M. Giant's
Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Wednesday, September 04, 2002  

I could go on about the Seattle trip for a third day running, but since that feels like the blogging equivalent of making party guests sit through a box of vacation slides, I’m giving that a rest today.

Our VCR has been acting up since May. It still runs and records and rewinds and searches and does everything else you want your VCR to do, but when you go to play it back the sound has this annoying, high-speed waver to it. Especially on the higher pitches. We’d be watching an episode of The West Wing and Martin Sheen wouldn’t sound so bad, but Mary-Louise Parker would be incredibly grating. So obviously that needed to get fixed.

This is our second VCR since we’ve been married. The first one, a JVC, lasted seven years, then started bucking for a promotion to garbage disposal. Why it thought that would be a promotion was beyond me, but for whatever reason, it decided to shred any tape we put into it. This would have been perfectly acceptable if we had been using it to, say, edit Road Rules episodes or something, but it made it kind of hard to watch movies. So it was decommissioned and replaced by a Sony.

When the Sony started going south and the head-cleaner kit didn’t work, I figured we’d get through the end of the TV season and I’d bring it in to get it fixed. It would be gone a couple of weeks and come back good as new. Except I’m a procrastinator, and before I knew it Monk had started, and Tony Shalhoub sounded fine even though Bitty Schram sounded grating, and it was too late.

Here’s where it gets embarrassing. In the past couple of weeks, our house has been caught up in American Idol fever. Don’t judge us, dammit.

Our friend Banana is out of town this week, and she’s charged us with keeping her cats alive and taping the final two episodes of American Idol, with the two tasks assigned roughly the same importance. Given that the show ostensibly revolves around singing, it would be inappropriate to tape it using a VCR that infuses every sound with a strident, high-speed vibrato. Especially since Christina got voted off weeks ago. So we decided to buy a cheap-ass VCR to get us through while the Sony was in the shop.

That’s what I did yesterday. I don’t know if you’ve shopped for a VCR lately. It’s likely that few people have, given the ascendance of DVD and TiVo over the past couple of years. The poor VCR, that relic of the Reagan years, doesn’t even rate its own section any more. And it’s getting cheap. I could have bought a new Sony for eighty dollars, but since this was just going to be a temporary/backup machine, I merely flipped a coin to decide between the Playskool and Fisher-Price models, then used the same coin to purchase one. Needless to say, I forewent the “service protection” plan.

Today I brought the Sony in to the electronics superstore near my office. James Lileks can complain all he wants about the neighborhood that got wiped out to make room for the store’s corporate HQ, and he’s right, but it’s made a world of difference in the service we can expect at the nearest retail outlet. When I went into the store today, I expected to never see my Sony again until Christmas. Instead, a black-shirted tech cracked it open in front of me and diagnosed the problem in minutes. No charge.

The bad news is that it would cost more to fix than it would to buy a new one [insert standard rant about disposable culture here]. The good news is that the problem wasn’t in the motor or the heads, but the output jack. That means the problem only manifests itself during playback, which in turn means that our Buffy archive project is safe.

The only problem is that now I feel a bit silly owning the A/V equivalent of an Easy-Bake oven as my primary means of recording TV shows. What we’ll probably end up doing is continuing to use the Sony for recording and the Brand-Nifto recorder for playback, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. It makes us sound either like snobby technophiles, which we’re not, or rednecks who use one truck for hauling dirt and another for hauling scrap lumber, which we’re also not. And something tells me that in a few years, a VCR is going to be about as vital to home entertainment as record turntables are today.

Meanwhile, our friends keep telling us to get the damn TiVo already. It might be worth it, if only to make Mary-Louise Parker less grating.

posted by M. Giant 3:34 PM 0 comments


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