Chatting with your VCR

December 20, 1992|By Andy Wickstrom | Andy Wickstrom,Knight-Ridder News Service

Talking to your video cassette recorder is nothing new -- or perhaps "muttering" better describes the rude utterances that might accompany a botched recording.

But for all your remonstrances, your VCR has never listened -- until now. Stand by for a new wrinkle in video enjoyment, a hand held device called the VCR Voice Programmer. It enables you to control virtually all VCR functions by merely saying the word -- such as "play," "pause," "stop" and "rewind" -- as well as to order a programmed recording. In the latter case, your oral instructions are stored in its memory to be executed at the specified time.

Sound incredible? There's more. The thing can also control key TV functions (on-off, channel up-down and volume) and change channels on your cable converter, assuming these devices use infrared remote controllers. In fact, the manufacturer, Voice Powered Technology, promises that you can replace all your TV/VCR/cable remotes with its VCR Voice Programmer.

Unquestionably, it's a fascinating gadget. Having used one for a few days and used it for timed recordings, I can testify that it works as advertised. But there are more than a few hurdles for the technologically klutzy consumer, including an irksome setup procedure.

The VCR Voice Programmer has to learn two things -- the operator's voice and the infrared "language" of the current remotes. The latter procedure is familiar to anyone who has used universal "learning" remote: place the new unit and the old unit end to end and press corresponding keys in sequence.

The voice part is trickier. As the window displays a vocabulary of about 30 words, one at a time, you repeat the words into the device's microphone. This takes at least two passes: first to learn the sound, then to see if you can say it the same way twice. In fact, you will have to say a given word the same way every time: I had difficulty making the unit distinguish "five" from "one."

At 42 pages, the manual strives for a chummy approach with whimsical little cartoons. In addition, there's a 70-page "extra help" manual for all the variations you may encounter in your home video configuration.

I found the timer feature most impressive. Just by saying a channel number, a day, a start time and a stop time, recording was assured. Just leave the device within "shooting range" of the video equipment.

Routine channel changing and VCR playback was not as compelling. Voice commands are preceded by pressing a button. Is it any easier to press the voice button and speak (in the correct intonation) than to just press a channel button? Is calling out "rewind" while pressing a button preferable to simply pressing rewind?

Voice Powered Technology has given this gadget a lot of thought, and there are more convenience features than can be explained here, such as the ability to recognize four different speakers and to control two sets of VCR/TV/cable box. Once past the initiation, it's fun to use and a great improvement on bending over to press tiny buttons on your VCR.

For more information: Until some time next year, the VCR Voice Programmer is being sold only through direct-response advertising, priced at $169.95. The company is taking orders at (800) 788-0800. It also runs a toll-free customer service hot line six days a week. A half-hour "infomercial" will begin appearing on cable and syndicated TV channels this month.

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