I will always remember the first time that I saw television in color. The image of a ballet dancer in a pink tutu stays with me even today. Television is still one of our basic entertainment devices, but now we use many television-related gadgets and gizmos to enhance our television viewing. Today we can record every instance of our favorite television show to watch any time we please. We can even watch and record television on our computers. In fact, if you read on, you'll find that we can even watch our home television from the other side of the world. These exciting television devices augment our viewing pleasure.
TiVo Digital Video Recorder
Model: Series2; 140-hour recording
Price: $299 plus $12.95 per month for service
TiVo is like a digital VCR. The move to digital has many advantages. Recordings are saved on the unit's hard drive, so there are no tapes to fumble around with. It's also much easier to use TiVo than those old VCRs.
TiVo comes with its own easy-to-use onscreen programming guide. You tell it to record every instance of your favorite television show, and it automatically finds every instance and records it. You can do the same with actors, actresses, and directors. You can also record every game of your favorite team or every NASCAR race. Another great feature is the ability to pause live TV. If the doorbell rings or you need to get a drink, press the Pause button; when you return, you can see the show from right where you left off. Also, TiVo gives you the ability to replay TV. If your favorite player makes a touchdown, you can replay it with the touch of a button.
TiVo even lets you add the TiVo device to your home network. With this capability, you can schedule your TiVo recordings online. So if you are at a friend's home and realize that you forgot to record Desperate Housewives, you can go online and schedule the recording. You can use the TiVo combined with a home network to burn DVDs, play your digital music, and view photos.
You can use TiVo with a regular television with antenna, cable, digital cable, or satellite television. The most expensive version lets you record 140 hours of video. Cheaper versions have smaller hard drives and can hold less video. Setting up the TiVo takes some time, but the results are worthwhile. The only downside is the additional monthly fee.
Terk Volume Regulator
This is one of the most useful gadgets I've found. I am constantly aggravated by television commercials that are louder than the programming and some television stations that are louder than others. Instead of constantly adjusting the volume, you can simply have this device regulate the volume for you. It is also great for the hearing impaired because it raises the sound level of hard-to-hear programming.
The volume regulator uses standard audio cables to connect to the television. After it's connected, it works automatically with no user intervention. It samples the sound quality thousands of times per second and uses advanced digital signal processing to automatically adjust the sound levels. The consistent sound levels that it produces are immediately apparent and welcome.
Model: URD-300 Customizer
Manufacturer: Universal Remote
If you want to coordinate your entire home theater, this Universal Remote is just what you need. You can customize all the functions, including the labeling of functions that appear on the LCD panel.
The Universal Remote can take the place of all your other remote controls. Setup is fairly easy with a detailed tutorial on the included DVD and a well-written user manual. This remote works by both infrared (IR) and radio (RF) signals to give a great range that allows it to work even when physical obstructions are a problem. With the addition of a $75 extender, the remote can work throughout the house and even outdoors up to 100 feet.
I like the touch screen, which is clear and well designed. The buttons could be a bit larger, but they are well placed and easy to use. The buttons and screen are backlit to help with evening visibility. Although it is a bit more complicated, you can also program the remote to control multiple devices with a single button. If you need to switch the input on the television when you play the DVD, this remote lets you perform both tasks with one button.
TV Remote with Alarm Clock
Do you hate to miss your favorite television show? This gadget makes sure you remember. It has three TV alarms and one buzzer alarm. You follow a few simple steps to "train" the device to work with your television remote. Then set the television alarm(s), and your TV starts at the right time so that you don't miss your favorite shows.
The small unit is good-looking and stands on its own, so you can use it as a small clock, too. It works on AA batteries and has a button that backlights the display for night-time viewing.
Media Center PC
Before you buy your next computer, you might want to check out a Media Center PC. These PCs are made by many different manufacturers and run a special version of Microsoft Windows called Windows XP Media Center Edition. This version of Windows is available only on a new PC.
The Gateway unit is a fully functional and fully capable PC with a Pentium D 2.8GHz processor, a 250GB hard drive, 1024MB memory, writable DVD, 8-in-1 media card reader, keyboard, mouse, and speakers.
Although you can use it for all your computing needs, this media center PC really shines as a music, photo, and video center for the entire family. This computer has special software that helps you download, copy, and organize your digital music. With the built-in card reader, you can take the media card from your digital camera and insert it into the computer for an instant slide show. The computer also has a built-in television card that allows you to watch and record television shows, much like a TiVo. Although TiVo charges a monthly fee for its service, television recording on a Media Center PC has no monthly fee. You can easily program it to record one program, a series of programs, or every instance of your favorite show. You can also hook it up to a television to display the television programming you have recorded.
The Gateway 835GM comes with a keyboard and mouse for use with the computer, but it also has a remote control that can be used for the Media Center functionality when showing pictures, playing music, and recording or playing videos. It's a great idea, and it performs brilliantly.
Big Button Universal Remote Control
Model: Big Button Universal Remote Control
Manufacturer: Gold Violin
The Big Button Remote Control is three times larger than most ordinary remote controls. Each button is clearly marked and lighted. It is shaped like a T-bone to make it easier to hold. It can control up to five pieces of equipment, including the TV, VCR, DVD, cable, and satellite.
Another advantage is that this remote is so big that you won't easily lose it.
DVD/VCR Combination Unit
Did you know that VHS tapes are rated to last only 15 years? If you want to preserve all those memories that you have on tape, the best thing to do is to transfer them to DVD. You can do that many ways, but the absolute easiest way is to purchase a combination VCR and DVD device. With the Sony VX500, you simply insert the VHS tape and a blank DVD, and the entire process is done with the press of a button.
You might know that several different DVD formats are available, with the plus (+) format and the minus () format both still viable options. Because the VX500 records in both formats, you can actually transfer the information from your tapes into two sets of DVDs, one for each format. Then you are completely covered for the future. This Sony recorder also has an iLINK (FireWire) connector so that you can connect your camcorder and record your movies to DVD easily. This combination unit also has a built-in television tuner and can play VHS tapes in addition to DVDs.
Manufacturer: Sling Media
Have you ever been in a hotel room that doesn't get the same television stations you get at home? Or have you wanted to watch that big game in the garage where you can use your wireless Internet network, but you don't have a television? The Slingbox is your answer to either of these scenarios. Slingbox turns your Internet-connected laptop or desktop computer into your personal TV.
To use the Slingbox, you must have a broadband Internet connection and a router. The Slingbox is a small lightweight rectangular box that is hooked up to your television and router. The Slingbox makes it possible for you to access the programming from the connected television from any Internet-connected computer with a broadband connection. So if you hook up the Slingbox to your living room television, you can watch the big game on a computer in the garage, kitchen, or laundry room as long as it has a broadband Internet connection.
With a Slingbox, you can actually watch your home television from anywhere in the world. The Slingbox might change your television viewing habits in unique ways. If you have a vacation home, you won't need to have a television set or cable or satellite TV servicejust watch your home TV on your computer. The video quality is excellent. To control your home TV from afar, you are given a remote control on the computer screen. With that remote, you can do anything that you would normally do with your remote at home. You can change stations and even access programming from your TiVo or digital video recorder. This is one amazing little gadget!