TV Torment

For the past couple of years, my TV setup at home has been a Dell projector shining across the living room at a screen I put together with a couple of yards of blackout fabric, lumber from Home Depot, and some black velvet trim for the border. When the projector isn’t on, it looks like we’ve decorated our living room using a large, minimalist abstract painting commenting on the emptiness of life; at night, which is when I almost always do my TV watching, it magically turns into a 77″ movie screen.

Some months ago, I started tip-toeing into the oh-so-pretty world of HD, which involved changing around lots of cables, my satellite provider (Dish Network’s HD offerings came much more expensively than DirectTV’s), and a Playstation 3, which introduced the world of Blu-ray movies to the Bickford household.

Finally, I could watch Heroes in HD—and notice how amazingly huge everyone’s pores looked. It all looked pretty darn good, but I couldn’t escape the feeling that something wasn’t quite right.

Anyway, about a week ago, I decided to take a break from the office, grab a coffee, and try to puzzle out how to work a certain new feature into ComicBase and Atomic Avenue. As I paced around the local strip mall with my grande Caffé Mocha (nonfat, no whip cream) in hand, I happened to drop in at the local computer store. There, someone had finally figured out how to sell Playstation 3’s by hooking them up to a big monitor and, you know, actually turning the monitor on (For some reason, the previous strategy of hooking up Playstation 3s to switched-off monitors, employed universally from coast to coast, had not proved the sales dynamo that stores had hoped. Go figure). Anyway, the screens and menus on the Playstation 3 looked fantastic—with a much higher resolution than I was used to seeing at home.

It turns out that the Dell projector we’d scavenged for our home theater lash-up can accept signals of up to 1920×1200, but the actual LCD matrix inside is only 1024×768. That’s a good sight better than the 640×480 signal associated with standard definition TV, but it’s not even quite up to the standard of 720p–the sort of mid-definition HDTV that’s usually broadcast. And it’s miles away from the 1080p, a.k.a. “full HD” which is output by devices like Blu-ray movies and Playstation 3s. In fact, it’s got something like 1/3 of the resolution of full HD.

Looking around at the screens in the electronics store, I was also struck by how very far they’d come in price since they first came on my radar back when Neil was kindergarten. They were actually—dare I say it—within reach of someone whose previous television-budget was such that saving a couple of hundred bucks by constructing his screen out of fabric and wood seemed a very sensible use of time and resources.

At that point, the mighty forces of rationalization and justification started kicking in. And somewhere in the “Ooh! Pretty pictures!” part of my mind, the item, “buy big freaking TV” got added to my mental list of things which ought to be done sooner rather than later. Like, say, tomorrow.

After the requisite approvals from family members had been obtained, I located a 65″ DLP TV from Fry’s electronics which was suitably close in dimension to what we’d grown used to watching, but with the added benefits of far better blacks, the ability to be watched during the daytime, and much higher resolution—all for just $1399. Unfortunately, when I found out that my car was about 1/2″ too narrow to fit the TV box in, I had to decide whether to (A) let the Fry’s delivery goons manhandle my new purchase for $59.99, or (B) try to locate someone with a larger car to haul the set home in.

Naturally, I went with plan B. But when I returned the next day with Joe from our office (whom I’d promised to bribe with lunch if he helped me lug the set home in his car), the Fry’s sales staff announced that the set had just gone up in price—by $600.

“But it wasn’t even listed as being on sale!” I protested. “Just give me yesterday’s price and we’ll have a deal.” But it was all to no avail. With the bitterness that you can only feel when you’ve decided to go all out and spend foolishly on something you really want, only to be thwarted, I walked out of Fry’s and bought Joe his lunch. I was eating a chicken sandwich, but what I was tasting was defeat.

(OK, that last bit might be a bit much. But I was still really, really bitter.)

I checked Circuit City. I checked Best Buy. I even checked other Fry’s stores as well as my nemesis CostCo. But nobody had the television set—or if they did, it was hundreds of dollars more expensive. The worst part was that I just knew I was going to wait out the geniuses at the Fry’s pricing department until the same bloody TV came “on sale” days or months later. But there was no way in creation I was going to hand Fry’s one cent more than $1399 (plus 8.25% sales tax!) for that television.

In the end, our good friend the internet saved me from months of mid-def purgatory. I couldn’t find the exact model I’d settled on for a competitive price, but had the model one step up (with an extra HDMI port on the front as its major improvement) for $1468 — but with the all-important free shipping. When the lack of sales tax was figured in, I was actually a little ahead of the game. More importantly, I escaped the humiliation of crawling back months later to the same folks who had jerked the rug of reckless consumer spending glee out from under my feet.

By next Friday, hopefully I’ll be spending all sorts of pointless hours staring agape at the pretty high-res images on my new TV. The only dark cloud on the horizon? Reviews online say that some sets have had a horrible high-pitched whining coming from the color wheel. It seems to be a problem on a minority of sets, and the rest of the reviewers were gushing about how great the picture was. Hopefully the happy reviewers were not also the deaf ones, and the problem’s been fixed on this model. Otherwise, my TV torment will continue…

One response to “TV Torment

  1. Pingback: Adventures in High-Definition « Release Notes

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