not increase the space I need under my desk. It's all neatly contained within the existing PC case. I don't have an additional box to find a place for and more cables and wall warts running everywhere to connect things.
I've already maxed out the network ports on my router, so I would need to add a network switch if I wanted to add a network tuner. Another box, another power supply, more cables...

I have a 650Watt power supply, even though I rarely use more than 120 watts or so.
I use my computer for a LOT more than just recording video, so the upgraded power supply and other internals are already there. I'm just better utilizing what I already have.

Yes, but it's space I'm already using, and the fans are there already. I don't have to do anything extra to plug in a TV Tuner card.

I have no idea how much power my M6600-A media streamer draws, but I doubt it uses much. It puts off virtually no heat, it barely feels warm when you put your hand on it.
I'm sure my tiny Micca Speck uses even less power, and no heat to speak of.
http://www.miccatron.com/micca-speck/

Yes, that's the method I use.

I could theoretically have 8 tuners (4 cards) in my computer, but I only have nine channels available anyway. I used to have two tuner cards (4 tuners), but rarely record more than two shows at once. When one card died, I didn't bother replacing it and haven't missed it.

Yeah, it takes very little processing power to serve even HD video. I frequently record two TV shows, while streaming HD video to the living room, and my wife is doing Facebook on the computer.
As long as I'm not hammering the hard disk editing video or something, it works flawlessly.
Anthony Watson www.watsondiy.com www.mountainsoftware.com
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On 4/1/2016 8:28 AM, HerHusband wrote:

And now the PC under your desk has to be running in order for you to record/watch content.
We don't have "more cables" or wall warts, here. The (network) cable from the wall plate to the "display server" carries power and command/content. I can actually power an external USB disk drive from the power available on each network connection!
The antenna cables to the HDHomeRuns are in the kitchen cupboard -- along with the cables from the (land line) telephone company (to the VOIP gateway), the cordless phone base station, a cable modem (when/if we ever go that route), the PoE network switch, the database server and the two UPS's to back up the entire system (including the bits of kit that are scattered around the house; so, we don't need 48 wall warts to power the cameras, speakers, irrigation system, wireless access points, microwave link, etc.)
[I don't like "kit" to be visible!]

Ah, I have a 72 port switch for the house; 24 more ports just for the office and another 16 to handle the printers and NAS boxes.

But you are *requiring* it to satisfy a need that could be addressed by something smaller, less costly, less dependant on THAT particular implementation.
E.g., I can let one of my PC's act as a telephone answering machine. I can let it email incoming messages (as sound files) to me when I am out of town (so I don't have to pay toll charges to "check my messages"). Or, I can have a little box that effectively does the same thing and leave my computers OFF when out of town.

Except keep the PC running in order to use the tuner card!

Yes, but they are *appliances* intended to NOT be power hungry. A PC is typically not designed with that in mind.
Here, I can power up/down each bit of technology that I use to control the house "under program control". E.g., if there are things in the yard that need to be watered, the PoE switch powers up the irrigation controller; the irrigation controller loads its software from the database server (the only "persistent storage" that I have) and then waters whatever needs to be watered. When done, the irrigation controller powers off.
The same is true with the network speakers (power them up when I want to listen to music, TV, podcasts, etc -- then power them down when I'm done), the security cameras, front doorbell, HVAC controls, etc.
[I haven't yet designed the "network display" as TV technology is changing far too quickly to make a long term design decision -- only to discover that 8K TV's will be the norm in a couple of years, etc.]

But you're just thinking about *your* house. I have to have a scalable solution. E.g., you could install my automation system in a hotel and feed video to 100 different rooms for 100 different "guests". And, ensure the heat/ACbrrr is properly controlled in each of those rooms.
Or, in a commercial business/office where each employee/department may have different A/V needs (video conferencing, etc.).
Coming up with a solution that scales well is a lot different. A business isn't likely to want to have to discard all the kit they bought last year just because they can't buy a particular add-in card *this* year.

It also takes very little bandwidth! E.g., even a USB2 disk is more than up to the task (no need to tap my 320MB/s disk farms).
And, you can talk to a disk with very little hardware. E.g., I can plug a pair of disks into an NSLU2 (the size of a pack of cigarettes) and now they're a NAS: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NSLU2
Interfaces are becoming narrower and narrower. "Wide busses" cost a lot to implement (add-in cards). And, most people don't want/need to "expand" -- other than disk size or memory. (e.g., laptops and tablets aren't expandable)
[My first PC had the floppy controller and serial/parallel ports on an ISA card; the video was another card; the sound was yet another card; SCSI HBA ate another slot, network interface still more, etc. Now, all of these (except SCSI) are built onto EVERY motherboard -- and, for modest video needs, even the video is on the motherboard!]
We saw disk drives go from the two-ribbon-plus-power ST506 interface to the 40 conductor IDE to the serial ATA standard. 25 pin serial ports were downsized to 9 pins then they -- and the parallel ports -- were exchanged for 4 wire USB interfaces. Ditto mouse and keyboard.
In the embedded system world, the USB interface is the swiss army knife of expansion; why bother adding a disk controller to a device when you can just plug a USB disk into it? Even if that connection is entirely hardwired INSIDE the device?

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On Fri, 01 Apr 2016 10:36:46 -0700, Don Y

Have you ever looked at the power consumption of a cable or satellite box?
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On 4/1/2016 11:02 AM, snipped-for-privacy@aol.com wrote:

Yes -- they aren't designed with power efficiency in mind! E.g., the HDHomeRun's two tuners, CPU and network interface draws less than 10W.
And, you don't have to leave it powered up if you don't need it to be!
Cable and satellite boxes sit there 24/7/365 keeping warm just in case you *might* want to use it.
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On Fri, 01 Apr 2016 12:03:05 -0700, Don Y

That is one reason I want to cut the cord. My PCs power up with the TV. (except the one that is also acting as the server)
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On 4/1/2016 12:24 PM, snipped-for-privacy@aol.com wrote:

We currently have one SFF PC in the living room that acts as a DVD player (we check out lots of DVD's from the local library -- probably 10-15 per week). It also has SWMBO's daily exercise videos stored on it. And, can act as a PVR with the HDHomeRun boxes.
The other TV's pull their "content" from the HDHomeRun *live*... or, from material stored on that little PC delivered locally via these Optiplex FX160 boxes.
So, if we want to watch "video" in any other room, we have to turn that PC on, first.
In the future, the STB ("network display" for want of a better word) for a particular TV (display) will be powered up by the PoE switch. The software that makes it a "network display" will be delivered over the network. And, the "content" of interest similarly delivered (if that means powering up an HDHomeRun for "live TV" then the network connection to that HDHomeRun will be powered up thereby powering up the HDHomeRun, in the process).
None of this requiring us to push buttons on a "front panel" or a "remote control" (which you would then have to keep track of!)
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On Fri, 01 Apr 2016 12:59:23 -0700, Don Y

Hook an SSR to the 5v from the TV USB port and plug the PC in after that. (Speakers, back light and all the kit)
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On 4/1/2016 4:58 PM, snipped-for-privacy@aol.com wrote:

The "real" PC (i.e., it actually has a disk in it) is located in the living room. The other TVs are located in other rooms. None of the TV's are smart.
These devices are on their own private network -- so they don't muck with any of my work machines (*or* talk to the outside world!).
The "real" PC has to be up and running in order to make available the software image that the little Optiplex FX160's download (TFTP/NFS) in order to display video on their respective TV's.
If I had another box running 24/7 that could serve up these images, then the FX160's could fetch their software and then send a "magic packet" to the "real" PC to gain access to it's disk drive (movies).
But, the only box that is up 24/7 is on my "work" network -- not accessible by these machines.
[I could install a laptop drive in each of the FX160'S (or even thumb drives with the required software configured to boot via usb) but, that's not how I want these devices to operate in the final implementation (so, I want experience to see how things can fail *if* they fail)]
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Hi Don,

It runs 365/24/7 anyway as it also controls our outdoor lighting, our hot water recirculating pump, and our fresh air ventilation fan.
It also runs backups every night while I am sleeping, in addition to the hourly backups it performs during the day.
In the middle of the night it also processes the TV shows I have recorded, removing commercials, renaming the files, and moving them to my desired directory.
I have a UPS (Uninteruptable Power Supply) for my computer, so it all keeps running even when the power goes out.

Those network cables have to come from somewhere right? Maybe a network switch or router? That's not much different than my centralized PC setup.

Hmm.. I have food in my kitchen cupboards, but whatever floats your boat. :)

72 ports? Wow. I've got a five port router in the office (2 printers, the computer, a VOIP phone, and a line running to an 8 port switch in our crawlspace).
The 8-port switch runs to my media streamer, my blu-ray player, my daughters computer, a wireless access point in the attic, and the rest go to wall plates that I never use anymore.

I've used other options in the past, dedicated timers and whatnot. I much prefer the centralized location as it's easier to make changes and upgrade when needed.

My phone system records calls too, but if it is unavailable due to a power or network outage, my VOIP service records the call and sends the WAV file to me by email too.

My computer is always on, so I make a strong effort to select components that use little power and are very quiet. Once I turn the monitor off at night, my computer typically uses less than 90 watts. I use quiet fans that are virtually silent so there is no noise overnight either.

I use Insteon switches to control lights, a pump, and a fan. Then use an Insteon interface and software to control them with my computer.
This allows me to control the lights on our detached garage, even though there are no separate cables running to that building (it's out of wifi range too).

Correct, my house is all I'm concerned with. I'm not running a hotel or business complex.
Anthony Watson www.watsondiy.com www.mountainsoftware.com
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On 4/1/2016 10:39 PM, HerHusband wrote:

Only one box here runs 24/7 -- the DNS/TFTP/font/NFS/NTP/RDBMS/etc. server. It's implemented with one of those FX160's as it sits under my dresser (no display or keyboard; telnet/ssh to it when I need to do maintenance)

My goal is to only run what I need to run based on *when* I need to run it. E.g., the answering machine only powers up when the VOIP gateway indicates an incoming call; the irrigation system only powers up when something needs to be watered; the network speakers are only powered on when I need to listen to something, etc.

I have a UPS on each workstation (I think 11, at last count). The switch for the automation system has a pair of SmartUPS 1500's. But, I will replace them with a 48V unit (lets me get more efficiency in the PoE capability as I don't have to develop the 48V just for the switch; let the UPS develop it for the battery pack!)
The alarm system has it's own battery backup (literally a battery as it is PoE powered, as well).

There's no way around needing a switch (wireless is too vulnerable and means you then need to distribute power via some other means -- and back it up in all those locations!). I you put a bunch of PC's in a central closet, then you need a switch to let them talk to each other, etc.
Powering everything from the switch lets me avoid lots of wall warts around the house. And, lets me back up (power) everything from one place. As the switch lets me power down individual "drops", I can scale back the services that I offer during a power outage (i.e., probably not important to water the citrus trees if they *should* be watered but power is down).

We have *no* storage inside the house -- beyond the bedroom closets, a "guest closet" (that also stores the vacuum and carpet cleaners) and the kitchen pantry and cupboard.
The master bedroom's closets are full of clothing and some artwork (can't store art in the garage!). The office closet is full of test equipment, "supplies", magnetic media, etc. The guest bedroom closet has laptops, A/V equipment (stored), laser/dvd's, etc.
I've commandeered the lowest shelf in the pantry (I never to know whether to call it a pantry or cupboard; it's the larger of these two "kitchen storage spaces") plus the floor beneath that shelf. The UPS's sit on the floor. The VOIP gateway and HDHomeRun boxes connect to antenna and phone feeds that terminate/originate there. All of the network cables terminate on a patch panel -- from which they can be cabled to the network switch that sits there. An SFF PC sits on the shelf with external USB drives tethered to it (to implement the data store for the RDBMS that runs on the PC). There's a 1U console on slides that I can pull out to "talk to" the PC -- and, from there, to the rest of the system: <
http://www.allsold.ca/image/cache/data/SG//P1017276-500x500.jpg
<
http://www.allsold.ca/image/cache/data/SG//P1017278-500x500.jpg
It's hard to imagine a *smaller*/denser implementation!

24 of the ports are "uncommitted". E.g., there are 4 drops in the living room, two in the kitchen (counters), 1 each on the back and front porches, 2 in each of the three bedrooms, 2 in the dining room, 3 in the family room, one in the front hallway (and I'm forgetting a few).
The remaining 48 are wired to bits of technology hidden in the ceilings, walls, etc.: - HVAC & swamp cooler controllers - water, utilities (gas/electric) controllers - 11 security cameras - 10 network speakers (ceiling or high on walls) - laundry, garage door, water heater, landscape lighting - 5 localizer beacons - 2 wireless access points - 2 UPS's - CATV, POTS and DTV interfaces etc.
The drop in the office connects to the (regular) 24 port switch that feeds the machines located there (2 PC workstations, 2 Sun workstations, 2 X-Windows terminals, 2 1U servers, 2 2U servers, SWMBO's computer and laptop, 3 printers, several COTS NAS's, a couple of pieces of test equipment, etc.).
The drop in the guest bedroom talks to the (regular) 16 port switch that handles the multimedia workstation, my DNS/TFTP/etc. box, another printer, a (docked) tablet PC, several FX160's that implement my "custom" NAS, etc.
[I have a LOT of kit! Perhaps you can understand why I am obsessed about hiding any *other* kit that the *house* might "require"?? :< ]

Ah, but the distributed system *appears* as a single cohesive system! It just looks like dozens of "cores". Instead of having all of the field wiring coming to one GIANT multicore machine, the cores are located with the I/O's.
[The "program" that runs the irrigation system does not NEED to run on the node that has the irrigation system I/O's wired to it! The system can dispatch that program to some other node as it deems appropriate (because the irrigation controller might be busy detecting commercials in some video that is being recorded by another processor, somewhere). Likewise, if the system needs more computational resources, it can power up a node that is currently "off" and use it's CPU/memory to address some other task for which it needs resources. When done, it can power that node down to conserve power.]

We don't use a VOIP service. We have POTS service *to* the house. We use VOIP *inside* the house. I.e., a daemon watches the VOIP gateway for signs of an incoming call. When detected, a task is dispatched (fetched from the RDBMS's persistent store) on a "processor with available resources" that answers the call, decides if it is someone that we want to talk to, decides if we are "available" (i.e., not asleep, in the shower, in the back yard, etc.) and then notifies us of the call -- which we can elect to route to the answering machine, etc.
If, for example, *I* am calling, I might want to issue commands to the house ("water the roses", "let me know if I left the garage door open", "give me my messages", "record a message for Bob when he calls, later", etc.). Likewise, if we're out of town and have a neighbor watching the house, they can call and tell the house to perform certain actions (instead of having to come over, let themselves in and tell the house directly).
When walking around the neighborhood, I can carry a cordless phone (NOT a cell phone!) and talk to the house -- or, have the house talk to me ("A package was just delivered for you", "Bob is waiting for you at the front door", etc.)

My machines have lots of I/O's -- tablets, cameras, motion controllers, SCSI peripherals, etc. So, lots of I/O cards in each machine. I run three monitors on each workstation so multiple video cards. etc.
[One reason that I have so many different workstations is due to the number of I/O's that I support; it's just not possible to connect everything to *one* machine]
If I leave a workstation on 24/7, it shows up in our electric bill!

I'll *buy* a "solution" for lighting. It's just too much work to try to control loads with "custom" hardware. (And, I don't want to be in that market)

I've invested a lot of effort in the system design and the hardware/software implementation. It would be foolish for me to be limited by "a family of four".
As I want to show folks how you can make products accessible, I want to be able to demonstrate that I'm addressing *big* projects, not just "token" projects.
I can easily see taking modules from my design and deploying them in an assisted living facility ("help I've fallen", video conferencing so residents can "visit" with their neighbors while otherwise not mobile, local HVAC controls, etc.)
Or, in a business office environment.
Or, in an "institutional" setting (school for blind).
Or, in a hotel.
etc.
Individual modules can stand alone to address particular needs (security system, IP cameras, HVAC controller, irrigation controller, answering machine, etc.). By designing them as appliances (instead of "software running on a PC"), they can be "ported" as-is... no need to redesign "PC hardware and software" to fit in an appliance form factor!
[I have never liked "do overs" in product development. Get it right the first time, then move on to some other challenge. "Version 2" is nothing more than a chore, in my book!]
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And to think this thread started because I wanted to record NCIS for my wife ! Y'all are way way more involved in computerizing/automating things than I have any desire to . To quote Don Williams , "I'm just a country boy."
--
Snag



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On 4/2/2016 3:45 AM, Terry Coombs wrote:

The "involvement" is a consequence of the immaturity of computerized products. Even the "appliances" aren't (yet) "turn-key".
Consider how "involved" it was to cook *inside* a home, wash clothes there, refrigerate the interior air, etc. before we had appliances to do those things. Consider how "involved" it was to operate an automobile. etc.
But, those technologies have all "grown up" and become mainstream. (people don't even look under the hood of their vehicles anymore!)

"No matter where you go, there you are!"
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Terry,

Yeah, threads can drift off topic sometimes. Sorry about that.
For what it's worth, you can access full episodes of NCIS from:
http://www.cbs.com/shows/ncis/
With the right software, you can save those episodes to your computer for viewing on other devices.
Anthony Watson www.watsondiy.com www.mountainsoftware.com
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HerHusband wrote:

Not worried about drift , I've learned a lot from this discussion . I just don't have the infrastructure some of y'all have .
--
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On 4/2/2016 8:22 AM, Terry Coombs wrote:

The problem lies with the fact that most of these "tech" devices are "too technical". They force much of the knowledge and responsibility for their use onto the user.
Your *car* knows that it needs to advance the ignition timing as RPM's increase -- *you* don't have to tweek that each time you alter the pressure on the accelerator. It knows to disconnect the AC compressor's clutch when the car is under load (for improved performance) -- so *you* don't have to do so. It knows to keep the coolant liquid in the block while the car is warming up -- so *you* don't have to manually open/close a valve.
I.e., all you have to do is point the car in the right direction and poke at the gas and brake, accordingly.
When it comes to tech products (anything "computerized"), the device expects *you* to know what's appropriate for its use.
*You* have to tell your TV to scan for available channels (even though it KNOWS that it is fresh out of the box and has no idea what "market" you are in!). *You* have to tell your PVR *when* to start recording a particular show ("a few minutes before I *expect* the show to start until a few minutes after I would imagine it will end"). *You* have to tell your irrigation controller when to water and how much to water. etc.
Part of the problem is rooted in the culture that is present where these devices are designed -- often by "engineers" who have their own preconceived notions of how a device should be *used* (or, worse, by marketing droids with NO knowledge of engineering and only a tenuous grasp on what their "market" thinks -- most folks don't know what they WANT; but, they *do* know what they DON'T want... after they've seen it!)
Ever been to a web site that wants your name, address, billing information, etc. BEFORE it will tell you what the shipping charges will be? (yeah, you can't be *certain* unless you have an exact address, residence/business, etc. BUT you could give folks a rough idea -- or, look at their IP address and give them a *refined* idea without even having to ask for their ZIP code!)
Young engineers/designers often think they're going to "go the extra mile" -- and let EVERYTHING in a product be configurable. Shirley, this gives the user the most flexibility in tailoring the product to his particular needs (instead of imposing some sense of how it should behave). In reality, they are simply abrogating their responsibility to come up with a REALISTIC configuration that they can justify to their users.
Imagine a car that let you set the shift points of the transmission, the amount of ignition advance at each engine speed, etc. You could tweek its performance to suit *your* driving style, fuel efficiency concerns, etc.
Now, imagine you can't take the car out on the road UNTIL you've done this! And, of course, the manual that describes the process was hastily thrown together and contains many errors and omissions. :<
So, the wiser "young engineer" learns to come up with a reasonable "default" configuration that is enough to get the new owner up and running -- letting him later tweek it IF HE SO CHOOSES. But, the defaults have been picked with some rational argument behind each choice so they "make sense" -- even if they aren't appropriate for all users!
A next level of "design maturity" has the designer learning NOT to impose his particular usage style on the product. E.g., NOT requiring a "name" BEFORE an "address"; allowing a form to be completed in whatever order the user chooses. Letting the user decide which radio/TV preset should be associated with each "station" -- instead of assigning them in some fixed order (yeah, it might seem logical that channels be placed in a list in numerical order. But, if I'm always using channels 6 and 32, then why do I want all those other channels in the middle -- just to have to skip over them as I move between 6 and 32? (OTOH, I don't want them ELIMINATED as I may refer to them from time to time)
Yet another level of sophistication is ANTICIPATING the user's needs. E.g., the driver's seat moving into position for you based on your identifying yourself by the KEY you use to gain entry to the vehicle! Or, the radio tuning in "your favorite station" when you start the vehicle.
*Or*, knowing that you listen to the news radio station on your morning commute but listen to jazz when driving around in the evening!
Despite having the *brains* to do these things, most computerized products aren't ambitious enough in how they interact with their user(s). They "play it safe" and expect the user to *tell* them everything -- often in extraordinary levels of UNNECESSARY detail (why can't I just say "music" and have the stereo know what *I* want to listen to, now, and "news" when I want MY favorite news channel tuned?)
Add to this the lack of consistency between products -- and the differences between manufacturers and its no wonder such a large percentage of product returns are due to "its too difficult to use" (IIRC, that figure is now 25%)
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