Adventures in HDTV: Big Screen or Big Scream
By Norman Morrison
Several years ago,
I purchased a very nice electric automobile at what I
considered to be a reasonable price. What they didn't tell
me was that the extension cord to get it home cost $47,000.
It's much the same with this new fangled HDTV thing that's
sweeping the nation.
According to some
source or the other HDTV is a 16:9 TV picture,
whereas the TV you have now is a 4:3 flicker. Practically
speaking the next TV you buy stretches that 4:3 ratio pic
out to 16:9, (Using intricate mathematics, one quickly sees
that 4:3 works out to more like 12:9…not 16:9. So how they
make that work? Hmmn!) which is not as easy as it sounds
since the end result still looks pretty good. Ergo, the
hero's face isn't bloated, or the heroine's chest distorted.
It's all done with complicated computer algorithms and such.
The bottom line is that whereas your present home TV is the
apex of 60 years of engineering, your next TV will represent
the beginning engineering of the next generation. It works,
such as it is. I can't help but wonder if the VCR that goes
with your present TV was just invented yesterday, would it
be touted as the next wonder of the world. Up to 6 hours of
video on a tape!
Your next TV is more about
computers and the internet and hard drives than what you
have now, and the aforementioned technology is more about
spreadsheets than video.
So whose idea was
this HDTV? Nobody is sure and nobody is taking credit
for it either. Most likely, some super secret video cartel
came up with the idea and sold it to your Federal Congress.
Regardless, the target date for full implementation is 2009.
All TV stations are already supposed to have HD available.
Cable systems, the choice of delivery for most city
dwellers...well, who knows? Many cable providers offer some
HDTV. They could do a lot more, but why do today what
you can put off for tomorrow. Besides, what you gonna do
about it? Write a letter?
The bottom line is
that whatever happens, it's going to cost you a lot more
money! Somebody is going to be making a killing. So, what
are you getting into with a technology designed for
spreadsheets and computer solitaire?
My own saga began
when my old fashioned RCA TV went belly up one weekend. The
question, whether to purchase another standard TV or take
the HDTV plunge came to the fore rather quickly.
The wife's only
stipulation was that the next TV must last as long as the
last...approximately 25 years. No problem, I quickly told
her, though my research showed that it was more likely only
about five to ten years, the Lord willing and no electrical
surges. Further, like a toaster, when they break, you pretty
much toss them out and get another. I had a lot of guilt on
my shoulders, considering that the new TV cost about 7 times
as much as a real good standard definition I could have
bought. Pretty expensive toaster, huh?
No slouch I, in
the matter of technology, I was nevertheless, a complete
babe in the woods when it came to HiDef...and I knew that
going in. So, here's what I found out, which is the point of
what I had:
After choosing the
brand and retail outlet I purchased a new fangled 50" Plasma
TV. There are Plasma and LCD TV's available. Which one to
buy is a whole other article. My understanding is that there
will be no compatibility problems in the future, so this
isn't a factor in your choice. Price and picture are your
determinants. As for the price, my 2006 TV cost about $700
less than the same model in 2005. Since you may be reading
this for 2007 and beyond, I can only imagine that the prices
will fall similarly, though heh heh...I can't see them ever
being as cheap as a toaster.
What they didn't
tell me, though they hinted at, was that the TV was just the
beginning. They did offer pro installation with a real nice
big money off coupon. What I discovered later, was that the
pro installation would have been pretty darn expensive,
coupon or no coupon, considering the time I put into it
myself. So the discount coupon was sort of a joke with that
particular sales establishment.
After we lugged
the set home, the next order of business was how to mount
it. In the year of our TV, 2006 you have two options...wall
mount or table mount. Considering that I would have to
de-construct the wall and rebuild it to support the 105LB
thin TV, I decided to go with the table.
tables, ladies and gentlemen are very expensive. And
I suspect that many of the wooden variety are nothing more
than made over chest of drawers, refinished for quick sale
to the HDTV suckers, of which I was most assuredly
We selected the
nice and expensive fakewood table...actually the only one we
could find locally that would fit the monster, and spent a
pleasant evening putting it together in the living room, the
new HDTV sitting there on the floor beside it.
So, with the table
ready, we found that the support equipment mentioned above
would not all fit. So out the door went the CD changer and
the Cassette player. In the table went the amp and VCR, and
later the set top box with the TV hefted on top. Nice!
The next order of
business was to make the amplifier, (home theatre gadget)
and VCR talk to the HDTV. In order to expedite the
matter, late that evening around midnight, before bedtime, I
had marked all the cables on the amp (which look like a
spaghetti nightmare) with little scraps of paper secured by
tape. Everything had to be unplugged, you see, so as to put
the wires thru the hole in the back of the chest of drawers.
afternoon, I noticed that all of the papers were laying
there in the floor in a nice neat pile, having fallen off
the wires. Make a note to use better tape next time.
So to work I went,
matching inputs to outputs. I placed the amp and VCR on a
plastic milk crate in front of the table then I got the
speakers speaking...all eight of them. Thankfully most
of the wires were long enough to make the trip thru the
table to the milk crate.
My amp has a test
mode, so I cycled thru the speakers seeing that everything
was nice and right. The next order of business was the VCR.
Ha! What a sap I was! The hookup info in the manuals proved
to be totally useless. Throw them out the door. What was
before was absolutely no guide to what was to come! Used to
be you could do everything with a couple of coax
cables...the kind that feeds cable into your house. Not so
My third trip to
the back to the store involved the little known SVideo
cable. Proudly, I hooked it up to the VCR and then and only
then noticed that it was the output for the DVD player
only...and then only the video portion.
So, after much
wrangling, and an effluence of leftover wires from my
previous installation, I had the DVD video and audio plugged
into the HDTV and working. Next, with more audio
cables I managed to hook up the sound from the tape portion
of the VCR/DVD combo player. Next I salvaged a cable from an
old 1985 vintage Commodore 128 computer to make the VCR
video connection. Ok, so now the VCR was mostly talking to
the HDTV. Input/Output. Remember that.
Your new HDTV
will work with your standard cable hookup, but they
say it works better with digital. So, off to the cable guys
for a new set top box. Smiling, they hand you the box...and
no instructions. They continue to smile as you leave,
grateful for their excellent and courteous service, though
your cable bill just went up at least $20 a month.
Only when you
arrive home do you discover that you are short exactly one
HDMI hookup cable to make the set top box talk to the
HDTV. Funny, the smiling cable lady did not mention
that. Hmmn! What the heck is an HDMI cable… babe in the
After a bit of
research you discover that it is a little piece of wire that
carries video and audio to the HDTV, and without it
you are dead in the water. So, now it's time for a price
check. In 2006 the price ranges from $20 online (with
shipping) to a magnificent $125 excluding tax and title, at
the store where you purchased the HDTV. Is there a
difference in quality of these cables? No. It's a matter of
how badly you want it "right now", gullibility, and
innocence of your character as to what your decision is.
When your life is at stake, do you trust the part time guy
in the ER or do you go for a second opinion. I decided to
opt for the Wal-Mart version of the HDMI cable at $31. An
equitable trade for speed of delivery, I reasoned. Truly, if
you are an electronic babe in the woods with more money than
brains, you are doomed to the higher price provided by the
smiling video peripheral salesman. Chances are by the time
you read this, the price of that $125 cable will have
dropped to $4.95 anyway. Stratospheric price gouging can
only last so long. I wouldn’t be a even a teensy bit
surprised if some enterprising victim hasn’t already filed
So, after hooking
up the Digital Set Top box to the HDTV via HDMI,
along with Svideo, and Analog Audio, with accompanying
Analog VCR Video, now I have a picture with sound! Then
comes time to shift some of the VCR outputs and inputs
around, which used to work right, but don't now, program the
remotes, tweak the HDTV picture, blah-blah,
blah-blah, and after only 4 days, the TV is complete!
Frankly, after much heart palpitations, trips to the store
for more cables, etc. the best video seems to come from the
DVD player which is of course, not HD quality. In 2006 the
true HD player hasn't quite been developed yet...or at least
not fully deployed. What there is available is available for
only 12X the price of a standard def player, and they don't
come with a built in VCR.
I have followed
this whole debacle since its inception in the early 90's. I
said then it was a load of crap, and I say it today. We
simply don't need HiDef. Sit down in front of a good quality
13" 1998 vintage TV watching something you like and within 5
minutes your brain thinks it's as good as the best 68"
HDTV available today. HDTV is overrated,
overpriced now...doesn't last as long, and was invented by
shadowy imperialist money mongers and voted in by 500 and
something communistic money greedy congressmen, probably on
the take, with the goal of draining your bank account and
making you dependent on the gubment for your very existence.
Aside from that, I
like my HDTV a lot! Battlestar Galactica in HiDef
really rocks the house!
Your further study list: SDTV
- HDTV - SVideo - VCR - HiDef - High Definition - 4:3
- 16:9 - Plasma - LCD - 1080i - 720P - Interlaced Video -
Progressive Video - Communist Video Imperialism Conspiracy (CVIC)