In this day and age of moveon.org and Al Gore's doom and gloom weather forecasts merged with the visceral hatred of my grand old party, I realize that every bit of consumption appears to be conspicuous by those even on the moderate left. However; I say, "Screw 'em," and continue to spend my children's inheritance with the hope that they will have to burn me in the back yard at the end in order to save money, and that my last check will bounce. Some have tied this attitude to the Baby Boomer generation and even though I am a Baby Boomer, I must say that I don't get it. Of course, that's what those who say these sorts of vile things would say that I would say. Again, "Screw 'em." If you're going to work and earn money, what is the money for except to enhance your quality of life? The one thing I sincerely do not get is these folks who live like paupers and die with hundreds of thousands of $100 bills papered over inside the walls of their shacks. I also don't get folks who are mega-rich continuing to get richer instead of just settling in on a beach somewhere with little monkey butlers and blue drinks. But I suppose the hunter has been captured by the game in that case and that some sort of tally board is being kept at that level which folks such as you and I are not at liberty to see. I also don't get Long-term Care Insurance, even though I could make money selling it if I wanted to. I think of this cartoon in a trade magazine where the insect husband comes home with a new policy in his hand and his insect wife says, "Jesus, Frank. You bought Long-term Care insurance? We're mayflies, Frank. Mayflies!" And that we are.
As for me and my now fellow empty-nesting mayfly wife, one of the things we are enjoying in our brief dotage is watching the Netflix flicks that come in the little red envelopes every so often. Other than that, I don't watch TV all that much aside from various sporting events and maybe three or four prime time offerings, such as My Name is Earl and The Office, both of which just so happen to lack a laugh track (an absolute must for a comedy for me these days) as well as come on back-to-back on the same night. Most of what I would enjoy on the idiot box, such as Twin Peaks or Arrested Development, doesn't fare well enough with the Nielsen families to manage renewal, and I'm fine with that. It makes me feel like a special snowflake, and those things usually take on a life of their own somewhere else in the new multi-media world, anyway, where I can watch them without commercial interruption.
My wife works harder than I do, and when she gets home she likes to veg out for an hour or two with whatever's on, and (bless her heart) I wanted to buy this BigAss TV more for her sake than for mine. She's a saint of a human and her eyes are getting on up there, too. Plus, she was turning the volume up so loud on the old-timey box we had that I was afraid she was going to blow the speakers. No worry about that now, Charlie! This bad boy in our house now can raise the roof, as you kids say. (If I used that phrase totally out of correct context, please just let an old man be and save your snarky /msgs for someone who might actually change his/her ways.)
Anyway, as with several other times in recent years when I've made a conspicuous decision to consume some high-dollar product, I will tell what I learned during that process in the hopes that you or someone you know might find value in the decisions made during that spendthrifty ordeal.
First of all, how big do you want? As you've probably seen in the news lately, you can get a plasma TV that covers an entire wall if you want to spend many thousands of dollars. For my purposes, I was looking in the 40"-42" range. That size would fit on my mantle between the bookshelves and not only fill up all the available space there, but also provide all the image quality I could ever imagine needing. In that size range, you
basically (shoot me now if I ever use that word either in print or in conversation again; that word has become my pet peeve and candidate for most useless word in the language due to overuse) have three options.
The one I didn't even consider was the rear-projection TVs. Not only do they take up a lot of room on the floor (which would mean they would never work on my mantle) but they also have crappy picture quality from everything I could see in showrooms. It seems to me that you have to be sitting in just the right spot at just the right angle in order to get the picture quality you'd expect for that kind of money. Folks who buy these usually also drop a lot of extra money for a fancy table on which it can sit. I read an article the other day about someone who came home to find that their fancy glass-top table had suffered BigAss TV rejection. And not only could the consumer not get a new replacement BigAss TV; neither the retailer nor the manufacturer would even replace the table.
The other popular choice is plasma TVs. The reason plasma TVs have been popular in these larger sizes for quite some time (time in the modern internet sense; not the old-fashioned sense where you actually have to wait for food to cook in what is called in some homes an "oven") is that this was the only format that could handle anything over inches coming in the 30s. My friend in Hollywood tells me that plasma is popular in his business of film editing because it is the only format which produces a true black, and that filmmakers are very fond of their true blacks. However, a lot of folks seem to have problems with plasma TVs due to burn-in of images and other quality-control issues. In fact, at least one large manufacturer has given up on plasma and gone to LCD only in the larger screens.
Nowadays the LCD market is hotter due to the fact that they've gotten the bigger screen sizes to work in this format. I'm sure you're familiar with LCD monitors. I'd say the chances are darn good that you're reading this on one. So you probably already know the potential downside of LCD. The most oft-mentioned one is the dead pixel gnome. I know I've got at least one dead pixel on my 19" Samsung SyncMaster 916v that bothers me sometimes when I'm looking at a static page with certain colors filling in most of the page. However, when looking at a moving image like a video, it would be hard to imagine noticing it. And on a big TV, I really don't think a few bad pixels could possibly matter all that much.
So that's what I wound up getting. It's a 42" LG (brand name, Zenith’s parent company) LCD TV and it was priced on the comparison websites at just under $2,000 US. I'd been looking at these things for days and trying to make a decision, so when I went to Circuit City and found this exact model for $1800 with a $300 rebate, I made the call and swiped the card. I used the $300 rebate (which was not actually a rebate but a store credit toward accessories) to buy the 3-year warranty. That is one of the few extended warranty plans I have ever purchased for an electronic item, but this is a pretty significant purchase and it seemed to be the prudent thing to do. This is, after all, fairly uncharted water. After paying around $200 for new cables to hook all of this up, plus tax, that initial bite comes close to $2500.
There were other models, mostly made by Sharp, which cost around $1000 more for the same size. The picture quality on those was much better in the store. I think that's due to what they call the "contrast ratio" which can be as big a number as 10,000:1. Mine is only 1700:1, but I just didn't feel as if that was worth another $1000. If I'm not at the store looking at the difference, it's highly unlikely that I'm going to notice it. (This is what you call "situational logic.") Just what does "contrast ratio" mean, you might be asking yourself. They tell me it is the brightness of a display at full white over the brightness of a display at full black. Since the black value is greatly affected by ambient light, some TVs will actually calculate the contrast ratio in darkened rooms. LCD televisions are said to be superior at rejecting ambient light and maintaining contrast ratios in lit rooms. Bottom line? The difference between 10,000:1 and 1700:1 is not nearly as great as you'd imagine, even though it is discernible if you're looking at two sets side by side.
Speaking of the uncharted waters, you might ask how I'm going to feel if a year from now this very model is selling at Wal-Mart for $499? Well, I spent almost $5,000 for a Gateway computer back in the days before I found out how to use a computer and subsequently this website. That huge beige box of a computer (with Windows 95) wouldn't sell for $10 at a garage sale now. So I'm used to getting shafted by this fast-moving world. C'est la fucking vie. Just as long as this thing is still working a few years from now, I am not going to worry about it. The information on this model says it has 60,000 hours in it. You can break that down. If you have it on 6 hours a day, it should last for 10,000 days. I don't know how long you expect to live, but that should get me to my first Social Security check if not that bonfire in the back yard.
Now that it's in the house and up and running, what have I learned? Well, first of all, I would tell you that you should hire a couple of young strapping fellows to put in on the mantle for you. This sumbitch is heavy. 82 pounds, to be exact. I snagged the UPS man and got him to help me hoist it up there and damn near injured myself as well as drop it on my head. You think something is heavy when you lift it off the ground, but you forget that it's going to get even that much heavier when you try to lift it several inches above your head. Or, at least, I did. After scratching up the mantle pretty badly I did get it situated. Then I began to worry about the weight-bearing capabilities of a mantle. I'd never thought about it before, but I'm hoping that since it's OK after a few days, I won't come home to find it on top on the dog in the floor.
The other thing I learned is that if you currently have "basic cable," you have to switch to HD Digital cable (Comcast where I live), which is $20 more a month. I have no complaints about that, however, since this expanded cable comes with several things I didn't even realize existed. The biggest surprise is digital music stations that play 24/7 uninterrupted music that I severely needed to replace normal music radio in my house. I don't know when exactly radio stations stopped playing any music I enjoy -- I think it might have been around ten years ago -- but it sure is nice to set this TV to "standards / singers" and hear Mel Torme and Billie Holiday as I go about my cooking or exercising. There are around 40 music options and it would be hard to imagine a set of tastes that couldn't be sated. There are also several free movie channels that I've found enjoyable, when we're in between those little red envelopes.
I also learned that I should have listened to the salesman at the store when he tried to push special cables. I wound up buying high-dollar component cables (five lines, two colored red and white for audio and three colored red, green, and yellow for video feed). He suggested I "had to have" an HDMI cord for almost another $100. I declined and even my Comcast tech agreed and said that was a bunch of crap. In fact, he went so far as to tell me that Comcast gives you all you need when they hand you a cheap version of the component cables I paid a lot of money for. Later on, I found that the HDMI cord really is essential, especially when you discover that you now have to upgrade your DVD player from the regular 480 to the new digital 1080i format. That turned out to be another $150. So now we're getting real close to a total of $3000. In fact, now I'm a bit pissed off that the TV doesn't have but the one HDMI input. I really would like to have two; one for the DVD player and another for the Comcast box. Of course, since the Comcast box doesn't have an HDMI output, that would require another trip down to the local store to complain. Not a trip I'd want to make. (Kyle tells me after reading this writeup that "the reason you only have one HDMI input is because they expect you to buy a nice big $500 digital receiver for your TV and run all of your video sources through it.")
In fact, this might be a good time to tell you the story of when I went down to Comcast and picked up my digital cable box. I could have waited one more day for the tech to come out to my house, but I am impatient sort (thus the dragging of the UPS man into my living room to help me put it on the mantle). I am told by customer support that instead of waiting for the tech to come to my house, I can go to the Comcast place and pick up a cable box and do it myself. I do not like going to this place because it's used mainly for folks who are behind on their bills to go and argue about their service being cut off. I've only been there once before in all the years I've had Comcast, but my memory was correct. This young black fellow asks me what I want and I tell him that I've upgraded to digital cable and need the accoutrements. He doesn't say anything, but goes into the back and brings me back a silver Motorola cable box. Then he goes to a metal locker and gets a remote control and a connector (the above-mentioned 5-connection cord). He puts this in a bag and hands it to me. I say, "I've got a couple of questions about hooking this up." And this is when he first looks me in the eye. He says, "I ain't got no hi-definition TV. I don't know nothing 'bout 'em." Instead of explaining in detail to the young man why he didn't have a hi-definition TV, a lengthy speech which would have involved an analysis of his overall attitude and approach to customer service in general, I just left with the intention of never setting foot in that building again. I had a technician come out the next day and he told me what I needed to know, as well as give me a well-worn sheet telling me the codes for programming the Comcast cable box remote to work on the TV and other auxiliary devices. For what I pay them each month, that really shouldn't be something I have to ask for.
There were a couple of things I was prodded to buy that I passed on. The Circuit City salesman had suggested I needed a special surge protector with coaxial connections. I declined that one with extreme prejudice. Later on, I found that these are only crucial if you have a set with a bulb, like a rear projection unit. The power flow to that bulb is very important, it seems. And I found that the HDMI cable can be purchased for closer to $60 than $100. In fact, I hear about websites where you can get this for under $10. Apparently, this is one of the places where they "get you" when you buy one of these emerging technologies. The higher price is for shielding you probably don't really need, and the fact that these multi-thousand dollar TVs don't come with a crapload of cables is frankly unconscionable.
So what about the way this bastard looks? I can tell you that once you've seen HDTV, you can never go back. It's like looking out a window, and it also makes the room look a lot cleaner with everything flush against the walls. The main complaint I'd have about the whole deal is that everything on the networks is not compliant with this technology. I suspect when that's the case, the old TV set that is as deep as it is tall will be a thing of the past.