Sunday, January 29, 2006

Review: Yes Max 

Israel's satellite TV company, Yes, has begun offering set top boxes with Digital Video Recorder (DVR) features. They call their DVR Yes Max. Warning: the links provided are in Hebrew, and I wasn't able to find much English language information about the product before deciding to buy it. That's why I'm taking a few minutes away from my busy bloviation schedule to tell you, in English, what Yes Max can do for you.

It's late, the kids are asleep. Kobe and the Lakers are on TV and Kobe's already got 50 points still early in the 3rd quarter. Just as he rises up for another three point jumper, your little one toddles half-asleep into the room, parks herself right smack between you and Kobe, makes one short, queasy burping sound, and pukes at your feet.

In the old days, this was quite bad. And by "old days," I mean a few months ago. Things would have to go something like this:

Without scaring the little one or smearing vomit on the couch, you quickly hunt down the nearest tape, make 100% certain it isn't your wedding video or the kids' not-yet-viewed copy of Power Puff Girls, jam it through the VCR's tape slot, swear like an anonymous blog troll when it gets stuck and -- after explaining to the sick little one that Abba was just saying funny words that don't mean anything -- eject the previous tape, re-jam the new tape with extreme prejudice, check the channel and VCR settings, and finally hit record.

Oh, yeah, then you've got to turn off the TV so you don't catch any tantalizing tidbits of the game while you de-vomit everything. You grab a towel for your shoes, and a fresh pair of socks, too. Good as new. Oops, you forgot something. Next you swab down your crying child, fling her reeking PJ's in the vicinity of the washer and then get her dressed up and calmed down. You cuddle her back to sleep and reassure your wife that it wasn't "sick vomit" but "wait and see vomit" so a trip to the emergency room isn't strictly necessary yet is it, and could you PLEASE go back to Kobe and the game now?

Finally, after explaining who Kobe is and why it matters, you race back to the TV room for the rest of your game. Unfortunately, now you realize that if you turn on the TV you'll invalidate the half hour you've already recorded, but you can't just stop the VCR to rewind and watch either, because the game probably isn't over yet. In fact, you haven't got a clue exactly when you can watch the rest since there's no way to find out when it's over without turning on the TV and risking it not being over -- thus, again, invalidating everything you've taped to that point. After allowing 20 more minutes for timeouts and another half hour for possible overtime, you take the risk, stop the VCR and rewind. Tragically, it turns out the cat stepped on the remote control while you were wiping up vomit, so the tape shows not the rest of Kobe's historic 81 point outburst, but 90 minutes of the Home Shopping Network. Oy vey.

Yes Max fixes all that, except for the part about the vomit.

With Yes Max, as soon as she heaves on your shoes you just calmly hit pause on your system remote, even though you're watching a live game, and the game freezes, patiently waiting for your return. Of course you still have to clean up the vomit, change your socks, get spousal signoff on ignoring the medical aspects of the problem until the morning, and spray the room with air freshener. But once you finish that, you plop back into your comfortable, still-warm indentation in the couch, hit play, and pick up right where you left off with that three pointer, regardless of how far the live game has really progressed in the meantime. You can even rewind the live game and see that three pointer again to help combat the post-traumatic flashbacks. What's more, with the ability to fast forward through timeouts, commercials, and opposing team free-throws, you stand a decent chance of catching up to the live stream and seeing the momentous 81st point as it happens. Thousands of years of human progress, all building toward this miraculous moment. Oy vey.

Of course, this is just an example. Sadly, Kobe's big game wasn't even shown here in Israel at all so, Yes Max or not, I missed all 81 points, and have to console myself with the fact that the above narrative contained only theoretical vomit, and that no shoes were harmed in the production of this post. But I hope you get the idea.

In short, Yes Max is a pay-TV set-top box and a tape-less VCR in one, with added conveniences like one-stop programming using an on-screen program guide, and instant indexing so you don't have to hunt for the start of the movie in the middle of a tape.

Providing just a little more detail, here are some of the features that make Yes Max a great addition to your mind-evaporation-through-television toolbox:
To many of you in America, this may seem like old news already. But in Israel, we haven't had a Tivo of our own, until now.

There are a few features that are probably common in Tivo and other more mature DVRs, like selecting a program you want to have recorded automatically whenever it comes on, that aren't implemented in Yes Max yet. And I can imagine a few extras I'd like to have, like an end-of-recording slop-time for handling the possibility of overtime in sports since recordings always stop at the scheduled end time. It would also be nice to have an upgraded remote with a thumb-wheel for controlling the playback speed, allowing frame-by-frame playback of the most brutal football tackles.

The nice thing, though, is that it should be possible for improvements to appear on the Yes Max box even after you have it installed since, like a computer, it should be able to update itself with patches that get delivered without your even worrying about it.

If you order Yes Max, let me know what you think of it.

All right, that's all the tech-review I've got in me. I feel a sudden urge to make fun of Hamas so I'm going to cut this short right here.

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