Sunday, November 26, 2006

Your Madison HDTV Buying Guide



As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I recently purchased a 42-inch plasma HDTV. Upon bankrupting the future of my child, I instantly realized two things. First, there are a lot of things I didn’t anticipate when I bought the TV. Secondly, dog food doesn’t really taste that bad when combined with appropriate levels of cumin.

As a public service, I thought I’d give a few tips of what you can expect when you, too, decide your children shouldn’t go to college. I'll start with a warning - after you buy your new big screen HDTV, there is this annoyance known as "your family" that will sporadically try to divert your attention away from the vivid glory of your new TV. Occasionally, they will make demands like "take us to the park" or "come to the table for dinner." Sometimes, you will be able to groan and wave to pacify them, but they will always be back for more. If you hold out long enough, your daughter will have gone on tour with a rock band and your wife will have formed a bond with the mailman, and your life will be much simpler.

Tips:

If you buy a plasma TV, make sure you have a big enough truck to get it home upright. For plasmas, you can’t lean them more than 15 degrees forward or backwards, or the mysterious crystals break or some crap like that. Or if you tilt your TV, you get testicular cancer. It was one of those two, I can't remember which. You can have your TV delivered, but it will take a week or two for them to bring it to your house - which totally kills the rush of spending all that money.

If you buy your TV at Best Buy, you can sign up for the Reward Zone card, which gives you back two bucks for every, like, thousand bucks you spend – but only after going through some ridiculously complicated online process of redeeming your cash. On the positive side, you don’t have to give out your phone number at the register anymore, since they already have it. Out of habit, I’ve actually been giving out my phone number to waitresses for years now, much to the chagrin of my wife.

If you have DirecTV, make sure you call and set up your HD hook-up appointment well before you actually get your TV. If you call after you get your TV, you can look forward to waiting for a month before you can get HD satellite service. Nobody likes a month of foreplay – it may get so bad, that you start eyeing up your best friend’s HDTV. However, you can still hook up an antenna to get local HD channels until your cable/satellite hookup comes.

If you do get an HD antenna (they’re pretty cheap – like $20), don’t waste your money on one that’s “enhanced” with electricity. Trust me, I've wasted enough money on electric enhancing agents via Swedish mail-order. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but for some reason when you turn on the juice to strengthen the pickup, the picture actually gets worse. Instead, have your wife stand on your roof with the antenna over her head.

Even after your satellite service is hooked up, you may want to keep your antenna hooked up. For some reason, Channel 27 (ABC) and Channel 21 (PBS) in Madison don’t broadcast through DirecTV yet. So if you want to watch an ABC football game in HD or just can’t miss a guy playing the banjo with his feet on “Here and Now,” you need to use your antenna. When you do use your antenna, there are some stations that you will be able to get that you don’t get through your satellite or cable. NBC-15 has some weather station that they broadcast on 15-2. There are actually three HD PBS stations (your tax dollars at work). And there’s a sister music video channel connected to channel 47 that’s better than any video channel you’d pay for on cable.

When you sign up for DirecTV, you'll have to get a new receiver, which will run you an extra $100. TiVo-enabled receivers cost more, and there's apparently a shortage of them right now. You'll be able to move your old TiVo receiver to another TV and still use it for no extra charge. But if you watch so much TV that you need two TiVo receivers running at once, then you really need to put down the pipe, get off the couch, and start looking for a job.

The dudes at the electronics store are going to try to get you to buy some super-expensive cables to hook up all your components. Seriously, some of the cables alone run $100 per cable – enough to keep all the Best Buy employees stocked with plenty of hair gel. I tried out a few cables on my TV, and didn’t really notice any appreciable difference between the cheap and expensive cables. There are several different ways you'll be able to hook up your cable/satellite box, your DVD player, and your Playstation to your TV - RGB cables, HDMI, S-Video, etc. From what I hear, HDMI is the best, but I don't notice a lot of difference from when I had my satellite box connected with RGB cables. Whatever - just don't spend a lot on cables.

They are also going to try to get you to buy an “upconverting” DVD player, which is supposed to translate your current DVDs in to high-def. I have actually been perfectly happy with my regular DVD player, and Consumer Reports said it didn’t notice much difference, either.

Regardless of what kind of HDTV you get, you’d better get used to the idea of watching a lot of your TV shows stretched out horizontally to fit the wider screen. Shows broadcast in HD don’t have this problem, but regular analog shows will. You can fix your settings so you can watch in regular 4:3 ratio format, but then you have black bars on the sides of the screen, which are apparently bad for the TV. If you see black people on your TV, do not panic – it just means you have wandered off of your local Madison newscast. A healthy dose of Eric Franke should calm your nerves.

Also, be prepared to have about 11 remote controls available at all times. I know you can program some remotes to merge with other remotes, but there's no remote that can take on all the functions of all your components. As a result, you will need to schedule extra confession time to make up for the extra swearing you will do when your child decides to clean the toilet with the DVD remote.

If you're spending that much on an HDTV, it really is worth it to spend a couple hundred extra bucks on a surround sound system. Not only is the sound great, but you can turn it up louder when your wife is yelling at you for spending a couple of hundred extra bucks on a surround sound system.

So there it is - happy shopping. If for some reason you can't afford a big screen TV, a more economical option is to sit about a foot away from your existing crappy television.