I’m probably one of the only people in my neighborhood that hasn’t upgraded to a flat-panel TV. There, taking up a good portion of my living room, is the big-old-honking Sony.
Why haven’t I gotten rid of the beast? For one thing, it still works fine. And besides, I don’t watch that much TV.
OK, the real reason is fear. Setting up a new TV has become more complicated and intimidating than setting up a computer. I remember the days of having to reinstall software, update drivers, and doing dozens of other things by trial and error to get PCs to work. It didn’t take hours; it took days. But the computer industry has improved the process immensely. It’s still not idiot-proof, but at least I don’t need a degree in computer science to do it.
Meanwhile, TVs have moved in the other direction. Rather than just plugging them in and turning them on, you have to be an electronics engineer to get everything connected and playing well together.
My sister’s experience is a perfect example. Last spring, she and her husband bought a 46-inch flat-screen HDTV. With a beautiful picture like that, of course they wanted to complement it with the best audio and video components. But integrating all the components – Blu-Ray player, stereo receiver, CD player, cable and Internet – turned into what she calls her “high-end nightmare.”
The Best Buy salesman assured them that the Geek Squad could do it all. The Geeks came, they installed and connected everything, quickly demonstrated how everything worked, and then they were gone. But the head geek reassuringly left them his card, so they could call him personally if they had any problems.
An hour later, they had problems, and thus began “six months of hellish trial and error.” There was finger pointing between the Geek Squad and Comcast, then the head geek simply ignored my sister’s voicemails. Comcast came and switched out the cable box several times before one of the technicians finally admitted that the Comcast remote didn’t communicate with several of the new components. My sister and brother-in-law were on their own.
Once they got the BluRay player hooked up and tried to play a BluRay disc from Netflix, an error message popped up on the TV screen saying the BluRay player required a software upgrade. They hadn’t planned to connect the TV to the Internet yet, but now they had to in order to get the upgrade they needed. But the TV wouldn’t connect with their WiFi network. They had to call in a home multimedia specialist, at $140 an hour, and even he had trouble making it work.
Now, six months later, they’ve mostly figured it out. But they need four different remotes, depending on what component they’re trying to control. They keep notes near the TV so they can remember how to turn various components on and off. And they can’t play a simple audio CD without the TV monitor booting up and running rhythmic patterns of color to illustrate the music.
The total cost of the TV, components and fees for various technicians: more than $2,500. The time spent tinkering in frustration and chasing after the Geek Squad, Comcast and other technicians: 50-plus hours. “The sheer mental anguish – priceless,” my sister deadpans.
Who needs that? That’s why I’m buying a new computer this year. In fact, I may even throw out the old Sony and put the new PC in the living room. After all, with the PC, it’s easy to watch movies and TV shows, listen to my music and tune into the radio. Oh, and did I mention it can access the Internet, too?