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Finances & Money

The cost of upgrading your viewing experience

I was walking around Best Buy on Sunday with a friend and came to a realization. We were touring the Plasma TVs because he wants to get one for their bedroom. I don’t begrudge him this expense as they have planned and budgeted for it. But I did think about our own viewing experience.

Here’s some back-story: About 2.5 years ago, a friend gave us our TV for Christmas. We really didn’t expect it, and felt bad for the little things we got him. It was a 27 inch Panasonic (not a plasma or anything). He got it as an open-box item at a good discount, but we still think it cost over $400 at the time. Prior to this new TV, we were viewing our basic cable on an old 20″ TV from my wife’s high-school years. Our experience was truly upgraded.

Back to today: My friend Mike (yeah, we’re both named Mike) and I chatted about my desire to upgrade to a nice 42″ plasma TV for our living room. But then we started walking past the home theater systems. I realized that if we upgraded our TV, then the only logical place to install it would be at the end of our living room. Since that’s about 15 feet from our chairs, we would need a new sound system to project the sound back to us.

But why have a new HD TV without HD cable channels? And then we would also need to upgrade our DVD player to an HD DVD player. And then there’s all those HD cables, which can be very expensive.

Where does it all end?

I’m sitting here right now watching a 17-year-old movie on a 3 year old DVD player connected to our free TV. That TV also uses a 10-year-old VCR that records our shows just as well as Tivo. Upstairs, we use my 15-year-old TV (we gave my wife’s TV to her parents). And in the office, we use the free dumpster TV we found 4 years ago. There’s no remote, but we don’t need one.

As much as I want a fancy TV, and a nice surround sound system to go with it (oh, and all the regular and HD cable channels), I recognize that none of this will improve my experience. Why?

I don’t want my “viewing experience” to be watching the TV. I want it to be WATCHING LIFE! For decades, I’ve been getting sucked in by the TV, but I don’t have time to watch all this junk anymore. I’m a husband, I’m a homeowner, I’m a student (got my ID card), and I’m a full-time employee. I have friends and family hours away that I’d like to see more often, including 2 young nieces and a brand-new nephew.

But by watching TV every evening for hours, I don’t get to do the housework, romance my wife, exercise my chubby bottom, hang out with friends, or pursue various business opportunities for myself and Stacie. Every second of watching TV is a second I could use to plan my wife’s nutrition consulting practice, but I just get distracted by the TV. I could begin that retaining wall or bathroom remodeling I’ve been wanting to do for months, but my eyes just want to watch Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune.

What am I getting out of these shows? Something to chat with my coworkers about? Random trivia? Yes and yes. I can remember episodes of Seinfeld and The Simpsons, but I can’t remember what I did yesterday. Why? Because I didn’t do anything.

Oh wait, I watched Rob & Big and Pimp My Ride on Comcast On-Demand. Great, now I know how to transport a mini horse and install a sink in a Chevy Suburban.

Sometimes you need to escape from reality, but don’t let reality escape you.

About the author

Clever Dude


  • Clever,

    Do you think that having a 42′ inch plasma will help curb or increase your TV viewing habits. I know for me, I would feel like I ‘need’ to get my money’s worth.

    We have one TV from 10 years ago when I was in college(32′ Sony) and no TV in the bedroom. One old VCR, one DVD player won in a raffle, and on Comcast DVR(way more convenient than a VCR). I will be sad to see the DVR go. Actually, I am ‘sad’ now, but I suspect once it is gone I will be happy.

    Also, I am amazed to hear that your wife wants to start a nutrition counseling business. My wife is a registered dietician, and we have tossed around a similar idea. Between that and your interest in adoption, we have a few odd things common.

    Thanks for the input.

  • A couple comments on this:

    1. You don’t really need to upgrade your cable package to get HD channels. You can get HD Channels over the air.

    2. I’m in the same boat. I was using my old 20″ tv from college, but our in-laws bought us a new 32″ TV for Christmas one year. I would really like to invest in a widescreen TV (I think I would go DLP over plasma, though) because we really enjoy watching movies.

    3. A VCR is now way near as convenient as a DVR.

  • Ah… Slowly you will learn to kill your television…

    Last night I was a couch potato watching TV at the laddie’s house. But that’s ok, he worked out before coming home and I walked from my house over to his house for about a mile. While sitting, I knit the entire time. I can’t imagine 100% vegging out on the couch.

  • FS: Yeah, I do wish sometimes that I took the TV, but then I think of the more useful things I purchased with that money (well, one of them holds clutter–Curio cabinet).

    Shawn: Tivo is a glorified VCR. I do agree it makes viewing and re-viewing convenient, but I don’t agree that you can’t live without a Tivo. A VCR is an adequate substitute. And in my case, I want to watch LESS TV, not more, so to have a Tivo is to just support a bad habit.

    Also, I have thought about an HD antenna. I purchased 2 regular antennas (different brands) but neither got good reception in our TV room. The $50 price tag on the HD antenna at Radio Shack was a bit high for just testing.

  • Multi-task… I do most of the things you mentioned while watching TV. I’m not actively watching TV and something like Law and Order would make no sense to me since I can’t follow a complex plot while doing other things. I watch sports in the background while you get things done. Summertime just isn’t the same without baseball – and baseball is amazing on HDTV. My wife can pick out people she knows in the crowd. The cost of upgrading isn’t as much as you think. You don’t need stereo for your “viewing” experience. You don’t need to buy expensive HD cables. Studies show that they are no better than $6 ones you can buy over the Internet. I don’t see a reason to upgrade to HD DVD or BluRay DVD. It means you have to get upgraded DVDs as well and those machines are too pricey right now. DVDs look great on a HD set.

    A VCR being as good as a DVR is like saying a your 1998 computer is as good as a new one today. They’ll both get the job done, but one does it so much better than the other that it’s just not worthwhile to waste your time the old way. You can obviously live without either. Also studies show that people with DVRs watch less TV. It’s almost like a TV diet… you consume more quality and it means that you desire less quantity. It’s the same way with your cheat foods on a diet. You consume a little of the foods you like and you don’t end up gorging on a variety of foods that aren’t quite as desirable.

    Radio Shack has a very good return policy unless they’ve changed it recently… It should allow for “testing.” I bought a $20 one at Wal-Mart for “testing” and it didn’t work well (I think because I went cheap). I may try to test a better version of theirs, but I will return the old one.

  • Personally, TV is an expense I can live without. A newspaper is far more informative and valuable as far as current events go, and the internet has everything that’s on TV anyway.

  • When I grew up the kids (myself included) bet our dad that if he stopped smoking, then we would stop watching TV. He agreed and we didn’t watch TV for eight years, while my dad went cold turkey and hasn’t picked up a cigarette in years. It probably saved his life.

    With that little story, I find it easy to not have a TV. While I do watch a few TV shows via bittorrent, I limit myself to only 2 or 3 shows (LOST, Heroes, Prison Break). Also, having the lowest Netflix (1 at a time, unlimited) keeps me from watching too many movies. It is all about self-control and how much control you want to put on yourself…

  • Sorry, but my dad hasn’t picked up a cigarette “since the bet” not “in years”. It sounds like he still smokes now and again, but he doesn’t.

  • Good old TV. The best thing I did was to get the TV out of the living room. Now my wife and I spend time just sitting and talking instead of watching television.

    We have a bedroom in our house that is used as a computer room/office/library so we bought a used projector for $400 (only 2 years old), an older 5.1 surround sound system for about $100, and I built a screen out of white blackout cloth and black velvet with a pine frame for under $20. Went out and got a couch (thanks to the craigslist FREE section!) and spent around $100 in micro suede fabric (on sale of course) and reupholstered it and put nice new wood feet on it. Some short curtains ($10 in fabric always on sale!) in front of the screen gave it a finishing touch. Threw our old TV away and haven’t missed it.

    So we upgraded (took around 6-7 months to buy/fix/build all of it) for around $600 including furniture.

    We also stopped watching cable (although we still have it, since Comcast would jack up our ‘net rate without and we’d be paying the same anyway) but seeing commercials on a big screen is pretty depressing, so we end up watching Netflix DVDs, Netflix WatchNow (projector is wired to the computer as well), and our DVD collection. Its really curbed our watching time. Quality over quantity.

    You can have an impressive system. It won’t be state of the art, and it may take time and creativity, but it won’t cost you thousands of dollars either!

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