Help my grandparents use a complicated AV setup more easily.
July 28, 2004 12:25 PM   Subscribe

I need help with making satalite tv more user-friendly for my grandparents (more inside).

My grandparents are 90 y.o. They live in a rural area. They have 2 tvs, one that is a video/tv combo (no remote control) and one that is so old that it didn't even come with a remote.

Both of my grandparents have dificulty getting up to a standing position, as well as bending over. They are not very steady. They only leave their home for Dr's appts or to go to lunch (they don't drive).

A couple of years ago, I convinced them to get satellite as cable is not available out in the country. My grandfather refused to use it. I tried to use it while I visited, but it was even frustrating for me as I had to keep resetting the box. They finally cancelled the service.

Last weekend I went to buy the LOTR triology for my grandmother and learned that virtually nothing is available on vhs anymore. I told her that she should buy a new tv and a dvd player so that I can bring her movies. Somehow she that became confused in her mind so that she now believes that a new tv will give her all of the tv shows she hears people talking about. As I said, they're 90 and not as quick-witted as they once were.

The old satalite dish is still attached to their house, but on the other end from where the tv is located (three rooms over). Is there anyway that I can have the satalite service restarted? I think that the dish is Direct tv, do I have to stick with that service? Is there any box or remote that would be less confusing for elderly people? Can I leave the dish where it's located? Or, do I have to move it to the side where the tv is? If so, do I have to hire someone to do it?

lastly, I know there was a recent post similar to this, but can anyone recommend a tv/dvd combo that has an easy to use remote with large buttons? It doesn't have to have great resolution or any fancy-smanchy stuff, just the basics.
posted by Juicylicious to Technology (12 answers total)
Mini-dish set-top boxes all suck horribly, but you can easily get by with a couple of steps.

First, create a channel profile containing only the channels they're going to watch. Getting rid of home shopping channels, kiddie channels, the DirecTV paperview preview channels, the entries for local TV in distant markets, all of that crud can go.

Then teach them the 5 button system:

1. Turn on the TV/STB.
2. Press GUIDE
3 & 4. Use the UP and DOWN keys to select the program they want to watch.
5. Press OK.

Glue a piece of paper to the back of the remote with these instructions.

Failing that, they can always just use regular old CH+ and CH- buttons to flip through the channels.

As far as dish location, it doesn't matter where the dish is, as long as it points to the bird and you can run the cable into the back of the STB. If you relocate it, make sure it has a view of the southern sky, and then follow the installation procedure. It can be frustrating, the first time you do it, but not impossible.

Yes, you can call and reactivate the service. DirecTV'd love that, I'm sure!
posted by majick at 12:58 PM on July 28, 2004

The first thing you should do is figure out what satellite system they have. Do they have the original satellite set top box?

As long as they were current on paying their bills, you should have no problem restarting the service. If they don't have the necessary hardware, there are all kinds of deals available, some that offer free installation.

What I think you're really looking for is a remote control that is senior friendly. When my (late) elderly mom had trouble using her TV many years back, I invested in a remote control that had 5 buttons: power, volume up, volume down, channel up, channel down.

While the remote my mom had is no langer available, you should check out the weemote. They make remote controls with a very simplistic user interface In my experience that is the key - the fewer the buttons the better. Also, you'll see on their web page that they also have a remote that would work well with a DVD player.

I'd suggest starting slow, assuming they get over the air channels, buy the remote and see if it works for them. If so, then introduce a DVD player or satellite box. Keep in mind that no matter what, technology can be very overwhelming for some folks.

Finally, do they want to watch TV? If not, you might consider radio for them, assuming there are some "age appropriate" stations in their area. Tivoli makes a radio with great sounds, and two knobs, one for the power and volume, the other to tune it.
posted by SteveInMaine at 1:09 PM on July 28, 2004

Oops, make that THREE knobs on the Tivoli radio: Power, volume and tuning. Guess I didn't have my bifocals adjusted properly.
posted by SteveInMaine at 1:13 PM on July 28, 2004

Also, for the remote control issue, you don't need to find a TV that comes with a good remote, you just need a programmable remote that's got big buttons. Programming a new remote these days is easy as pie (probably not easy enough for your grandparents, but you should be able to do it) since you basically just point it at the TV and push a specific button. A google search for 'universal remote large button' turned up many instances of remotes designed for the elderly or visually challenged.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:15 PM on July 28, 2004

I don't know if they still have the box. Seems to me that a neighbor took it. They do listen to the radio, but only the public radio classical music station. Drives me batty when I visit. My grandfather doesn't care about tv, which is why the satalite was disconnected. My grandmother is finally putting her foot down. She wants to "see all that tv that people talk about." Those "people" all have satalite. I'm guessing she wants H&G, Lifetime, TLC, etc. Plus, she would have loved to see the convention speeches, but since she only gets the networks, she missed them.

I've been given $500 to get a tv & dvd player. I was thinking of a combo system as I hope that it will be less expensive. The downside is that you can't use universal remotes with combo systems.
posted by Juicylicious at 1:20 PM on July 28, 2004

She wants to "see all that tv that people talk about."

But Grandma, what they're saying about it is that it sucks.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:54 PM on July 28, 2004

just struck me that your grandma is probably meeting with people similar to her who have tvs. maybe you should find out what they have - even if it's not as simple as what you're aiming for, you might find that they have a few simple things they know how to do that you can teach your grandma. even better, having a peer they can turn to for help + explanation is probably worth its weight in gold...
posted by andrew cooke at 2:26 PM on July 28, 2004

your grandma is probably meeting with people similar to her

No, she's getting this info from the neighbors that clean and do shopping for her. They're several decades younger. My grandparents are the oldest people in their community who still live in their home.
posted by Juicylicious at 3:23 PM on July 28, 2004

I want to chime in just to say that there are some great suggestions there -- provided you have regular access to your grandparents. A programmable remote will eventually come unprogrammed for one reason or another. The channels you program into their set top box will mysteriously disappear or change. Everything like this gets fubared regularly in my house, even more regularly when old folks (my parents, in their 50's, ha!) touch them. Whenever the in-laws visit my 30-second skip on the tivo disappears. I think one of them might be unplugging the box to turn it off or reset something. Seriously.

I even have this problem with my mom, who is 50. She wants to explore the internet and yada ya and has all kinds of questions for me. For someone her age the right answer is different than for someone my age. I try to lead her through things that are easy for her to remember or figure out, as opposed to finding the optimal solutions.
posted by RustyBrooks at 8:23 PM on July 28, 2004

I can't believe no one has mentioned TiVo. DirecTV has a receiver/TiVo combo box ($99 installed) that makes accessing the channels child's play (grandparent's play, even) -- the UI is very, very good, and much better than the native DirecTV interface. Extra bonus: order online at and get a free DVD player.

I had TiVo/Dish Network combo ever since The Great TiVo Giveaway Of Twenty Aught Aught, but just this week I switched over to the DirecTV system. Cheaper and better than Dish Network, in every respect.

You can customize TiVo in so many ways to make the whole TV experience better and easier for your grandparents. It is the singular answer to your question.
posted by ewagoner at 7:18 AM on July 29, 2004

Thanks for all the suggestions! I've tried to explain to my grandmother that a new tv will not give her all the channels that she wants. I'm literally terrified of having to tell her that we will have to re-hookup the satelite. When they had it, it was very confusing and my grandfather refused to use it. Plus, every month they bitched about the bill. I am so not looking forward to having this conversation with them.

It looks like I can help program the box & remotes for them, which will help. They can afford the monthly fee, but these are people who think that lunch at Perkins is expensive. They're from a different era. And, it's about time my grandmother stood up to the old man.

The next question is whether I can get them a tv & dvd player for under $500, including tax?
posted by Juicylicious at 7:38 AM on July 29, 2004

You shouldn't have a problem finding a TV and DVD player in your price range. Just a quick scan of an online/bricks and mortar store (best buy) shows a brand name 27" TV (Sony) for less than $400, and a mainstream DVD player (maybe Toshiba) for MUCH less than $100. A step down in price (maybe Panasonic or JVC) should still be satisfactory for the GrandFolks.

Add a couple of Weemote Sr. remotes for $25 a pop, and you're golden!
posted by SteveInMaine at 8:44 AM on July 29, 2004

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