For those confused VCR owners who have pitched a permanent tent in front of their television sets so as not to miss their favorite TV shows, it's time to break camp.
This week marks the local introduction of a user-friendly gadget that its developers claim can program the most complicated home VCR with the ease of using a touch-tone telephone.
It's called VCR Plus--a remote-control device that automatically records programs by entering a code number printed in TV listings.
Starting this week in Southern California, the code numbers (PlusCodes) will be printed exclusively in the Los Angeles Times Sunday TV Times magazine and daily Calendar TV listings. The PlusCodes in The Times will appear beside broadcast and cable TV programs in five categories: prime-time, movies, sports, soap operas and children's programming.
To use the PlusCodes, you first have to program a VCR Plus unit with a series of set-numbers to correspond with your brand of VCR and, if necessary, cable box. You next program a series of numbers to correspond with every channel you receive. The directions for the one-time procedures come with the device.
After that, here's how it works:
Look up the PlusCode (up to six digits) next to each television listing in the TV Times magazine or daily Calendar listings. Don't worry if the numbers for the same program differ between the two listings. Either number will work.
Punch the code number for the show you want to record into the hand-held VCR Plus programmer.
Then punch one of three buttons--"once," "weekly" or "daily"--depending on whether you want to record a show once (such as a movie or sporting event), on a weekly basis (such as a prime-time series) or on a daily basis (such as a soap opera).
Place the hand-held VCR Plus programmer near your VCR.
And that's it. There's no need to turn on your VCR, just be sure there's a tape inside set to the desired recording speed (SP, LP or EP).
When the program airs, the VCR Plus remote-control unit automatically turns on your VCR in the record mode and switches it off when the program is over. The unit stores up to 14 programs, roughly twice the capability of most VCRs. In addition, the liquid-crystal display window on the hand-held remote daily calculates the amount of tape needed for the next 24 hours.
Major retail chains such as Sears, Montgomery Ward, Circuit City, Silo and The Good Guys are selling VCR Plus at a suggested retail price of $59.95.
"VCR Plus controls both the cable box and the VCR," explained Louise J. Wannier, vice president of marketing and business development for the Gemstar Development Corp. in Pasadena, the company behind VCR Plus. "Now, if you're away from home, you can tape shows on different cable channels. VCR Plus changes the channel for you. You just enter one number for each show."
In developing the product, Gemstar pledged to fulfill the original promise of the VCR. Fifteen years ago, when VCRs first hit the U.S. consumer market, analysts predicted a radical change in television viewing habits from VCR owners who would tape TV shows for replay at more convenient times. Sony chairman Akio Morita called it "time-shifting."
But despite manufacturers' best efforts to simplify their products over the years, an estimated half of the 70 million VCR owners have been stuck in neutral--unable or unwilling to follow complicated VCR manuals.
"In most surveys, the majority of people have never time-shifted just because they don't know how to program their machines," said Tom Adams, a television analyst for Paul Kagan Associates, a media research firm in Carmel, Calif.
"In some surveys as many as 50 percent don't even know how to record a program off the air," Adams said. "It's phenomenal that the technology took off like it did when nobody knows how to make it work. People still use their VCRs mostly to play back prerecorded tapes."
If all goes as schedule, Gemstar plans to bring the benefits of its patented coding scheme to future VCRs.
Programming Your VCR Plus
Use these numbers to set up most channels on VCR Plus. (Not all channels are available on all cable systems.) Broadcast Stations: KCBS: 2 KNBC: 4 KTLA: 5 KABC: 7 KCAL: 9 KTTV: 11 KCOP: 13 KSCI: 18 KCET: 28 KMEX: 14 KTBN: 40 KOCE: 50 KVEA: 23 KDOC: 56 KLCS: 17 CABLE CHANNELS: A&E: 39 AMC: 35 BRAVO: 54 CMAX: 45 DISC: 37 DISN: 53 ESPN: 34 FAM: 47 HBO: 33 LIFE: 46 NICK: 38 PRIME: 27 SHOW: 41 SCLA: 59 TBS: 43 TMC: 58 TNN: 49 TNT: 52 USA: 44 WGN: 55 For questions concerning VCR Plus, call the following number: 1-800-432-1VCR