Sunday, January 29, 2023

Big Tee-Vee! (Maybe Not)

You pay a premium price for the latest-and-greatest.  Sure you can't wait a year?

I saw a posting online where some guy was trying to sell his 12-year-old 40" television on Craigslist for $140 and got an offer for $50 and was insulted.  Someone else pointed out to him that a brand new 40" television (which today is considered small) sells for $140 - and is 4K compatible and also has "smart" television features (able to access Netflix et al. via Internet).

I thought about this and saw where he was coming from.  No doubt when he bought that 40" television back in 2011, it was a state-of-the-art machine, costing hundreds of dollars - perhaps thousands.  It was a big deal at the time and now it seems like $140 is just giving it away.  But electronics become obsolete very quickly, and besides, 12 years is about the design life of most appliances (and about twice the service life of most flat-screen televisions, in my experience).  So fifty bucks was a generous offer, if anything.

A friend of mine was showing off his new television - over six feet across! He had to screw some panels on the side of the cabinet supporting it, it was so wide!  And it cost thousands of dollars, as it was the "top of the line" model at the time.  That was a year ago, they already make larger ones.  I am not sure where this size war will end - YouTube is full of humorous videos of people trying to stuff 60" televisions into hatchback cars - they simply don't fit.   How soon before even a pickup truck can't carry one of these monsters - or it doesn't fit through the front door?  Or there is no wall in the house large enough to place it against?  There has to be an end game to the size wars, somewhere.

Personally, I have never paid over $500 for a television, as we tend to go for smaller sizes - 48" or less.  Mark doesn't like the television as home decor - he thinks it is tacky and tends to dominate the room.  And he is right on both counts. But moreover, if you buy today, what only two years ago was considered a "big" television, you'll find the prices have dropped - often by a factor of ten.  The 48" television was once a $5000 top-of-the-line screen.  Today, it is available for 1/10th that price, with better features, technology, and better efficiency.   Like any other "bleeding edge" situation, you pay the highest price for the "latest and greatest" and offer suffer the most pain as well - in terms of reliability and depreciation.

I noted before that the reason why super-jumbo televisions cost so much initially is yield rate.  When flat-screen televisions first came out, they were like semiconductor chips.  You make 10 of them, and maybe one actually works. You scrap the rest.  As time progresses, your yield rate improves and the cost comes down - by a factor of ten or more.  So, if you can wait a year or two, that "must have" $5000 television will cost you only $500.  I think that is well worth the wait.

(Lest you think I am kidding about this, some of the ultra-jumbo super-high-def accu-jack and ultra-fuck televisions can cost close to $25,000 even though they are only a few inches larger than a $999 screen!  They say size matters, but do you really want to pay that much for a few inches?)

One thing I learned during my years writing Patent Applications for cable companies and computer companies was that increasing screen size or resolution doesn't always mean an enhanced viewing experience.  The human eye doesn't "see" anything, but rather the human brain assembles an image from the signals from the eye - often "filling in" blank spaces with what it expects to see.   This is how, in the early days, we got away with such heavy signal compression - we realized that it was pointless to make every single part of an image in high resolution, when you could just concentrate on the parts people actually look at.

So when 4K came out, I was kind of skeptical (and still am).  I mean, resolution is nice and all, but it always comes at a cost - in terms of hardware and bandwidth.  And in this day and age, we have to pay for both - often by the gigabyte.   My beef with Disney+ was that they default streamed to their highest resolution (4K) which used up 1GB per hour.  You could burn through a month's allocation within a few days at that rate, depending on your plan.  Fortunately, you can change this setting (buried under five layers of menus) but once you sign up again, it defaults to 4K.

We grew up in the ear of tube televisions, which were analog and whose images were fuzzy to begin with.  The largest screen size - for the longest time - was 25".  Later this expanded to over 30" but the end game for CRTs was on the horizon.  In addition to all that, we had off-the-air signals (all three channels) which, being analog, were always full of "snow" and other artifacts.  We just got used to that.

Why?  How?  Well, believe it or not, television is mostly an aural medium.  Yes, the old saying that the television is "the talking lamp" is true.  We listen to the television more than look at it.  And this is particularly true with some shows where they show the same video over and over again.  The video enhances the audio, rather than vice-versa.  Or take online "channels" - many, such as The History Guy use stock photos and footage as a background to his story-telling narrative.  Often the photos are laughably unrelated to the story at hand.  It doesn't matter - you're listening to the story.

So, in my mind, paying top dollar for the largest television and the highest-bandwidth service, so you can watch "Reality TeeVee" in 4K just makes little or no sense.  Even for sports channels, I question the value - they still broadcast baseball games on the radio and that's with no picture at all.

Of course, maybe my eyesight isn't what it used to be.  Or maybe I don't care about impressing the neighbors by showing off my home video room.  To me, television watching isn't something to be proud of - almost ashamed of.  After all, it is so bad for you mentally and physically.  It is almost as bad as spending all day on social media.

And I just don't see the point in spending thousands of dollars on a television, when in a year or two, you can buy a better one, for mere hundreds.

But that's the beauty of our system - we all have choices!