When Phil Karras plugged in a lot of stuff

One of our first guest bloggers at The Solid Signal Blog was Phil Karras. Phil is a well-respected ham radio enthusiast and we’ve been publishing his articles since 2012. You can look at all of them here.

A Blu-ray Disc Player?

Most of Phil’s articles have aged very well. This is generally due to the subject matter, which tends to be about the technical aspects of broadcasting. That stuff, the basic math and the terms, doesn’t change. There was a transition as we all started becoming aware of digital broadcasting and what that brought to the table, but really you’re talking about laws of physics that aren’t going to bend to the will of public opinion.

This article though, entitled “How to get your iView, Blu Ray/DVD, and an Internet Video Player on Two TVs,” was a little different take for Phil. The basic idea — wiring multiple components to multiple TVs — is sound, but what Phil didn’t really know in 2013 is that a lot of what he’s talking about would change so radically in just six years.

First of all no one much talks about Blu-ray disc anymore. It’s amazing to me how quickly that format faded. It actually had a pretty good run from its mid-2000s beginnings, but especially in the last year you just don’t see anyone talking about physical media. Netflix, the company that made DVDs cool, is shedding physical media subscribers so fast that they’ve stopped even talking about it. And those subs that remain are tied more to the DVD format than to Blu-ray disc.

Today, we do it differently

Instead of relying on custom wiring solutions to share media across TVs, we just use smart TVs. Smart TVs are so cheap that there’s no reason not to get one. This means that the majority of your media just comes from the internet, often over Wi-Fi. There doesn’t have to be any in-home wiring. As far as local TV channels go, it’s often just as easy to put an antenna at every TV. For those who want to make it even easier, you can use a device like AirTV, which will distribute your antenna TV to all your devices.

More and more, we’re getting to the point where there are only one or two devices at each TV. In some cases you’re seeing even less than that. Although DIRECTV phased out its “DIRECTV Ready” receiverless solution, other providers like Spectrum do let you load their apps directly onto streaming boxes and smart TVs. So you get a receiver, without the receiver. I have every confidence that DIRECTV will roll back to this kind of technology at some point.

We used to call it “WAF” (cringe)

If you think back to the 1980s, it was a sign of opulence and technological leadership to have a bunch of components at every TV. Back then you even had devices like the tuner separate so that people could build a big stack of stuff. Big speakers were the rule of the day too.

Around 2003, I started hearing the term “WAF.” I even used it myself. It’s pretty cringeworthy today, but it stood for “Wife Approval Factor.” The idea was that men always wanted super fancy electronics and women only wanted things that were small and unobtrusive and easy to hide. Yeah I get it now. That was pretty bad. I regret using the term, but I don’t regret the result.

Whether or not that awful term is appropriate, it led to a revolution in home theater. Components got smaller, speakers especially. More and more was built into the TV itself.  And of course, while the screens got bigger, they got much flatter. This meant that entertainment furniture went from gigantic castle-like monstrosities to simple stands that looked more like high-end buffets and side tables.

Back in 2000, when I was a younger lad with a bit of coin, I had two VHS players, a DVD player, tape deck, game system, home theater receiver with 7 speakers, and a bunch of switches and cables to make it all work. Not only that, there was a floor-to-ceiling media cabinet. Today, I do more of my TV watching outside the living room since I have excellent sound and a variety of entertainment options on every TV I own. I don’t have to be tied to the living room, which has more doodads and tchotchkes on the shelves than physical media.

I don’t hear that old-school term anymore, and I’m grateful for that. But more than that I’m grateful for the representation that electronics didn’t have to be massive collections of giant boxes.

As for Phil…

He still writes for us now and again, and hopefully you’ll see another article from him soon.