this is what you get: life after plasma tv

Our 12-year-old 52″ Fujitsu plasma TV would still be displaying beautifully and brightly had our movers not killed it.

After a decade of walking into Best Buy’s home theater departments and backing right out again, horrified by how bad the LED HD displays looked compared to our plasma, Bob and I are now forced against our will to consider the new generation of TVs—and to deal with a generation of salespeople who don’t know that film wasn’t “analog” and that movies on movie theater screens before 1990 didn’t look like old VHS tapes or a low def cable broadcast.

One young salesman actually tried to tell me my eyes just “didn’t know any better back then” enough to recognize that movie images were all jagged digits and blurry bits like the lower resolution broadcast of Peter Weir “Witness” that we were watching on the 75-inch 4K TV display in front of us.

He stared at me as if I myself was the unrecognizable blur when I told him that movie film in movie theaters in 1985 wasn’t being processed through analog or digital technology, it was just a crisp spool of celluloid frames speeding between a lightbulb and a lens that could project very clearly on giant screens—without being reduced to the zigzagged electronic digits we were seeing along the edge of Harrison Ford’s name in the credits in front of us.

Next we watched a few minutes of “The Theory of Everything,” presumably filmed at a higher resolution than was available in 1985. It was playing at 1080p, the highest resolution below 4K and standard for new movies on cable. Every time Stephen Hawking’s wheelchair moved, he disintegrated into a wake of enormous square pixels. We’re not talking Jason Bourne or LeBron James. We’re talking a man operating his wheelchair with the only muscle in his body that he can move. The salesman acted like that was to be expected.

I didn’t push it any further, but I was frustrated that no one knows. Anything. Older than a decade.

However, most disheartening of all, the home theater staffs everywhere, when they finally admitted that even their 4K displays weren’t as good as plasma, said, “unfortunately, this is what you get these days.” (The last of the manufacturers stopped producing plasma in November 2014.)

We’ve heard a lot of “this is what you get” over the past few months and weeks during our move. The Verizon installation guy said it about services that were no longer available. Our moving company said it about how they handled our delicate items. Our lawyer said it about the contract our first buyer was able to weasel out of easily. And our broker said it about the bureaucracy holding up scheduling the closing on the final sale of our home.

Note that none were saying, “you get what you pay for.” They all knew very well that we were indeed paying for their top-of-the-line product or service.

Top of the line, unfortunately, ain’t what it use to be.

And everyone seems to use, “this is what you get these day,” as a way to say, “we know it sucks, but like everybody, we’re just accepting it—you should too,” as they head out for lunch with an undisturbed conscience. It’s depressing. Corporations are only offering what they can produce cheaply, and everyone seems to have learned to just settle for it (which might also explain the current political landscape).

I don’t know that we’ll move to 4K just yet. Movies that looked great in the theaters and on our plasma, when viewed now on 4K screens have that empty spacial quality of soap operas and everything looks like a stage set. It’s clear. Chrystal clear. But it’s not how we really perceive the real world.

And it’s not what we would see from 99% of our cable content.

The endless loops of nature and travel scenes shot and broadcast in 4K by the manufacturers for the store displays look spectacular on these giant monitors. But they reminded me of back when we bought our plasma TV twelve years ago. There was very little HD content back then, and all the stores ran continuously the HD Discovery channel—the one and only HD channel available on cable at the time. It took several years for cable and DVDs to catch up to our equipment. And they were still looking gorgeous right up to the night before our movers arrived.

So, the vibrant butterfly on the giant leaf on the 85-inch display in Best Buy can’t tell us what Stephen Hawking’s wheel chair will look like on the same screen. The smiling models grooving on their FiOS service on the Verizon homepage couldn’t warn us that the installer would show up at the house with only half his tools because of a new policy from upper administration. This is customer service not keeping the promise made in the marketing material, and somewhere in between those in charge stop carrying.

The bottom line for us right now is that all the new technology, even when top of line, looks like a giant step backward when you look beyond the store displays. And, unfortunately, we’re not ready just to take “what you get these days.”


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