Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Fade to Black

The upstairs TV is slowly dying.

Well, that’s not quite true.  There’s nothing wrong with the TV itself.  Kim and I bought it with our pocket change about a dozen years ago (which is what happens when you throw your change in a bucket for half a decade, though we did deposit in the bank first and pay with a check, much to the salesman’s relief) and it is still going strong from a reliability standpoint.  It got moved upstairs when we got the snazzy flatscreen TV a few years back, but otherwise it continues to show us things that will deaden our brains for as long as we choose to watch them, and that’s pretty much all you can ask of one of those things.

Except that it is an analogue TV, and apparently this is just Prehistoric.  Stone-Age, daddy-o, like the first halting step in evolution’s long ladder.

A couple of months ago I noticed that there were a couple of channels we couldn’t get upstairs.  They would come in fine downstairs on the flatscreen, but not on the old TV upstairs.  I made a mental note to ask the cable company about this. 

This was about as effective as most such notes, and it was weeks before I finally remembered to call them.

“Hey – I’m losing channels on my television!”

“Yes, you are.”

Well, okay then.  I was hoping for a more concerned response than that, though, so I tried again.

“But I am paying for channels, and see no reason to pay for channels that are no longer coming in.  Please to explain the meaning of this lack of channels that is not matched by my lack of payment?”

This seemed to help.  You can always count on fiscal descriptions of problems to get people’s attention when it comes to customer complaints.

Eventually we worked out that the channels were in fact disappearing and that this was planned.  All of the channels were switching over to digital signals this spring, and when they did so I would no longer be able to receive them on my analogue TV.  “By mid-May you probably won’t have anything coming in on that TV,” they said.

Of course there was a solution.  There is always a solution in today’s economy, for those who choose to pay for it.  For a nearly nominal monthly fee, they said, they would gladly hook me up with a converter which would step down that digital signal and return my channels.

Now, a more stupid solution to a problem has never been formulated.  I could just buy myself a brand new TV, one that would not need their converter, and in about a year and a half it would have paid for itself, and I would have a nice new TV that I could probably plug into the plethora of devices that already exist in this house until it reaches the Singularity and calls the cable company on its own initiative just to blow digital raspberries at them.

Or, I could just let the whole problem fade away and not bother with an upstairs television.  Beyond the occasional sporting event, the weather, and whatever blockbuster highbrow soap opera PBS has convinced Maggie Smith to star in now, we really don’t watch much television anymore.  Even the girls have largely moved on to other media.  Indeed, most of what ends up on the flatscreen downstairs comes through the Netflix archives – we have now made it halfway through David Tennant’s first season as Doctor Who, for example, and Kim likes to watch Merlin now and then.  We’ve seriously considered just dumping the cable entirely, and this summer we may well do so.

So it’s a quandary.


Phiala said...

We dumped the cable ages ago. News comes through the internet, entertainment through Netflix. As long as you don't mind not seeing new things RIGHT AWAY, it's just fine.

Random Michelle K said...

The only time we had cable was when my grandmother lived with me.

Michael does all his watching through Hulu and Netflix.

The only think I watch every year--the Rose Bowl parade--was live streamed on multiple sites, so I watched it on my computer.

vince said...

No cable, but I do have Dish, because I want things right now. My daughter has abandoned cable (except for Internet) and does Netflix, Amazon Instant Movies, and buys DVDs for movies/TV shows not otherwise available.

Eric said...

I get my Internet through the cable company... but no cable. I can't say whether Kat's missed it since she moved in, but I never have in however many years I've been in the condo now.

Ironically, this means TimeWarner Cable is participating in their own obsolescence: we do watch some "television" programs on Hulu (or Crackle on the tablet), and are considering the possibility of getting a Hulu Plus, Netflix and/or Amazon Prime account (all of these have their own respective advantages and icks).

Part of the problem is the networks themselves: there are really very few shows I feel like I'm missing at all, and if I'm ever the least bit interested they're all going to eventually show up online or on DVD.

John the Scientist said...

My cable company does not allow me to purchase Internet without a cable TV bundle. I get the lowest one.

ISDN does not come out to my neck of the (literal) woods, so I'm stuck with that monopolistic arrangement.

But for the Olympics I got so fed up with NBC's coverage I didn't even use the TV for that, I got a proxy service in the UK and used the BBC. Eric's right, the networks just aren't making relevant stuff, and when you can't even make the Olympics relevant, you are totally screwing the pooch.

Random Michelle K said...

Oh yeah, Amazon Prime too is how Michael watches things.

And by cable, I lump together getting TV channels through a cable, dish or satellite.

David said...

I need to explore whether dropping the cable from my bundle will cause my phone and internet to explode, as they all come from the same place.

But really, the only thing I will miss if I drop cable (and, like Michelle, I include Dish/etc in that) will be the occasional sporting event and the shows produced by family members that for all my good intentions I rarely see anyway until much later.

I like Netflix.

If I'm looking at a screen, the odds are it is a computer. And now that my daughters have largely reached the same point, I'm thinking changes will be made. With all due speed. So, maybe October. Sigh.

John Foust said...

Nope, there's more 'splaining to do. Charter recently moved some channels from analog tuning to digital tuning. The digital versions now use a format called "UNencrypted QAM", which can be tuned by more modern televisions in the same way as the ATSC digital over-the-air version that happened in 2009. What to do with the old tube TV? You can buy your own digital converter box. You can rent one from Charter. Or you can use a newer DVD player that has a digital TV tuner built-in. The bad news is, Charter is switching to ENcrypted QAM at some point in the year ahead. This will require using their decoder/tuner. What the Charter rep didn't tell you is that they will be required (per FCC rules) to give you a tuner at no charge for at least the first two years after their switch to encrypted digital.

Random Michelle K said...

Something else to consider re the phone...

We dropped our land line back to toll calling. It's ~$14 a month now. All outgoing calls are made on the cell phone, and almost everyone calls our cell phones, so we don't need caller ID, since we never answer the phone, and have an answering machine... just in case.

If both kids don't have their own cells phones, then that won't work, but keep it in mind.

David said...

John, that sort of thing is just going to bring the post-cable era about that much sooner.

Michelle - if I'm going to drop a phone it will be my cell phone, which I regard with unalloyed loathing. Plus I live in a dead zone for radio signals of all kinds (AM/FM/Cell phones/etc). I like having a land line. It works. This is something I have never been able to say about any cell phone I have ever owned, going back to 1993.