Paul O'Brian writes about Watchmen, trivia, albums, interactive fiction, and more.


Where’s my VCR, my stereo, my TV show?

Last night, our old VCR finally gave up the ghost. This was a drag, but not altogether surprising. It was quite old, and had been slowly breaking down. Too bad about the SNL tape that is irretrievably stuck in there — guess Laura won’t get to see that. I lay all blame at the feet of Sarah Palin — it must have been the experience of recording her that finally killed the thing.

So anyway, after I discovered this problem last night, and made it worse by trying to fix it, I decided to just head to my friendly neighborhood Best Buy and get a new VCR. Only I discovered that the outside world has changed on me, dagnabit. It took a subsequent Circuit City trip to convince me of this, but apparently retail stores no longer sell VCRs, only VCR/DVD combos. So okay, fair enough, I’m not entirely crazy about our current DVD player, and there was a Sony combo there for only $99, so I went ahead and got it.


There are some fatal flaws to this new arrangement. The new combos (at least, the ones costing less than $250) apparently lack a tuner, so they can only do “dumb” recording from a line in. Now, the box made this pretty clear, and I thought maybe I could work around it using an extra VCR I had around that doesn’t record properly but does tune into the cable signal just fine. However, I failed to account for the fact that doing this makes automatic recording so annoying as to be infeasible. Whereas before I could just set a bunch of presets to record TV shows on whatever channel at whatever time, now I can set a timer to start recording from the line in, but I have to make sure the VCR is set to the right channel. Hey, if I have to set something manually, I have just lost the benefit of automatic recording.

Perhaps you are thinking this: he needs a DVR! Maybe I do, but what I also need is portability of recordings. See, in our VCR world, the VCR in our living room would tape our various shows, then Laura could pop out the tape and watch them in the kitchen (where we have a combo TV/VCR which lacks a timer but does playback just fine) while she takes care of Dante. I do not know how to accomplish this with a DVR.

So here is my question: how do other people deal with this? My requirements are that I want to automatically (with no manual intervention) record TV shows, and have those recordings available in multiple rooms. I would also love it if I didn’t have to spend a lot of money to achieve this goal. Should I just head over to the VCR section of eBay, or what? Is there some cool 21st century solution that I’m not thinking of?


The Magnetic Fields in Boulder, 10/15/08


Words I Learned From Infocom, Deluxe Edition


  1. We use two DVR’s, one in the bedroom and one in the family room. They’re both TiVos, and are able to use the house’s WiFi to transfer shows between them.

    This does not meet your low-budget requirement, alas.

    I know X10 has a “video sender” solution, but I would not dream of including a link to their website, as they appear to be stuck in the late 90’s.

    Good luck.

    • That is very cool to know! Thanks for the info. I think my “for now” answer has coalesced into: Buy a VCR for $30 from somebody on Craigslist. However, I am definitely interested in moving out of the analog world, and it is cool to know I can wirelessly transfer between TiVos once I have the money to spend on such a thing.

      • Ignoring the spend-a-lot-of-money constraint, Tivo recordings are accessible via http over the local network to any machine. They are DRM’d, though, and playback requires a codec which is available for Windows but I don’t know about other platforms. There are supposedly tools to strip that off, too.

        Of course this is no help for routing it to a room with a TV and no computer, or if you really want to watch on a TV screen not a computer (absent TV out on the computer).

        The documentation claims that you are limited to playing the videos back on at most 10 other devices, but I don’t know if and how that’s enforced.

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