While setting up our first color television with remote control, my husband made an irrevocable, tactical error. He mumbled, “I don’t really like television.”
It was more of a reaction to the money just spent than declaring an actual aversion to television. But he uttered those words while adjusting the rabbit ears, so although we shared equal dibs on what to watch, I would forever control the remote because I have always loved watching television.
Bonanza, Twilight Zone, Bewitched. I learned from Lucy that lying always comes to a bad end. Alfred Hitchcock, The Dick Van Dyke Show, 77 Sunset Strip. The Beatles visited our home thanks to Ed Sullivan. The Red Skelton Show. The Garry Moore Show. Father Knows Best. Every year my parents, seven brothers and sisters and I surrounded the Zenith for annual presentations of The Wizard Of Oz.
Once grown and with my own children, daytime television brought Sesame Street and ABC After School Specials for the kids, soap operas for me. Donahue set up friendly debates with neighboring moms. Dramas, comedies and movies-of-the-week filled prime time. By now the Miami Dolphins were in the living room, too. My husband still didn’t get to hold the remote control, though. Too late for that.
Eventually cable came to the neighborhood. We all loved the comedy that came with it: Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Wanda Sykes, Robin Harris, Robin Williams, Paula Poundstone, Chris Rock; a stream of smart, funny people who broadened our minds and had us rolling off the couch at the same time. In the early days there was a provocative exercise series on Showtime, graphically tasteful, but weren’t those women just an inch away from pole dancing? By then my husband enjoyed television quite a lot. He still didn’t get to hold the remote control, though.
And movies had arrived on tape! We no longer had to wait for the yearly airing of The Wizard Of Oz. By now I was employed full time, so we often taped programs to watch at our leisure because I actually knew how to set up the VCR!
Eventually the children grew up and moved out. I took medical retirement from work and spent two years on the couch while recovering. No soap operas; the stories had finally revealed themselves as ridiculous. No game shows; what a time waster! For two years I learned all about decorating, crafts, and international cuisine. And “thank you” Lynette Jennings. You really can’t make the walls matchy-match with the furnishings and accessories because as the room light changes, so does the color. Wise words.
When I was finally able to get off of the couch, I postponed daytime TV until late afternoon. That’s when Oprah airs from our local affiliate. Besides, we had something new.
We were among the first in the neighborhood to own a DVD player. I am a movie-repeater — You’ve Got Mail, Braveheart, Moulin Rouge, Tombstone (“I’m your huckleberry…”), Bye Bye Birdie, Signs, Toy Story, Silence of the Lambs and Independence Day (“Welcome to earth…”). To be clear, I don’t actually sit and watch movie-repeats. They run as background to suit my mood. I was raised in a noisy household and appreciate activity even where there is none.
Over the years, opportunities changed, offerings emerged.
Forget cable. Terrible service. Let’s install satellite!
Forget satellite. Cable doesn’t disappear in a storm!
Forget cable. The satellite company has high-def!
Our entertainment system in this second decade of the new millennium opened with high-definition satellite service to our main house for a plasma TV connected to a DVD player and basic cable in a garage apartment for an LCD TV. An analog television with built-in DVD player only plays movies in the grandchildren’s playroom. By this second decade we were already on our third TIVO. We had evolved from video store membership that had cost us a fortune in late fees, to DVD rentals via mail order for one low monthly fee. Music was presented via bookshelf speakers and Zune (we’re the one). Not an extravagant system to some, but enough for us.
In this modern world, television providers offer choice. And even while less extravagant, we chose plenty. Not the reality programs. No Bachelorettey Dancing programs. We watch our football team, yes, but other sports don’t interest either of us. And no nature programs, as I am still traumatized by the Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom programs of my youth. With exceptions to every rule, the cinematic and spectacular Planet Earth is always welcome.
We also don’t choose pretend journalism. Whether Olbermann or Beck, divisive pundits are not permitted to pollute our air space. And we have loose guidelines about the pollution of our air space.
Rescue Me, Lost, Desperate Housewives, The New Adventures Of Old Christine, Breaking Bad, Damages, Dirty Jobs, How I Met Your Mother, Diners Drive-Ins & Dives (be still, my gall bladder). 60 Minutes, House, Glee, all things Law & Order, and Modern Family. We keep up with American Idol by watching Access Hollywood. Of course it’s pabulum. But it amuses us.
Then the TIVO broke and for once we chose not to replace it.
I had found myself sitting down earlier and earlier in the day to watch whatever had been recorded. And even a television-lover like me has to have limits. Leaving TIVO did create an uncomfortable period of adjustment because although a digital video recorder is useful technology that we had grown accustomed to using, it’s just not necessary.
Time passed and Mad Men notwithstanding, we noticed that most of what we watched came over over-the-air – CBS, NBC, FOX, ABC, and a little PBS. We noticed that most of the non-airwave programs we followed, such as The Closer, are available on the internet.
The hook-up at our house:
- ClearStream 2 Outdoor Antenna by Antennas Direct ($75) which connects to the following tuner with an ordinary coaxial cable, and let me add that we live on flat land in a residential neighborhood with a lot of space, so while the transmission towers are over 30 miles away, we receive a clear signal (check with antennaweb.org to find out what you can expect to receive and the direction you’ll need to point an antenna for the best reception in your neighborhood);
- AVerMedia Hybrid Volar Max TV Tuner with 1080i support ($80) which connects to the computer through a USB port – the computer connects to the television with an HDMI cord;
- Dell Inspiron Zino HD (customized) with Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit), a wireless keyboard and mouse (about $620 including shipping), but maybe you already have a rarely used PC hanging around the house that can manage this new demand;
- Windows Media Center Remote Control (we already owned one, but these are commonly available for about $20 to $30), which has a companion “reader” that connects to the PC through a USB port;
- A Zune 80gb that we already owned (current models are HD version and retail for $150 to $250) has software that we downloaded into the new computer and customized with our existing account. It isn’t necessary to own any portable media player for the system described. Just load or download your favorite music and let Windows Media Center manage the rest;
- “Bookshelf” style speakers designed to use with any iPod or portable media player. Many to choose from and it isn’t necessary to spend more than $25. Connect to the PC through the color-coded RCA media port.
So with little thought we canceled the television service providers and installed an outdoor antenna. I was surprised that reducing the flood of options has felt like emerging from a pile of rubble.
The obvious first benefit is the free, high-definition access to the programs we watch most. The second benefit? The picture quality is better than what came from providers who charge extra for a premium signal.
It makes me giddy!
Our system is now All Things Entertaining in one convenient location.
We attached the antenna to a small desktop PC, which then connects to the living room television. We watch over-the-air stations through Windows Media Center, which provides a beautifully functional and accurate program guide (try that, Comcast).
The computer is a DVD player (the former removed to the garage apartment). After loading our digital music collection, it is now our “stereo system.” With the wireless internet connection, we view many programs through network sites, receive movies from Netflix, and collect eMail.
We are officially among the growing number of consumers who are downgrading without actually losing anything. Will internet providers start charging based on bandwidth use? Will television networks begin placing the advertiser’s message right on the screen as they do for programs run on the internet? Will we eventually subscribe to individual networks and programs? Maybe. Who knows?
By the way, have you seen the ads for the new Sony Vizio? The one with wireless access built right into the TV? More of that engineering is on the way.
Things are changing.
Is the new arrangement as convenient or bountiful as having cable or satellite? No. But that’s part of the point. When we watch something it’s because we want to, not because we landed there after mindlessly click, click, clicking our way through the stations. It takes thought and time to open the internet browser and get to, say, TNT, and then find the latest episode of Southland. Once there, you may set pause to answer the phone, but you’re not mindlessly clicking away from the show.
We occasionally record a program from one of the over-the-air networks using Windows Media Center if we want to turn in early. The ability to record a program is a useful technology, after all, although even I can’t be convinced there is a pressing need to record four programs at once. We have reduced our monthly expenses while actually improving our quality of service. The primary set in our house operates with one remote control, and a wireless keyboard with mouse.
Yes, things have changed. Although I still hold the remote. But now my husband holds the keyboard and mouse.