The More Complicated They Are, The More They Go Wrong

Published on 16 January 2006 in , , , ,

Reading through the BBC’s Reception Advice help pages can be a bit depressing sometimes – all the problems that users have just receiving services. OnDigital boxes crashing, video and audio being out of sync, channel numbers not working properly…

And that’s not the half of it. When digital TV through an aerial was first launched, people spent thousands of pounds on new integrated TVs that, well to be blunt, never worked well at all. I remember trying to use one particular TV we had at work for testing purposes. It took about 20 seconds just to change channel, and as for using any interactive services, well it took nearly a minute just to put “Please Wait” on screen, yet alone do anything useful. And yet some people paid thousands for something similar.

Part of the problem must surely come down to the ever increasing complexity behind TV – in the digital TV age, the equipment we need is far more complex than it ever has been before. Think of the changes – now we have EPGs, widescreen, audio description and the ability for text services to use more than eight colours. Even the method of providing subtitles has changed. Oh and where once one TV channel was broadcast, now providers are putting up to ten in the same space. It’s no wonder the equipment sometimes struggles. TV is more demanding on equipment than it ever has been.

And as TV is more demanding, so there is more scope for things to go wrong. We all know what happened to computers – my first computers were simple and reasonably reliable. Bar the odd Tape Loading Error on my ZX Spectrum, it was generally okay. Then as machines started getting more complex, so they went wrong more often. My Atari STE was when I started to notice it a lot more, and then, the move to PCs made it even worse. A PC running Windows XP or Linux may handle errors better than previous devices, but there are still problems. It’s a simple, known fact – the more there is, the more scope there is for something to go wrong.

And that looks like the way we’re heading now with TV. The people who are apparently in the know predict convergence – music, computers, digital set top boxes and VCRs all replaced by one grey box, outputting to shiny flatscreen TV mounted on the wall. And with all that expansion, all that complexity, and what do you get? More crashes, more breaking, more problems probably.

And just as those problems start getting ironed out, we’ll re-do everything from scratch and go through it all over again. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?