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HDTV or Not HDTV: That is the (Big) Question

When buying a television takes weeks of research



The last time I bought a television it was a simple, straightforward process. I trundled down to Vancouver in the early 1990s, wrangled an oversized shopping cart with a perfunctory wobbly wheel into Costco, took stock of the handful of sets they carried in the size I wanted, chose a mid-priced one and walked out with a medium-size dent in my Visa card.

Back in Whistler, I wrestled it out of its box, set it up, plugged it in, slipped fresh batteries into the remote control and pushed ‘On.’ The screen began to glow, sound came out of the speakers and I settled in to watch the MacNeil/Lehrer Report. The picture was great. The news was grim.

I began to fiddle with some of the buttons on the remote control. A couple of very simple menus tweaked the sound and picture quality and I found the button that toggled between cable and VCR input. There was nothing else to adjust and the whole process — excluding the always painful trip to Vancouver — took less time than driving the empty box down to recycling.

In TV world, that’s what passes for the Good Old Days.

Today’s brave new world of television is a labyrinth of confusing choices. When once all you needed to buy a television was a bit of cash, a bit of time and enough common sense to select a set that’d fit where you intended to put it. Today, it’s advisable to pack along an electronic engineer and a credit card with lots of room left on it.

HDTV, HD-ready, HDMI, DVI, 1080p, 1080i, ATSC, NTSC, KHz and the rest of the alphanumeric soup tossed causally about by TV geeks at big-box stores all mean something. Exactly what isn’t always clear… even after they try explaining it, assuming they do. Toss in the comparative differences between plasma, LCD, rear projection, front projection and Organic LED and it’s enough to feed any predisposition a guy might have towards procrastination.

I’d nursed a jones for a sleek, new, flat-screen TV since the first time I ever saw one. That was about a human generation ago — 7.4 electronic generations — in a high-end toy store I used to visit in Vancouver to torture myself. It hung on the wall(!), looked like a glowing, three-dimensional jewel chest and cost $22 grand.

By today’s standards, it was tiny, but it triggered lust in me that could easily have become felonious were it not for the knowledge the authorities wouldn’t have let me take it to prison with me.