Monday, September 28, 2009

Progress Means "Move Forward," People

If you're a regular reader of my blog (as millions are) you're probably tired of hearing about the ongoing saga of my life after I cut the cable TV cord. I can't say I blame you. I promise that this will be the last update about my TV. Until the next time I write about it.

To catch you up on what's been happening, I'll give you a quick review: In June, I'd had enough of the cable bill, so I canceled it. I then found out that my TV is too old to receive the kewl new digital broadcasts. I bought a digital converter box and plugged it in, only to find that I live in a no-man's land that can't get any TV signals without an antenna. So I had no live TV whatsoever for about 3 months. Strangely enough, I didn't miss it a bit and my life went on just fine.

Then a few weeks ago my dad gave me a small indoor antenna. No offense to my dad, but it looked and felt like a cheap piece of junk. It looked like it would be about as effective at picking up signals as a coat hanger.

However, when I plugged it in, I found that it somehow picked up 15 channels in the area. Color me shocked and stunned.

So now I have some form of live TV again. 99% of the time there still isn't anything on worth watching. I continue to leave the TV off most of the time I'm home.

I did notice some things about our brave new digital world. For months, make that years, the government has been telling us how great everything would be when we finally made the switch from analog TV to digital. We'd have more channels, the picture would be clearer and sharper, the sky would be bluer, food would taste fresher, and unicorns would tuck us in at night and kiss us on the forehead.

It was all a lie. A dirty, filthy lie.

Yes, now that digital is finally here, I do have more over the air channels than I used to. I can't prove it, but it appears that they accomplished this by simply compressing the signals so that they can wedge more info into the same amount of bandwidth.

Periodically the picture degrades and appears to be made up of hundreds of blocky square video "artifacts." That never happened with analog.

Also, in the analog days, you only had to point your TV antenna in the general direction of the station and you'd still get a picture. It may not have been a perfect image, but it was acceptable. With digital, your antenna must be pointed precisely at the transmitter. Even a deviation of one or two degrees will cause the picture to freeze and the screen to display an explosion of kaleidoscopic colors. With digital, it's all or nothing; you either get the picture or you don't. Once again, that never happened with analog.

In fact, on the rare occasions I've sat down and actually tried to watch something on live TV, I've been presented with a picture that freezes, skips, chokes and stutters until I finally give up in disgust and go sit in my studio and draw.

From where I'm sitting, digital is inferior to analog in every measurable sense. So why did we switch?

What happened to progress? Why has every so-called "advancement" in the past few years been worse than the thing it replaced? Digital TV has more problems than analog ever did. MP3s are more compressed and don't sound as good as the CDs they replaced. Cell phones are convenient, but you never had to wander around the house with your land line phone, trying desperately to get four bars, nor worry about its battery running out. By some estimates the XBox 360 console has a failure rate around 70%, even though I still have a 15 year old Playstation 1 that works just fine.

Why is this happening?

I'm starting to wonder if we reached the end of technological advance, so science has introduced a wave of patently inferior products so that they can "improve" them (read "raise them back to normal levels) at some point in the future.

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