The Digital Let Down

April 23, 2008 | By | 6 Replies More

I have been anticipating the FCC switch from analog to digital for several years. The original plan was to have the final demise of NTSC (“analog”) broadcast in 2006. Now, it will really happen. The change that they averted when they went to color is finally here. Everyone needs a new TV.

Unless you have cable or satellite. Then you can wait until your old box dies. But I use rabbit ears in my multipath hell of a location in the city. On good days, I can get 7 channels of regular interest, plus 4 explicitly Christian channels (24, 26, 49, 51. The 700 Club shares 11). Sometimes I cannot get ABC-30 or CW-11 clear enough to record or avoid watering eyes. Other times Fox-2 and My-46 are too bad to watch, too. So I really only have 3 reliable channels in analog.

Enter digital clarity. Yesterday I got my gummint subsidized converter box and hooked it up. Now I get perfectly clear (in numerical order) Fox-2.1, CBS-4.1, NBC-5.1, local weather 5.2, and PBS 9.1-9.4. That’s it.

Unless I get a fancy antenna and mount it high on my house, I won’t be getting CW-11, ABC-30, or MY-46 (or any weak local access or Christian stations, should they get digital licenses). Such an antenna will be expensive to buy and install; maybe comparable to 6 months of cable bills (fewer if one pays for premium stations).

Another problem not discussed in the cheerful Digital switch warning announcements is that the new letterbox format may reduce the use of your screen. I don’t mind the black bars above and below a letterbox formatted show or movie. But if a 3:4 ratio program is broadcast in the 4:9 letterbox format, my 3:4 screen has the letterbox bars on all sides. Some stations have this glitch, and others (PBS) don’t.

Then there is the problem of using my old VCR. It would need a separate converter box, and could only record whatever channel the converter is actively showing. No more unattended recording of shows sequentially on different stations.

But, maybe it is time for me to upgrade. My Tuner/amp is from the 1970’s. My VCR, DVD, and TV were all the cheapest available at their respective times. Actually, my 1987 TV died two years ago, and I bought the cheapest floor model 20″ screen that I could find, anticipating that I will buy a better one when forced to by the digital conversion, at which time digital units will become more affordable.

But now I wonder: Why am I wasting so much of my time on Television? Erich posted Just say “no” to TV. Do it for your country a year and a half ago. At that time, I stopped watching altogether for a while. Perhaps it is time to revisit that idea. I have gone cold turkey on TV for years at a time in the past. Once I got over the withdrawal, it was easy. To escape, I would just read.

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Category: Communication, Consumerism, Current Events, Entertainment, Media, Technology

About the Author ()

A convoluted mind behind a curly face. A regular traveler, a science buff, and first generation American. Graying of hair, yet still verdant of mind. Lives in South St. Louis City. See his personal website for (too much) more.

Comments (6)

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  1. Erika Price says:

    I say, try to give it up! If even just for the experience, see if how long you can go tv-less without missing it. See if it makes you more productive, or at least if it makes you engage in more interactive ways of winding down.

    I don't watch any TV, really- my only exposure to the thing comes via my roommates' sizable TV habits. Does the lack of TV in my life give me extra time to get things done? No…the internet has myriad diversions, "fun" books prove much more tempting than school books, and the occasional video game might as well be as mindless and wasteful as TV. I guess the only manner to really do away with time-wasters is to unplug completely.

    But I know many people who are going the opposite route- who use the new need to upgrade TVs as an excuse to go all-out and get a huge, high-end unit.

  2. SylvieMac says:

    My TV watching has dropped off so drastically (never very heavy at best) that I find myself bored by the return of shows I used to enjoy. Since my set is almost ten years old and I can't really afford to replace it any time soon, I may just upgrade my Netflix subscription. I watch far more movies than TV shows anyway, and since most series eventually show up on DVD, I can avoid both the cost of cable (which I don't have) and converting to digital. And books do more than fill in the gaps or provide escape.

  3. Chinso says:

    I used to watch an absurd amount of television when I was in high school. When I got to college, I decided that I was going to give it up in order to focus on other things, such as my studies. Even though my roommate watched close to six hours a day, I abstained from watching the "boob tube," instead choosing to read, study or listen to music.

    I am now a Fulbright Scholar graduating Summa Cum Laude with high honors, getting ready to start graduate work to pursue my Ph.D. In high school, I was barely holding down a 3.0.

    Good things can happen when you give up t.v.

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    Dan: I am one of the 17 people in the United States that has never purchased cable TV. I have a $50 radio Shack antenna in the attic (it’s been there for 20 years. Twice each year I go up there to adjust it. We’ve had pretty good reception on most broadcast channels. I hope that the change in broadcast method won’t interfere with my free enjoyment of good quality reception. If I had paid $40 per month for cable for 20 years, that would have been almost $10,000.

    We really can’t justify cable at my house. We only watch one or two broadcast shows, Scrubs and maybe one other (and we tape those and skim through the commercials). Our children have only rarely seen any broadcast shows live. When they do, they are mesmerized by (and I am aghast at) the commercials. We do watch a tiny bit of TV but, for my family, TV is something you consciously attend to or you turn it OFF. We treat the TV set like we treat people! We force ourselves to stand up and turn it off when were not really watching it. That’s where so many people lose so much time “watching” TV—they let the set keep yapping at them. I know how that goes, because I’ve been there before.

    We bought the cheapest Netflix subscription ($14/month) for movies, mostly for our kids. We’ve bought a few DVD sets of TV shows from years past, including Allie McBeal, Star Trek Voyager and Combat! (the latter being a show from the 60’s that I really do enjoy—it’s the series starring Vic Morrow).

    We can now watch many cable shows online. My kids and I really enjoy watching Cartoon Network’s “Courage the Dog” http://www.cartoonnetwork.com/video/index.html online –I’d never heard of that show until a couple months ago. It’s delightful and macabre. Once in a while I watch some highlights to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert online.

    There’s really no need for cable. We aren’t interested in sports, the local “news” has no news, and Scrubs is in its last season.

    I’m not totally weaned of TV, but I’m fairly close. The more I stay away, the less I miss it. It’s not like “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Rather, it’s “Out of sight, out of mind.”

  5. Dan Klarmann says:

    I'm going through withdrawal on my new TV diet. I am trying something new: Not cold turkey. But I will only watch recorded shows that I can argue to myself have some redeeming value. A few hours a week instead of per day. Zach Braff is on my list. But I am resisting reruns. If I've seen it, I shouldn't need to see it again for a few years.

    I am no longer watching hours a day. But my brain is fighting me. It wants to escape from the incessant chatter of my overactive imagination. It wants to hide from everyday frustrations, rather than doing the work of fixing them. It wants to crawl into YouTube, or my well worn collection of (Pohl) Anderson through Zelazny. From experience, it will be about a week before I feel normal without staring at the flicker box.

    Every previous time I quit, it was during a change of pace: In college I did 5 years without it. I've quit a few times by going on a trip; I don't do TV while I travel, so withdrawal is masked by actual experience.

  6. grumpypilgrim says:

    My views closely parallel Erich's — television is a huge waste of human potential. Paying for it makes it an added waste of financial potential. The most sensible strategy I've seen so far is the digital recorder — a device that records television programs while deleting the advertising.

    Speaking of the advertising: advertisers have become very clever in inserting ads into programs. For example, ads back in the 1970s aired every quarter hour (i.e., one ad block in the middle of a 30-minute program); today, they air every ten minutes (i.e., two ad blocks in the middle of a 30-minute program), thus cutting program time (which is a cost to the television network) and increasing ad time (which is revenue). Also, when a network airs a major Hollywood movie (e.g., Harry Potter), they will typically load most of their ads toward the end of the program, thereby maximizing the number of eyeballs that are watching. I've seen movies on television where the first 30 minutes were nearly commercial-free (to pull in the audience), but the last 30 minutes were packed with ads.

    Magazines use similar tricks; for example, loading up the right-side pages with ads, because that's where they eye naturally falls each time the reader turns the page.

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