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January 2007 - Pre-Recorded Edition

Hello there, and a very warm welcome to a brand new year of Nick Harvey's Comment.  I trust you all had an incredibly enjoyable yuletide and are now fully refreshed after the festivities and ready for twelve more editions of what one viewer referred to as the most eagerly awaited monthly monologue on the entire, world-wide web.

He then went on to explain in some detail about how he eagerly awaits each month's epistle, then goes to a great deal of trouble to print it out, so he can utilise the resultant printout for some obscure use in the smallest room of his home.

I was getting tolerably optimistic of his critique as he started the explanation, but, on hearing it to the end, and upon some reflection, I think it best not to dwell on his thoughts any further, whatsoever.

Incidentally, madam, I'm sure you'll be heartened to learn that although I've just promised you twelve further editions of Comment in this nice, new year, I won't throw them all at you in one go, I will go to the trouble of carving them up into bite-size portions and feeding you a small, but perfectly formed, tasty morsel every month.

The observant viewers amongst you, should make note of that reference to chopping the whole year of drivel up into manageable sized chapters, as we could just return to that particular subject a little further down the page.

Now, my aforementioned gentleman who'd like to see me flushed with success was, I understand, partly driven to his opinions on Comment by the fact that he's come to the conclusion that I'm an incurable hater of new technology.

What on earth would make him think that, for goodness sake?  Just because I prefer my shirts bashed into cleanliness between two stones, down at the local river bank, doesn't make me a complete Luddite, does it?

And just because I was reporting on a bit of harmless fun with that delightful Mrs Nagg, the satellite navigator, in last month's edition, he reckons that I've climbed onto a never ending bandwagon of retro-worship.

Time then, I think, to gently introduce you to the subject for in-depth analysis under Nick Harvey's Acme microscope in this month's exciting edition.  Boy, this will blow his mind, if anything is ever going to!

We need, however, to start you off with a little bit of background, in order that your enjoyment of the remainder be maximised.

We're slightly odd, here in the Harvey household.  Kindly shut up, madam, and let me finish; that sentence wasn't an invitation for you to compose the next one.  No, we're odd in that we only very rarely watch television programmes at the time they're actually transmitted.

We're, what's known in the trade as, a time-shift home, you see.  Practically everything gets recorded and watched at a later date.  Often the later date is simply a bit later on in the same day, but later nonetheless.

There are a number of reasons for this tardiness in televiewing, not least being the ability to skip past the advertisements in programmes recorded on any of the growing number of these commercial television channels.

I think the whole problem started many, many years ago, on an evening when there were actually three things that we wanted to watch at the same time.  We never quite caught up with watching the tapes and we've never quite managed to clear our broadcasting backlog ever since.

So, in order to facilitate the functionality required in this time-shift home of ours, we have traditionally had a positively obscene number of videotape recorders stacked up in the corner of the sitting room; arranged to be capable of traditional analogue reception, but also variously wired up to a number of digital receiving devices of both the terrestrial and satellite variety.

It's at this particular point in the explanation, by the way, that I'm totally at a loss to understand how anyone could ever describe me as a technophobe!

But anyway, folks, we've just had Christmas, haven't we?  And what always happens just before Christmas?  Bits of technology always go wrong just before Christmas, don't they?

I sometimes wonder if the manufacturers arrange that anything which contains even the tiniest of microchips, gets programmed in the factory to always test whether the date is December the fifteenth before it blows up.

So there we were, in the week before Christmas.  One of the tape machines had decided that whatever button you pressed on either its front panel or its remote control, it would simply switch itself on for seven seconds, do absolutely nothing else, then switch itself straight back off again.

I would have minded this problem a little less had the damn thing not decided to do this whilst containing a four hour tape of a number of programmes which we wanted to watch.

With a great deal of difficulty, I finally managed to remove the entire offending device from its position in the stack in the corner of the room; but, try as I might, I failed miserably to remove the tape cassette from within its hungry jaws.

Off I went, machine under arm, round to see Video-Repair-Man, Mr S of Wiltshire; I can thoroughly recommend him.

Did you know that they design these contraptions such that if a tape's jammed inside, the only way to remove it is to undo a screw which is very carefully positioned, yes, you've guessed it, under the tape?

This is where I definitely have to sing the praises of Mr S.  Until that day, I have never seen anyone manage to actually undo a screw from the wrong end, the pointed end, with a tiny little pair of pliers.  It really was magic to watch.

Having retrieved my tape from within the beast, a very short period of further testing proved to Mr S that just ten pence was all I needed to spend on the machine.  That was ten pence for the black bin bag, to provide it with a final resting place.

To parrot-phrase that well-known comedy sketch of yesteryear, the video was dead, it was deceased, it has passed away, it had shuffled off this mortal coil, it was an ex-video.

Now then folks, this is where the background information finally finishes and the January edition of Nick Harvey's Comment really begins.  The subject for discussion this month shall be DVD recorders.

DVD recorders, rather like the ones I decided to purchase to replace a couple of the video recorders in my stack.  Well, I decided that the video that had failed was of a similar vintage to another, and as I had to rewire part of the stack in any case, perhaps now was an opportune moment to do a partial upgrade of the entire system.

Luddite or no, I've always got on quite well with video recorders.  I'm jolly good at setting timers and all I have to decide is how long a tape to bung in the slot at the front of the thing, and whether to record in standard play or long play.

I, rather foolishly, thought that the system would be similar in the wonderful world of DVDs, but, it seems, it is not.

Setting the timer, it has to be said, isn't all that more complicated than for a video, even though they do include the odd, extra, difficult question to throw you off your guard, just as you thought you'd mastered the operation.

No, it's choosing exactly what type of media to shove in the little drawer at the front, and deciding which of the numerous different recording formats to utilise, which pose the major confusions with the new system.

I remember the good old days when the trusty vinyl LP was first replaced by the CD.  Like the rest of you, I got the impression at the time that that little silver disc would always be called a CD, but it seems not.

CDs suddenly became DVDs.  DVDs then became DVD-Rs, which seemed to turn into DVD-RWs.  Now you have to choose between DVD-RW pluses and DVD-RW minuses.  That's without even pausing to mention DVD-RAMs, DVD-VIDEOs or VCDs, which in our case, I don't think we've got.

There's also the little matter, by the way, of the fact that I was originally told that the letters DVD stood for Digital Video Disc, yet even that seems now to have been changed into Digital Versatile Disc.  Not sure I'd rush to use the word versatile, given my recent experience!

Having chosen exactly what flavour of circular object to pop in the drawer at the front, we now come to deciding upon a recording format to use.  I was heartened to find that we can still choose between standard play, or SP, and long play, or LP.  But they've now added XP, MP, EP, ELP, SLP and FR as well, probably simply to confuse the innocent like me.

Seeing the letters EP as an available format did tempt me, for a few seconds, to try to fit one of my ancient, seven inch, vinyl raves from the grave into the little drawer, but for some strange reason, it didn't appear to want to fit.

Now, I did mention chopping things up into manageable, bite-sized chapters a bit earlier on up the page, didn't I?  You were concentrating back there, weren't you madam?

I gather you can do that on a DVD as well.  You seem to be able to tell the thing how long you want each of your chapters to be, and it chops everything up as it records it.  Can't think of an intelligent use for this, no doubt, glorious feature at the moment, but you do have to remember whether to switch it on or off each time.

The whole recording process seems to have become far too over-complicated now.  Apart from all that I've already reported, there's also this strange, black art of finalising discs.  Finalising might just sound as if it's in the general area of being logical; so what about this unfinalising business, too?  Sounds horribly like being made undead, doesn't it?

If I manage to get my head round this little lot, as time progresses, I might consider upgrading the rest of the recorders to DVDs, and your good selves with another chapter of the story, but for the present I'm damn glad there's the odd, ordinary VCR to fall back on for a quick recording.

Technophobic Luddite?  Me?  Don't be silly, madam, of course not!  Never heard such stuff and nonsense in all my life!

Well, time to draw an end to this first chapter of the 2007 epic, I think.  Thank you all for viewing, either the original or the repeat showing.  Assuming I've programmed in the right codes, the next chapter will appear, punctually, on February the first.

In the meantime, there's a programme coming up on the television in a minute and I want to keep it for posterity, so I think I've got a bit of recording to do.  Right, I'm off, where's me remote control?

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