Monday, May 11, 2009

When All Else Fails, READ the Directions

I have written often about the increased complexity of new consumer electronic devices. From cell phones to televisions, manufactures continue to incorporate more and more features into the devices. As a result they can be vexing for those of us without advanced degrees in electrical engineering. While some are better than others, the printed manuals are often not clear. Don’t get me started on the customer support hot lines.

Over the past few weeks my colleagues at CET and I have been taking more and more calls and emails asking for help with digital television questions. It is surprising to me how many individuals seem to have the same issues. I thought I would share some of them with you since it may help you or someone you know.

For fifty years or more, we American consumers were accustomed to selecting a TV. We brought it home and plugged it in and sat down and enjoyed our program. In the early days we may have had to adjust a few dials to keep the picture from rolling or move the rabbit ears a few inches to the right to clear up the picture. All in all it was painless.

Today’s digital TVs, while they may look on the outside like their ancient cousins, are not as easy to set up. I have talked to more than 20 people over the last month about problems they were having with their new digital TV set only to discover that they had never set it up correctly when they took it out of the box.

Most new sets can’t just be plugged in and turned on. There is an initial set up that allows the set to scan for available channels, set up proper screen size and shape, display captioning and program information, and even the amount of time it will stay turned on before it decides to turn itself off.

All of these features, if not set up correctly at first, will cause frustration. For example many I have talked to paid a high price for a large plasma high definition TV but, since they did not set it up correctly, have never actually been watching digital high definition programming. When we “talk” them through the set up and the picture switches to HD, they react like little kids at Christmas.

Then there are the people who call to ask why the TV works only for three hours and then goes dark? There is nothing wrong with the TV. The energy saving function is set for a certain time after which, if a channel has not been changed or some other action performed, it turns off. This is an “Energy Star” feature. Again, you need to set up the time the set stays on when you first set up the TV.

My advice, as bad as the manuals may be and as eager as you might be to enjoy your new TV, take the time to sit down and read through the manual … or get that electrical engineering degree.

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