CE Insanity

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I bought a TV about 16 years ago. A mono Sony set, with a 20 inch screen. In color mind you.

I got cable about 8 years ago.

I got a combo VHS+DVD player a few years ago.

I got TV (some of it HD) via ADSL for free, without asking for it, as part of my standard Internet plan. (We rarely watch regular TV through that box, but it has a built-in hard disk that I can copy content onto, and VOD).

The first one to go was the DVD player. I bought a cheap one on Amazon a few months ago.

The 8 year old cable box has been acting wonky for a few months, and has become practically unusable (more glitches than glitch-free moments). Also, many channels have started to broadcast in a large-screen format (not HD, just 16:9) and the old cable box doesn’t know how to handle that and just chops off the sides of the picture.

Then the TV started showing signs of imminent death last fall. It takes forever to turn on, displaying a scrambled image for several minutes. When the image stabilises, it has a marked green tinge and displays thin, diagonal green lines.

The kids broke the TV remote ages ago, but the replacement one started failing recently (the left row of buttons is basically dead).

Finally, we got the kids a Wii this christmas. Problem is, I have to turn off the cable box for the Wii to work, and when I turn the cable box back on (which takes many tries), it has lost the network, which I have to reprogram in, and it is glitchier than ever after that.

I was happy when all of this stuff was working. But now, we’re faced with a perfect storm of obsolete, dead or dying consumer-electronics (CE).

So a couple of days ago, I woke up with a bee in my bonnet, went online to look at the prices and specs of TVs.

I don’t know how « normal » (i.e., not too geeky) people do it. To the uninitiated, you have a bunch of flat-screen TVs that all look the same, with prices ranging from 400 to 4000€ for no discenable reason…

What a mess of logos, labels, standards etc. Here in France, we used to have two official HD labels: HD Ready (760p 720p) and Full HD (1080p). What I didn’t know, is that they have just changed the official labeling. Only TVs that include an HD DTV tuner are allowed to be called « HD » now, and there are a few variations on that label, that I had to figure out.

But somehow, after a few minutes of surfing, I stumbled on a 32″ (82 cm) LG set that seemed to have much better specs than anything else in that size, for a significantly lower price. (After snooping around, it turns out that it actually has an 81 centimeter screen. Maybe that’s how they can be cheaper with better specs. Or maybe it’s just crap)… I called around, but nobody had it on display in stores, and after a day of reading (good) reviews, I went ahead and just bought it, sight unseen. Definitely an « impulse buy » for someone like me who doesn’t spend his money on convenience stuff easily.

It is due to arrive tomorrow as I write this (they’ll also be taking the old dying Sony to the CE graveyard)…

I also finally called the cable co and they’ve given me an exchange number to get a new box.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about how to actually get HD content to show up on the new set.

Here in France, if your house or your apartment building has an antenna, and you get a TV with an HD digital-TV tuner, and you’re not too far from the transmitter, you can get 18 channels of DTV for free, including some programs in HD. If that’s all you want or need, it’s simple enough.

I don’t have a TV antenna and am not ideally placed in relation to the Eiffel Tower (the main transmitter in Paris of course). I may have to try an indoor antenna to see if and how well it works.

My cable plan doesn’t include HD. I would have to pay extra for an HD cable box and extra for (crap) HD content.

My Internet ADSL TV box can pipe HD content, IF my phone line is up to the task. Also, it connects to the main ADSL modem via a special kind of redundant WiFi called MiMo, and I don’t know if the throughput between the 2 boxes will be good enough. Investigating the issue, I also found out that my particular ADSL TV box model has a tendency to short out and die when you connect it via HDMI to a TV. More recent models (which I’m not eligible for at this point) have abandoned WiFi in favor of HomePlug AV (Ethernet over power lines).

I’m NOT going to buy a Blu-ray player, for many reasons (that I will spare you. For now).

So, if you buy an HD TV, and plug the set-top boxes you already own the way you always have, via Péritel (or SCART) which is the standard in France, then as far as I can tell, you can’t get HD.

You need to know about the HDMI standard, and buy HDMI cables. You need to know how to debug ADSL lines and WiFi interference, and/or buy HomePlug AV adapters. Or in the case of cable and satellite, you need to pay A LOT more to get minimal HD programming (that is free over the air).

Total scam. No wonder some people, ahem, download stuff over the Inter… What? I’m sorry? Er, nothing.

I guess people are happy with a larger, wider screen, that doesn’t chop shit off. And I guess that is a definite plus.

I’ll let you know how things evolve.

But in the meantime, I may have to rearrange my entire living room to fit this sucker in. I actually got a 32″ because in theory, it might fit in my bookshelves, so at the very least, I’ll have to rearrange them.

And I feel like somewhat of a dick for having caved to the marketing hoopla, despite the perfect CE-shitstorm that pushed me over the edge…

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