Thursday, November 19, 2009

Too Much TV

Last summer the price of high-definition plasma and liquid crystal displays fell to the point where I could no longer put off getting a high-definition TV. This recalcitrance had been puzzling to the spouse of the guy who sprung for a Sony Profeel component video system (with a 25-inch monitor!) in 1981, back when $2,000 was real money.

For about the same price as that old Profeel, which, by the way, gave us 20 years of excellent service, we bought a Sony 46-inch Bravia LCD set, the XBR9. Best Buy allowed us to spread the payments over three years with no interest. Besides, it's our patriotic duty to stimulate a moribund economy.

Another major innovation that we had adopted years ago is the digital video recorder. It’s difficult to explain the advantages of the DVR to those who are comfortable recording shows on VHS tape or DVDs, but the ability of DVR machines to record favorite broadcasts without having to look up the times, fast-forward much more speedily than one can through a tape, and check the inventory of the titles stored on the hard drive has transformed the video experience.

Three months after the purchase I have regrets, not because of any problems with the equipment, but because TV has become irresistible. The high-definition picture and the size of the screen, combined with a growing inventory of programs on the DVR, compel me to watch. Like a hungry diner at an all-you-can-buffet, I have piled too much TV on the DVR platter. At least 20 hours of shows are automatically recorded each week, and that total doesn’t even include news and sports.

I am now handling video much as I manage magazine and newspaper articles. I read a couple of paragraphs or watch the first few minutes of a show; if they’re marginal, I move on and push “delete” without guilt. It’s rare that a limp beginning straightens itself out.

Even the shows that I do choose to stay with are rarely viewed in their entirety. I fast forward through the commercials and sequences of lab work in crime procedurals. I’ll skip past gunfights and car chases; what matters to the story is who dies, who gets caught, and what is revealed.

It’s possible that HD widescreen, digital videorecording, and a menu of five hundred channels will push me over the edge into television addiction. Now that I recognize the problem, I can take steps to avoid it. Well, that discussion’s over, let's move on. The Dolphins are at Carolina tonight, and I’ve gotta order the pizza and beer. © 2009 Stephen Yuen

On an HD screen you can see the slope of the green.

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