The next/new TV (or, still seeking the “true” HDTV experience)

As loyal readers will recall, our TV up and died on Friday night. Oh, and just for a point of correction/clarification to that previous post: Annette actually doesn’t need my help to make web sites, and the problem she had was more complicated than I was trying to suggest. I was just trying to be funny, not an ass.

But it is true she doesn’t care that much about the TV. She certainly doesn’t care as much as Will and I.

Anyway, here’s a recap of our TV odyssey (which I had meant to post several days ago, but things got busy around here):

The first thing I did last Saturday morning (well, after I messed with the dead TV to make sure it was truly dead) was lift it off of the living room floor and haul it out to the curb. And here the first seed of my future TV purchase was planted: that sucker was darn heavy, and I’m too old and too out of shape to be hauling around a 70 pound + awkward appliances, especially when they end up dropping dead on me. We needed a lighter TV.

Shortly after that back-breaking experience, Will and I went to his soccer game. (And btw, it was a good game because Will’s team tied and didn’t lose.) I was talking to one of the parents who is an electrician at an auto plant around here and describing the dead TV situation to him. He ran me through a series of questions which I found mostly comforting because they were obvious things I had done (I checked a different plug, I tried turning it off and on from the TV itself and not the remote, I tried it after letting it sit for several hours, etc.). But it was also somewhat discomforting because asked me about things that I couldn’t have possibly checked (“Did you voltage meter to check if you were getting power at the switch?” What the hell is a voltage meter? I thought).

In the end, this guy was telling me stuff that made me think that I probably could have had this TV fixed, but a) I would have had to pay someone because I wasn’t about to open the set up myself, b) that would have cost me more than the set was worth, and c) it was still reviewed as a piece o’ junk.

Anyway, whether or not I should have just gotten the set fixed was kind of a moot point because when Will and I got back from soccer, the TV I had put on the curb was gone.

So it was time for a trip to Costco, which I have found to always be the best deal on electronics and “big ticket” items. It’s been several (well, three or four) years since I’ve done any TV shopping, and I discovered something: right now, there are only two kinds of TVs on the market in the size we were after: kinda cheap (like around $300 or so) and kinda expensive (like $700 ++). This is because everything is moving to HDTV. I wasn’t looking to buy an HDTV; on the other hand, having had recent bad experience with the kinda cheap variety of TV, I wasn’t looking to repeat that experience either.

After confering with Annette over the phone, we decided to get into the HDTV world on the low-end of things. I thought our shopping technique for this was kind of clever. She was off doing school work at Bombadill’s (local coffee shop) and did Google searches for me on particular brands for about a half hour. I gave her names and model numbers and she looked up reviews. This process eliminated some crappy TVs and then pushed us toward what we bought, a Sharp 26 inch LCD HDTV. We found great reviews online, and as far as we could tell, Costco beat the pants off of everyone on the price.

Anyway, took it home, easily lifted it out of the box (I don’t think it weighs even 30 pounds), hooked it up, prepared to be “blown away” by the HDTV experience.

Well, not quite. In fact, without the right box from the cable company, the quality of the TV was kind of strange. We were watching something Sunday night that featured some close-ups of people talking, and it was like their faces were cut up into different pieces.

But these problems were soon solved with a trip to our local Comcast store for the HDTV box– and while we were at it, we decided to get the DVR feature that allows you to record programs and such. It took me the better part of a morning to figure out how to hook the damn thing up– reading the instructions, calling Comcast, making a trip to Circuit City for one kind of cable I didn’t need, making a trip to Radio Shack for both advice and another cable I didn’t need or buy. And I did get it to all work.

So, how is the “HDTV experience?” Is it worth it? Well, yes and no.

First off, it’s a nice TV, and I really like the fact that I can pick it up and move it around without freakin’ killing myself. “Normal” TV looks good on it. When it comes to HDTV, I would say that the picture quality is quite obviously better, though I don’t know if the difference is worth the money. Besides that, most of the stuff that we tend to watch around here– Comedy Central, The Food Network, E!, Cartoon Network, etc.– isn’t broadcast in HDTV. In fact, the offering of things that are broadcast in HDTV are kind of on the slim-side of things.

The other thing is it seems to me that HDTV as a concept is a potentially never-ending money pit. It reminds me of stereo components from my youth. When I was in both Circuit City and Radio Shack, the dudes (and it’s always dudes, isn’t it?) were trying to sell me the more expensive cables or the more fancy connectors or whatever. The line was always something like “to get the true sense of the quality of HDTV, you will need to buy one of these.” Given that I’m already hundreds of dollars into this set-up already, thanks but no thanks.

Anyway, overall I have to give it a thumbs up. It’s not as cool as the HDTV projector set-up my friend and colleague Jim K. has in his basement (26 inch TV? Try 10 FOOT TV!), but it works well for us. In fact, I think I might watch something on it right now….

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One Response to The next/new TV (or, still seeking the “true” HDTV experience)

  1. You’re right about hdtv being a money pit, but if you do your research you can avoid some of the pitfalls. The first thing to watch for is the cables. Do not under any circumstanses let the guys at the big box stores sell you the ridiculous cables for $100 or more. Hdtvs all have either hdmi or dvi connectors on them now. These pass digital signals from the tuner or cable box to the tv. Unlike analog signal cables there is no degradation in quality. They either work or not. A $20 hdmi cable from newegg.com works just as well as a $150 cable from best buy.

    The other big issue is flat panel displays. Tubes have the capability to change their pixel size and resolution. So if you’re watching standard def programs (which is the vast majority of them) it looks the same as on a standard def tv. High def programs look even better. The dirty secret of the hdtv business is that old fashioned crt tvs actually have the best picture quality of all types. On flat panels like lcds and plasmas, they can only display one resolution either 720p or 1080i. Standard def programs actually look worse on these displays than on regular tvs. Other than being thin the picture quality often really doesn’t look that great. When I bought a new tv last spring I ended up buying a 30″ Toshiba hd tube tv because everything looks better and it was cheaper than any comparable size flat panel. The only problem with tubes is they’re limited to about 34″ inches at the high end and they’re heavy.

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