Does anyone who writes the manuals actually read the things?

As the more eagle-eyed website visitor may have spotted, I have been know to answer the odd question over on the WHFSV Forums, writes Andrew Everard. It’s amazing how many times the same questions turn up, about selecting equipment – 32in LCD TVs seem to be the objects of desire at the moment – or making particular pieces of equipment work together.

For the latter kind of query, I now seem to spend half of my life with two instruction manuals side by side on my computer screen, trying to work out how to make a particular output on Item A talk a language Item B will understand, or configuring Item B to even acknowledge that Item A is connected to it.

It might seem tempting to respond with the old advice to RTFM – that’s “Read the Flamin’ Manual” for the family audience – but the more I pore over the thick tomes that come with so much equipment these days, the more I share users’ pain. I’ve installed hundreds of amplifiers, receivers, CD and DVD players and TVs, but still I struggle at times to find my way around the manual, let alone the product.

Products have become more complicated, but have the manuals improved?

While products have got more complicated, the technology to explain them hasn’t developed much beyond the ‘glue crossmember B to flange K3’ sheets we used to get with plastic model kits. The only difference is, today’s ‘instruction sheets’ often run to over 100 pages!

Automatic set-up is now common on AV receivers, but most of the problems concern connections or configurations deep in sub-menus, for which the manual is the only answer.

Maybe it’s time to supplement downloadable instruction manuals with online interactive set-up guides for this kind of product. These could lead us through those fiendishly complex set-up routines – and think how many trees we’d save into the bargain.

Or maybe, as a Forum member was asking the other day, it explains at least some of the success enjoyed by companies like Bose. Last time I set up one of that company's upmarket Lifestyle systems I opened the box to find a big A3 sheet showing me just what connected to what and went where.

And when that was done, I was asked to load a disc designed to walk me through the entire set-up procedure, including simple but logical stuff like "this sound should now be coming from the left rear speaker". It really makes a lot of sense...

Bose systems come complete with simple set-up discs

Andrew has written about audio and video products for the past 20+ years, and been a consumer journalist for more than 30 years, starting his career on camera magazines. Andrew has contributed to titles including What Hi-Fi?, GramophoneJazzwise and Hi-Fi CriticHi-Fi News & Record Review and Hi-Fi Choice. I’ve also written for a number of non-specialist and overseas magazines.