Losing the battle for the living room, but winning the war

, | Games

This isn’t a post complaining about the Red Ring of Death or Yellow Lights. It’s a far more serious problem than that. I have had a recurring console tech problem far more severe than those minor issues for the past four or five years. You see, I have two sons, ages thirteen and seven. That’s a terminal problem when it comes to televisions and console gaming.

I expect gamers in a similar situation understand where I’m coming from. For those who don’t immediately grasp the subtleties of the situation, let me explain.

After the jump, I go to gain a little patch of ground

Some years ago, five I think, I got a new 40″ Sony LCD flat panel for Christmas. It was placed in our entertainment unit in the living room. The 360 got hooked up to it, as well as my home theater system. A year later, when I got a PS3, that got hooked up to it as well. The Wii too, for the brief period of time that was operating and we cared about it, which was less than six months.

Problem was, my eldest son was a constant console gamer. Between him and my younger son who watched TV all the time the 360 wasn’t on, my living room defaulted to a general mess. It was the boys’ play room. It’s where they did their thing. The less that cable TV interested me, and the more I got frustrated with never being able to find the remote, my wife and I retreated to the basement to our own computer room.

I made forays into the living room less and less frequently. About three years ago, I tried to reassert my living room privileges and played on the 360 for a time. What I noticed was that my 360, a Zephyr release version, sounded like a hair dryer underneath my TV when it was on. I hated it. I ultimately got the Red Elite Resident Evil 360 model and for a time, perhaps a month, I had a brief moment of gaming goodness.

But old habits die hard and the computer and our computer room was our default place of retreat. It’s where I go when I am not going anywhere at all, if you take my meaning. And so the boys reasserted their right to the TV and consoles.

I resolved to implement detente and hooked up the old Zephyr release Xbox to my computer monitor. Through a VGA cable it would do 1080p and I had my moments with the console. But something was clearly lacking. Mostly it was the 24″ screen that was underwhelming me and my use of it was infrequent at best. The “hair dryer” sound effect was upgraded to a full-on “leaf blower” extravaganza given my increased closeness to the unit during game play. I became annoyed with it as a result, which later blossomed into outright hatred.

Inevitably, the batteries for the 360 controllers upstairs ran out at some critical moment. My red 360 controller vanished from the basement and migrated upstairs. I objected and reclaimed it, but it was a running battle and one that I could not win. I stopped trying and let my basement Xbox Live subscription lapse. I was back to the computer, full time. Television was almost completely excised from my routine by then. Only Game of Thrones, True Blood, and Boardwalk Empire provided any incentive to venture back upstairs into the living room.

About a year ago, my wife then switched our cable provider from Rogers to Bell Fibe. It was a sensible move and our bandwidth cap doubled and our transfer speeds increased markedly as well. Problem was, the box came with a new remote, and I never really bothered to figure it out. A few times earlier this year, I tried to watch TV — the Oscars, as it happened — and I couldn’t operate the damn remote to even find the channel in HD. I had gone from tech guru to the old fart who can’t even turn on his TV, even when I managed to find the remote. How the hell did that happen to me? It was an annoying realization and a crisis that I “solved” by steadfastly resolving to ignore it.

Fast forward to the July 1st long weekend in Canada. An opportunity arose by way of an innocuous flyer. Future Shop was selling an LG 55″ LED for $799. It wouldn’t fit in our upstairs TV unit, my wife observed, so as to discourage me from getting it.

It was then that I saw my opportunity, highlighted in yellow on the front page of that flyer. I readily agreed that it would never fit in the entertainment unit. She saw the gleam in my eye and protested that we already had a flat panel TV. No, “we” don’t have a TV, I replied forcefully. Tthe KIDS have a TV. “We” have computers.

I was off and running. After a weekend of scouring the AVS forums, I knew the pitfalls of the TV that had caught my eye and I knew I could work around them. The problematic motherboard on the LG 55LV4400 was a known quantity to me going in, so I got the extended warranty with a knowing smile. Blu-Rays in the basement? Have to on a 55″ TV, I tell the wife. So my gamestore, which is a client of mine, gave me a deal on a used PS3 with a controller and HDMI for $120. I was back in action!

Setting up the flat panel and plugging in the PS3 was a happy moment. The 360? Not so much. In order to get 1080p out of my Zephyr, I would have to use a special VGA cable designed for the 360 to get that display on the new flat panel. I had that cable, but that meant that I could not plug my computer into the 55″ as well. What I needed was a new 360 slim with HDMI. By this point, my wife was becoming greatly annoyed with my attempts to duplicate a home theatre and another console gaming setup in our computer room. I was walking on increasingly thin ice and I knew it.

It was then sheer luck came to my rescue.

I set up the 360 on the VGA cable and plugged everything in. It had been a while since I had updated my XBox’s software and I fumbled for the ethernet cable. Somehow, it wasn’t working. I temporarily took the old 802.11 adapter off of the upstairs Xbox and plugged it into my Zephyr. Within 5 seconds of that, my nearly seven year old Zephyr heard the call and came to my aid. Three flashing red lights that I had never seen came on. The image on the 55″ went black. No error code at all.

“It’s the video cable,” my wife confidently suggested. But I was smiling now. I knew what it was and the RROD had come at the most timely of moments. I was trying hard — and failing — to stop grinning.

“Nope. That’s not the video. That’s the Red Ring of Death. It’s dead. It’s dead!” I was laughing now and my wife was scowling fiercely.

Some fumbling and Googling over the next few minutes confirmed I was right. My wife gave up arguing about it and started to surf Ikea’s website picking out new bedroom furniture. I would have to pay her a home redecorating tax now to make-up for all of this new AV gear I had just bought, but I didn’t care. I now had my opening and I pounced on it.

A few days later and after a lot of browsing on Craigslist and Kijiji, last night I hooked up my new 360 Slim Modern Warfare 3 Special Edition with a pair of matching controllers. I got it for a song at $220, along with sixteen 360 games. It didn’t matter that fourteen of those sixteen games I already had, because by now, I had seen the light. I didn’t actually have those games, you see. Rather, my sons had those games. Now I had them, too.

So where is all this going? It’s going to Tamriel, of course. First thing that got loaded on my 360 slim was Skyrim. Sitting in my computer chair 6 feet away from a 55″ screen was a near religious experience. Six hours later, I knew that this game was game of the year and way better than Oblivion. I had an absolute blast!

And best of all? My 360 slim is silent as a crypt. After the game was installed, I couldn’t hear a damn thing. It might as well be an iPad it was so silent during gameplay. After the high-pitched whine from my Zephyr, and even the more muted (but definitely still there) fans on my — er, I mean the boys’ Red Falcon elite, this puppy was finally silent. What a treat. I couldn’t be happier that my old 360 finally died. Perfect!

Now I only have a backlog of about 120 games to get through on my 360 and PS3. The PS3 controller is attached via a USB cable to my unit. The two controllers I have for my 360 are clearly branded the same as the Modern Warfare 3 360 and my seven-year-old has been warned that it is death to touch them. Seeing as there are four more 360 controllers upstairs together with redundant recharging systems, I think I’m good till at least, oh, Halloween before the filthy little thieves start to try and pilfer my new gear.

This time though, I’m going to fight back every step of the way. This far, no farther.

Steel Wind lives in Canada and is a lawyer by day. You can probably find him in his basement.

FacebookEmailTwitterGoogle+