A quickie while I'm still logged on:
Earlier this week, I decided to plug my iPod into my hotel TV's A/V input jacks so I could watch a movie on the larger screen. No-brainer, right? They even have the inputs on the front to make it really easy. Then I noticed that I couldn't change video inputs on the stupid thing - no buttons on the remote, no menus, nothing. That's because instead of a normal remote, the TV had a special one programmed for the OnCommand pay-per-view service, and they conveniently left out the input selection function.
The OnCommand unit is a small box that sits in-line between the coax cable running from the wall to the TV. It has a RJ-11 cable that plugs into the television and intercepts the IR signals from the special remote, allowing you to control and purchase "premium content". I did some research and found that a few people have messed with these older hotel PPV systems; in fact, there's an article from 2005 in Wired about how easily they can be hacked. Basically, you can do plenty if you have a USB TV tuner (and/or an expensive, commercial "master remote" that the hotels use to program these things).
I didn't care about free PPV, I don't want to steal anything - I just wanted to enable the damn video jacks. Acting on a stupid impulse, I bought an $8 universal remote and programmed in the codes for the TV's manufacturer. With a press of the "menu" button I had access to all of the TV settings, including adjusting the tuning and channel locks, and most importantly, switching video inputs. It was that easy.
What a stupid design - just let people use the damn inputs, you'll still sell plenty of porn. In the meantime, I guess I'll always pack this universal remote when I travel. Wow, what a nerd I am.