Trick Play

I don’t know why I thought of this recently, but back in the late 80s, my family got a second TV– a small thing, maybe 15″ at the most. It was around 1988; I distinctly remember watching coverage of the Bush-Dukakis presidential race on this TV that lived in my parents’ room. The TV came with a remote, something novel for us since our living room (and recently only) TV was still a big thing encased in wood and with a manual dial for changing channels, a task with which the youngest child (me) was usually privileged. The new TV’s remote had a button labeled “RECALL.” I thought this was such a smart and amazing feature: the ability to “recall” what you had just watched. Clearly, this button would replay the last few minutes of whatever was on TV in case, for example, you hadn’t been paying attention, had to step put of the room for a moment or just wanted to re-watch whatever amazing programming you had just seen.

This feature is now part of what TiVo calls “trick play”– the ability to pause live TV and play back up to the last 30 minutes of recently viewed TV. And of course, this feature was not actually this feature in 1988; the recall button was actually a “last channel” button, automatically changing the channel to the previous or last channel viewed. Never having had a remote, much less a TV that was capable of remembering what the previous channel was, I thought this amazing new TV– small, but with the channel displayed on the screen in neon green digital numbers and shiny silver buttons that silently changed the channel up and down (instead of a plastic knob and dial that clicked as you turned it)– was surely capable of “recalling” the last few minutes of precious TV.

But no, it would be at least a decade before somebody out there thought of this idea, along with a long list of other great ones, and came out with the first public trials of TiVo, debuting in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1998, around the same time I first came out to the Bay Area myself (and have yet to go back). Busy, busy, busy.

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