Back to the Future; or one family’s odyssey through the brave new world of digital television

January 28, 2008 at 6:33 pm (Film and television, Technology)

sony-25-inch-trinitron.jpg It begins with the death of our beloved twenty-year-old 25-inch Sony Trinitron. We observe a moment of silence as this venerable, essential component of our home life is carted out the door.* Even as we say our farewells to a companion whose age exactly matches our tenure in this house, the question looms…

What next?

I should first explain that my husband Ron and I are very particular about what we watch on TV. We choose each program before hand – no casual or impulsive viewing for us! After the choice is made, Ron commences the process he calls “delousing,” namely the excising of all commercial interruptions. (His tool for accomplishing this task is a DVD-RAM recorder.) The result seemed at first a delightful novelty, as if we were watching Law and Order on PBS. Where broadcast television is concerned, we prefer crime shows, true and otherwise. Commercial DVD’s are always welcome, especially British mysteries and selected feature films.

[Best recently viewed British mystery: “Invasion,” from the fourth season of Foyle’s War, IMHO the best mystery series to come from the Old Country since Inspector Morse. Best recently viewed feature film: Pan’s Labyrinth, a film of mindboggling originality and technical bravura – scary and at the same time very poignant.]

Okay, back to the aforementioned question. Here am I, jumping up and down and yelling,”Great! Time to get one of those huge hoggers I keep seeing in my friends’ houses! Fifty inches! Seventy-two inches! Sky’s the limit, right??!!”


We must first mourn the demise of the cathode ray tube, bringer of a near-perfect picture. It seems that none of the new technologies can measure up. Bigger is not necessarily better; in fact, it may be demonstrably worse. Oh dear; I can see that this is going to be a long haul.

And so begins our pilgrimage. We schlepp through Best Buy, Gramophone, Tweeter, Circuit City, Costco, and back to Best Buy. The promised land of fabulous viewing begins to seem a wasteland of imperfection. LCD? Blacks are not black enough, and colors tend to be oversaturated. Plasma? Blacks are black enough, but there’s concern that burn-in might result from watching standard definition programs on a high definition set. Rear projection? There’s often a problem with a restricted optimal viewing angle. And trust me -that’s just the tip of the iceberg. (For a useful primer on the new technology, see Amazon’s High-Def 101.)

So, while we are in a dark wood wandering (or rather, in the blinding expanse of huge desolate parking lots), what is happening on the home front?

Obviously, stop-gap measures are called for. The most logical first step: to use one of the electronic devices currently on the premises. For us, this consists of various decommissioned televisions and computer monitors. (Are other people’s houses also starting to resemble warehouses of disused electronics? This would include, of course CPU’s which cannot, alas, aid us in the present difficulty.)

First up is a Sony 19-inch professional Trinitron monitor, age eleven. Ron connects it to the recording device which will supply the tuner function. “Okay!” says he. We fire it up; it produces a desperate, wobbly image and then shuts down. Further tests confirm that it has, in fact, died. Up next: a nine-inch Sony Trinitron, age fifteen. Sure it’s got a screen slightly smaller than a cereal box – but what a picture! “Look at those colors – so true,” says Ron ruefully. “There’s simply nothing like a cathode ray tube…”

Meanwhile, our odyssey across television land continues. Occasionally we come close to deciding on a purchase, only to be warned off by something that has appeared on “the boards.” These sites, carefully monitored by Ron, contain posts which alert potential buyers to problems that have surfaced after purchase. Particularly recommended is the Audio Visual Science Forum, a real goldmine of information, much of it gained through firsthand experience.

Meanwhile, there’s been an upgrade on the home front, from nine inches to thirteen. We are currently watching TV on a 22-year-old Amiga monitor (manufactured for Amiga by Toshiba).

amiga-13-inch-monitor.jpg Ron was an early Amiga enthusiast and has never lost his respect for that most excellent machine. Alas, it proved incapable of handling the Y2K rollover. Thus it has been out of use for eight years. But guess what…It’s back! We sit before it in our darkened family room and are awestruck. “What a great picture,” sighs Ron. I cannot help but agree.

Stay tuned…

*As with computers, there are environmental issues concerning the disposal of old TV sets. See Take Back My TV for information on this topic.


  1. Hooked - well and truly hooked! - on books « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] 14, 2008 at 11:47 pm (Film and television, books) Last night, we finally got around to watching the “deloused” recording of one of our favorite programs, CBS Sunday Morning. What a treat was in store for Your Faithful […]

  2. Erkan said,

    Actually Amiga could handle the Y2k problem fine. Perhaps some program could not handle it but my systems keep their time! 🙂

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