Little Things You Hate About Home Audio/Video

I notice lots of little annoying things about the audio and video products that traipse through my work space in a constant procession. Over time I’ve noticed they’re the same little annoying things all the time—the same trifling mistakes. When a little thing recurs often enough, it becomes a big thing.   Why do manufacturers routinely do things that alienate consumers? Partly to control costs, of course—a price tag that prevents you from whipping out your plastic is the ultimate annoyance. But they also suffer from ingrained habits, a refusal to think outside the box, and a form of blindness to those little things that add up over time to big things. Quite often fixing these problems would add little or nothing to the cost of the product. Following is a list of little things that annoy me—feel free to chime in with a few of your own:   Bright blue LEDs: Once they didn’t exist. Then a guy in Japan (Shuji Nakamura, the father of the blue LED) figured out how to make them blue. Now there are blue LEDs all over everything. And they’re often more than twice as bright as the red or green or amber ones. The one on the scroll ring of my (otherwise beloved) SanDisk Sansa MP3 player is so bright that when I use it in a dark room, it lights up the entire room, laser-burning into my eye sockets as I struggle to focus on the screen above it. I’ve actually used it as a flashlight. Guys, it is not necessary to use blue LEDs on absolutely everything; and is not necessary to make them bright enough to read by.   Badly organized controls: Apportioning controls among front panels, remotes, and menus always involves tradeoffs. What’s a must-have feature to me might seem like tedious clutter to you. My beef is the organization of control panels and remotes. Controls should be distinguished by size, shape, color, legend, and a sensible layout (which will probably work better if it’s not too relentlessly symmetrical). And the most oft-used functions should have the largest and most prominent buttons. I should not have to bend over and stare at the panel of my Toshiba HD-A2 HD DVD player to find the play button—it’s a teeny sliver, identical in every way to four others, and if that weren’t annoying enough, hidden behind a flip-down panel. In contrast, the Integra DPS-10.5 at the bottom of my rack is so well-organized, I can operate the power, play, stop, and eject buttons with my toes.   The well-hidden setup button: Nearly every time I review a surround receiver, I spend the first several minutes looking for the button on the remote that enters the main control menu. This drives me mad. It might be labeled setup or OSD or none of the above. And it’s rarely as prominent as it should be. As a result, I have to pick up the manual and leaf through page after page seeking the identity of the elusive button. So, manufacturers, please: (1) consistently label it “setup.” And (2) place the button in a fairly prominent place. Onkyo/Integra receivers and disc players are exemplary in this regard—the setup button is always located below the navigation controls. It is large and its curved shape follows the contour of the small joystick above it. Oh, and by the way, one joystick is much cooler than four stingy little nav buttons.   Yes, we allow no bananas: Some audiophiles like to hook up their speakers with high-end cables. Granted, there’s a lot of marketing nonsense and excessive cost surrounding this whole subject, but what I’m talking about here is cable termination. Reviewers like to use banana plugs because they provide a secure connection while saving us loads of time. Therefore we don’t like seeing binding posts stuffed with (often non-removable) plastic pins that block our plugs. Some high-end audio buffs believe spade lugs provide the best connection. These folks don’t want to find their binding posts in an obstructed recess.   This Styrofoam will self-destruct in five seconds: Heavy products like surround receivers and subwoofers should never be packed in Styrofoam that splits or shatters. Lightweight foam may be acceptable for a DVD player but not for a weighty object that smashes packing material to pieces. There is nothing I hate more than wrestling a monster sub back into a box while wrangling Styrofoam fragments. The extra distraction makes the process much more hazardous. When a product has to go out for repair, the consumer needs a carton and packing materials that can travel a bit.   Elephantine cartons: Granted, a plasma TV or floor standing tower speaker is a big object and comes in a big box. But the box needn’t be several times as large as the product. I just reviewed a surround speaker system with three towers in the front. They were amazingly slim and cool, but the boxes they came in were as tall, and nearly as wide, as my refrigerator. Consumers might not care, Mr. Speaker Maker, but consumers aren’t the ones reviewing your product. Big cartons can inflate shipping expenses—when I shipped out those towers, UPS tripled the billable shipping weight, presumably because big boxes take up more space in the truck. (Tip on long-term storage of fat cartons: Flatten the carton, store the packing wedges in a garbage bag, and you’ll save a lot of space in your box room.)   The needless charge: I go through a lot of iPod-docking systems. Nearly all of them charge the player when it’s in the dock, whether I want it charged or not. True, lithium-ion batteries stand up to this kind of abuse better than NiCad’s, but I want my little family of players to last as long as possible—I don’t buy a new iPod every year like you rich folk do. So I deliberately cycle the batteries on all my rechargeable objects, even if it means connecting an iPod to a docking system via the auxiliary mini-jack. The charging function should be switchable on or off. The only docking system I know of that qualifies is the Altec-Lansing inMotion 600. It operates on its own rechargeable battery and charges the iPod only when plugged into the wall.   The missing charger: A music player that costs hundreds of dollars should be packed with an AC adapter at no extra cost. Sure, you can use the USB charging option when running a PC, but what if you need to charge while the PC is off? There you have a tradeoff—major annoyance (can’t charge when you want to) versus major waste of power (PC running just to charge the iPod). Yeah, I’m talking to you, Steve Jobs.   So what’s on your list of little annoyances? What can designers of audio and video products (or PCs or Smartphone’s for that matter) do to make your life easier?             Mark Fleischmann is the author of the annually updated book Practical Home Theater.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.


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