Inventor Rejoices as TVs Go Dark

Altman's key-chain fob was a TV-B-Gone, a new universal remote that turns off almost any television. The device, which looks like an automobile remote, has just one button. When activated, it spends over a minute flashing out 209 different codes to turn off televisions, the most popular brands first.

At a Laundromat and cafe down the street, a lone man sorted clothes in the glow of larger-than-life bikini babes on a 60-inch Sony HDTV. A punch of the button and the screen instantly went dark. He went on folding his T-shirts, seemingly unaware of the change.

"It's always like that," Altman said. "It's so much part of the environment in the U.S. that people don't even notice when it disappears."

It is different in Hong Kong, Altman said. There, when he clicked off store TVs, everyone looked around to see who did it.

At Best Buy, neither customers nor staff responded as one set after another turned off -- Sony TVs first, then a JVC and an Apex, all from a single click. The interview was easier without competition from Pirates of the Caribbean.

His site,, is over bandwidth at the moment. But I must have one.

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57 Responses:

  1. rawdogue says:

    I used to have a remote control software for palm pilot - it wasn't one-touch, but it was fun whipping it out and changing TVs in sportsbars to PBS.

  2. from_wonderland says:

    The longer I work with technology, the more I come to the conclusion that it is often a bad idea. I want one of these almost as much as I want a Cellphone jammer. The glee I would have driving to work in the morning leaving a wake of accidents behind me as people fiddle even more with their phones trying to make them work as I drive by wiping out communication for a 150' diameter...I want I want I want. Phones on driver's heads without hands-free should be illegal and punishable by cellular rectal insertion. People with a propensity to gesture to the person they are talking to on the phone while driving in traffic should be napalmed...

    my quart of bile

    • mendel says:

      Handsfree doesn't help. Not surprising, but you'd think they'd have checked before they went ahead with all the laws.

      That said, if God didn't want us to do things with our hands while we drove he wouldn't have given us knees.

      • from_wonderland says:

        It's not the hands so much as the focus. The average driver has so precious little to spare. And they have too much steel and airbag around them for the Darwin assist to matter.

      • ciphergoth says:

        The linked article doesn't say "Handsfree doesn't help". It says "Some research shows that handsfree drivers are no less distracted. Other research disagrees". But shit, even if they're distracted, at least they have their HANDS FREE to get themselves out of whatever crisis it causes.

        I suspect it depends on attitude. No-one talks about the safety risks of talking to passengers in the car while driving; but the thing about *those* conversations is that the passenger (a) has nothing better to do, and (b) is constantly reminded that you're busy. Which means that if you fall silent when things get tricky, any sane passenger will respect it. Drivers feel less free to ignore cellphone talkers, and that could cause problems; if they could foster the same habits as passenger conversations over the phone I suspect it would make a real difference.

        Note that I don't drive, and in general I'm in favour of legislating the living fuck out of drivers in the hope of making a dent in the carnage on the roads, but it still seems to me that an outright ban on cellphone conversations in cars would be too much.

        • mendel says:

          The linked article doesn't say "Handsfree doesn't help".

          Yep, that was my writing, not the article's. The article also doesn't say "Drive with your knee."

      • taffer says:

        Holy hell. One of my ex girlfriends used to put lipstick on while driving down the highway on our way to work.

        So, busy highway, driving fast, eyes on mirror, hands applying lipstick. Passenger clutching desperately at the "Oh Jesus!" handle.

    • lars_larsen says:

      HAHAHA, I came here with the intention of posting something along the lines of "I want to turn cell phones off".

      Now, if I could just jam the neurological signals of the person screaming into the cell phone, that would work too.

      I'm not even talking about the people on the phone in their cars. I can't hear them. I mostly care about the people screaming into their phone in public.

      Cell phone jammers exist. They're legal on private property in some other countries. They're often used in theaters to prevent cell phones from disturbing everyone. I want to buy one but I have no idea who makes them.

      • from_wonderland says:

        I saw them in the Wired LJ yesterday. $3000 is a bit steep for something that is not legal to use anyway. They're using them in theaters in .jp with a permit and in churches somewhere else.

        I wonder if you could take the TV unit and wire it to an array of iR diodes strong enough to beam through windows in houses from the street ;)

        • jwz says:

          Wouldn't it be cheaper (not to mention legal) for theatres to just dump crumpled up tinfoil between the walls or something? Or is that not signal-scattering enough?

          • from_wonderland says:

            It's been too long since I learned faraday caging. I don't remember what is necessary to filter properly. I would guess that a larger theater would require 3K worth of foil if that were viable. Might be advantageous for a small theater though.

            • jwz says:

              I was thinking that you wouldn't need a full faraday cage for this to be effective; just something to introduce enough noise to screw up reception. Drywall and aluminum wall joists seem to do a damned fine job of screwing up cell phone reception in many buildings, so it seems like it shouldn't be too much harder to emphasize rather than de-emphasize that property.

              • xenogram says:

                Chickenwire perhaps.

              • jkonrath says:

                I think it works better if you can ground the metal you're using to scatter the signal. That's why aluminum siding and stucco over wire works so well.

                I saw a site ( that talks about making a wood panel with ferrous content inside that would block signals, but that's on a new-agey health blog, so it might be up there with magnetic jewelry and colonic irrigation in the validity department.

          • noweb4u says:

            Not to mention to successfully jam phones in the united states, you'd have to nail about 300Mhz of spectrum, at minimum, all over the band between 800Mhz and 1.9Ghz, using a variety of techniques to interfere with AMPS, CDMA, TDMA, and GSM, as well as iDEN, which would involve blocking notch frequencies in the middle of the public safety band.
            This would require an approximately 50 watt signal in a random broadband burst in all the major PCS and public safety bands, if I did the scenario in my head properly.

            Considering the hell you'd get for blocking nextel alone (realizing even nextel can't help but interfere with public safety (mostly because their tower engineers are retards)) is severe, I'd say it's easier to put in a faraday cage. But then you can't use police radios in the event of a medical emergency.

            It's better to club people who use cell phones in theaters like a baby seal.

          • rambletron3000 says:

            I'm not sure whether to be concerned or impressed that I often retain a signal in my building's elevator, even when it's moving. What the hell is this thing made of?

            On a side note, I never get a signal in the old repertory theatre in downtown Ottawa, which is probably unintentional. Maybe there's a whole lot of rebar in the walls.

          • gaal says:

            Just emulate a real cell. Everyone will register with you, and you can silently not forward their calls.

            • ciphergoth says:

              That's not so easy; the channel between cell and phone is cryptographically authenticated.

          • flipzagging says:

            Maybe they want to keep wireless transmissions for themselves and the ushers? They have little walkie-talkies in some theatres.

            In France, the new cell-jamming law says you have to let emergency calls through. Something smarter than tinfoil is required.

        • lars_larsen says:

          Yeah, you can buy IR spotlights. Wiring the signal for one LED up to a high voltage transistor to control a big spotlight is no big deal. I'd stick with LED based spotlights because you need it to turn on/off very quickly. I think standard light bulbs with IR filters over them would be too slow to react.

          An IR laser might be an even better choice.

  3. ivorjawa says:

    The gadget that I would really like is something that fires a directional EMP.

    Specifically, for killing thumping stereos.

    (but the tv-b-gone frob is desperately cool, and I'm going to buy one as soon as I can. thank you for posting this!)

    • jwz says:

      EMP would kill the vehicle too. But doesn't electronics-frying EMP take truly vast amounts of power? And can it even be directional?

      • grumpy_sysadmin says:

        HERF guns vaguely exist, and are vaguely directional. Range sucks ass without a huge power output, though.

      • westyx says:

        What you're looking for is a HERF gun - i know they're out there, but all the sites i googled are 404.

      • chrislightfoot says:

        Yeah, it can be directional, though the beam width (divergence angle) is limited by the size of the emitter and the wavelength of the signal (as a Rayleigh criterion, presumably -- i.e. angle ~ wavelength / emitter size). I don't know about this "HERF gun" stuff with magnetrons -- all the plausible ideas I saw for this involved electromagnets and high explosives. Probably not the sort of thing you want to drive around with in these, uh, troubled times.

        But tvbgone -- splendid idea. Thanks for drawing it to my attention....

        • soulrefraction says:

          HERF guns in their most effective and simple form are a coil of wire with a magnet explosively driven through the coil. Coil shaping acts as a directional antenna.

          Supposedly we tried a few of these on Tomahawks in Gulf War One for killing communications and defense electronics in hardened bunkers (who needs bunker busters?). This is why NORAD is in a giant faraday cage with phsyically non-conductive links to the outer world (phone, data, power)

      • quercus says:

        If you leave a GSM phone near any audio gear, every so often you get a "chirrup, chirrup, chirrup" noise as it handshakes with the base station. At 1GHz, every bit of audio kit looks like a rectifier. Modulate the signal anyhow, rectify it, and you're going to get some component in the audio band.

        So a few years ago I was working for a big base-station maker. One of the hardware übergeeken had taken a kid's toy microphone / voice changer / speaker and rebuilt it as "The Voice of God", with the aid of a small 1800MHz Tx. You pointed this thing at _anything_ that had electronics, amplification and an audio output, and you could speak through it. Quality sucked, but You could make people hear voices with it.

        • hatter says:

          Don't know if they were the first person to come up with this idea, but I know he won't be the last.

          the hatter

      • ivorjawa says:

        Well, yes, there is indeed a very distinct possibility that it'd also kill the computer in the vehicle.
        They intruded into my calm and happy place with their assholic thump machine; they get what they deserve.

        The power problem is, of course, more interesting.

      • soulrefraction says:

        And if you're going to fry your target anyway just carry a car taser, much smaller, much quieter (assuming explosive driven HERF)

        Ask your local PD about where to find one, they're going into service shortly.

    • captain18 says:

      Good call!

      And funny, too because my wife and I were discussing how cool such a beast would be just yesterday.

    • diffrentcolours says:

      There's some debate about whether EMP affects cars, because they're basically faraday cages on wheels. this page for example says:

      Another "myth" that seems to have grown up with information on EMP is that nearly all cars and trucks would be "knocked out" by EMP. This seems logical, but is one of those cases where "real world" experiments contradict theoretical answers and I'm afraid this is the case with cars and EMP. According to sources working at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, cars have proven to be resistant to EMP in actual tests using nuclear weapons as well as during more recent tests (with newer cars) with the US Military's EMP simulators.

      However, there are also lots of links which say otherwise, and I'm not sure which ones are correct, or maybe it depends on the car and the EMP :)

      • kyzoku says:

        I seem to recall recently there was talk of police departments getting some sort of energy weapon (I forget if it was termed EMP or HERF or whatnot) that could disable a vehicle. I think the idea was it disrupted the car's computer, messing up the electronic fuel injector, thereby stalling the car. Of course, this doesn't work with older vehicles that don't rely on an electronic fuel injector.

        I would expect older vehicles to be more common in the case of actual nuclear testing, since I seem to recall we're not supposed to be doing that anymore.

  4. movingfinger says:

    Airport lounge TVs. Ahhhh.

    Don't leave home without it.

    • ctd says:

      Until your suggestion, I was thinking it would be more asshole than useful. Now it is as if the clouds have parted and the sun has shone through.

      • ciphergoth says:

        Yeah. I think turning off the TV in a sports bar during a game would make you an arsehole; but there are so many TVs around the place visually blaring at people none of whom actively want to be watching them, and turning those TVs off is a blessing to humanity.

  5. 5tephe says:

    This came out a few months ago, and sounds great too: I'm no expert, but they seem to be saying that you can calibrate it to let 'emergency' signals in and out, but block the 'social' traffic.

    And the tvbegone guy is about to become a millionare. Sign me up for a dozen: everybody gets one for Christmas!

    • soulrefraction says:

      I can't wait for the first theater that kills someone by blocking a surgeon's cell phone or pager with this stuff to get sued out of existance. Secretly I'm hoping it is one of the churches that are reportedly jamming cells.

    • noweb4u says:

      What they're saying is that their GSM signals near 2.4 Ghz (1.9Ghz I think?) won't go through. About half of our phones in the US operate in too close of a proximity to public safety bands to effectively jam them, and things like CDMA can adapt to a small amount of noise, so you'd have to jam a wide swath of frequencies with a lot of power to have any success. It'd be costly and risky, since when you open it that wide, you could stomp on other services, not to mention it's highly illegal here still.

      And the first time it interferes with an emergency responder, you're good as sued.

  6. zwol says:

    The gadget I want is a car-mounted billboard vaporizer. I'd drive down the freeway erasing all those horrible ads for greed or what have you.

    • wire_on_fire says:

      But then the Billboard Liberation Front wouldn't have a canvas to work with.

      Do you really want that to happen?

      • kchrist says:

        It would be worth it to rid the world of that pollution. BLF would find another creative outlet.

      • zwol says:

        I'm willing to pay that price. But then, the BLF don't hit the billboards I drive past nearly often enough to make any kind of lasting aesthetic improvement. Your mileage may vary.

    • ciphergoth says:

      I think that I shall never see
      A billboard lovely as a tree
      Perhaps, unless the billboards fall
      I'll never see a tree at all.

      -- Ogden Nash

    • taffer says:

      For years I've been wishing for a car-mounted paint gun that I could use to tag morons who change lanes or turn without signalling. I want one for my bike, too.

  7. chunkymonchichi says:

    "What I really want," Altman said, "Is Life-B-Here."

    if only it was as simple as the click of a button on a key fob.

  8. bifrosty2k says:

    I wrote Altman and told him I wanted one, and that I'd host his site so it didn't get smashed like that heh.

    Internet Archive didn't have his page up, so I'm guessing this webpage is pretty new.

    I wonder who's TV I'd turn off first...

  9. soulrefraction says:

    Cool, I can use it at DNA along with the IR laser for the cameras.

    • jwz says:

      Most of the TVs at the club are too shitty to even have remote controls, so you're out of luck!

  10. cryllius says:

    The site's back up as of a couple of hours ago, for I think the first time. I placed an order just fine - hopefully there won't be problems filling them. But it's pretty cheap and awesome enough that I'm prepared to wait...

    Specifically, it's $20, including shipping.

    • cryllius says:

      So I got mine in the mail Friday. Yep, it's as great as you'd expect. Like they say, it goes through a 65-second cycle to exhaust every code, but the most I've had to wait for any TV I've tried it on is maybe eight seconds.

      The only problem is it's pretty "Version 1". If you press the button twice, the behavior is kind of undefined - there's no status light. It doesn't seem to restart the sequence right away, and it doesn't turn the thing off (I checked with my digital camera). So once you get it started, you have to wait 65 seconds for a reset before you can do anything else.

      Not really a big problem - it's only meant for you to take it out of your pocket occasionally and flick off a TV. But when showing it off, the wait feels kind of clunky.

      Oh, and once you get the TV off, hide it again. I've found at least one television that activates off of more than one code in the sequence, therefore, if you leave it going it'll turn the thing off and then back on.

      The range is quite good though - the case is kind of big, and it's packed with lithium batteries. There's still room inside to make it a good bit smaller. Version 2 is going to be pretty nice...

      Their web page says they're "out of stock" and taking pre-orders. However, mine arrived as part of the second shipment, so there's definitely no big shortage.

  11. 205guy says:

    I can't believe this was made public and reported in the "press" (, although I think the journalist confused the 2 devices), nor can I imagine how long it will last online: