Monday, March 24, 2014

Consumed By Consumer Electronics

Stella bought a TV last Thursday, not entirely on impulse (we had discussed the possibility off and on) but not after deep research on the subject, either.

To the good, she bought a Samsung 39", choosing that size because it was the smallest that had a headphone jack (sound insulation between rooms in this old house is negligible) and the brand because both of us had shopped enough to appreciate the picture quality of the newer Samsung TVs... the only thing that looks better is Sony, at a considerably higher price.

To the bad, she bought it from Best Buy. That has turned out to be a major mistake, one that I myself could have made just as easily.

Not quite this disastrous, but...
Yesterday we began setting it up. Since then, it has consumed all of my last two days, and both my and Stella's evening yesterday as we returned to the store to buy a cable for our old DVD/VCR (which we were assured by two of the sales staff would in fact work with the new TV) and to ask questions about the pair of wireless headphones Stella bought for those late sleepless nights each of us occasionally suffers. (Hey, it's part of getting old.)

Every sales staffer who talked to us from two different Best Buy store locations, in person and on the phone, told us at least one false item. I'll save you the agony; I don't have the strength to repeat it all now. But the staff, notwithstanding their passably good attitude, were either abysmally misinformed about their products, or lying through their teeth to clinch the sale. When I am bamboozled by salespeople, I really feel old.,, old and angry.

The short version of the conlusions:
  • Plugging the headphones into the TV requires both a digital-to-optical adapter and an optical cable. I have to wonder about the likely lifespan of that (expensive) optical cable, but I don't have to wonder right away, because the store does not sell them... as we were not told at the time of purchase of the headphones... and also not immediately later. Not until we phoned a national last-ditch BB help line did we learn: they can be obtained only online.

  • Our six-year-old DVD/VCR can play into the new TV only through a $20 cable group (and that's the cheaper one), and cannot record from the TV but must have its own converter box (the one we were using before).

Of those two facts, only part of the latter was told to us by the salesman; he sold us the cable group.

Oh, and we make do with broadcast TV; we don't have cable. And the alleged high-quality indoor antenna we bought about 7 years ago really doesn't work very well with this TV, perhaps because we rearranged the whole den to suit the new, larger TV. So it's probably Roku or Aereo for us before it's over; we don't really have an ongoing household budget for a (so to speak) rich selection of cable channels. But that can wait.

Stella had a few calm moments late this evening after some long, animated (!) conversations with sales staff and help lines on the phone, and said that if she had known what would be involved, she would never have bought the damned thing. I have to agree. Both of us have mostly bought computer equipment from Micro Center, where the technical staff seems fairly competent and gives accurate answers to at least basic questions on the equipment they sell and service. That's not the case at BB.

Remember when buying a computer was a vastly more complicated procedure than buying a TV? Those were the days... the days of long ago!


  1. It's all about the DRM. And monopoly rents.

    1. Don't get me started, pj!

      I have literally stopped buying new media, except for gifts.

      At some time in my life, I collected over a thousand vinyls, cassettes and CDs. At about that point, RIAA and MPAA went full-blown batshit crazy, bought some members of Congress to rewrite the copyright laws so ABC could keep the Mouse, and started suing kids for doing what kids do.

      As a tot with no money, I taped records, some my own, some friends', and grew up to be one of the recording industry's best customers for full-price new recordings. If I had done that copying as a kid today, RIAA would have sued my assets to prove a point. To me, the point they made is that they didn't read the Constitution on the motivation for establishing copyright, both the reason for protection and (what they ignored) the reason for ending it after a couple of decades. My reaction? Greedy bastards don't get my money anymore, with the one exception as noted. Fv~k 'em!

    2. Oh, and speaking of monopoly rents, if you haven't read Stiglitz's The Price of Inequality, please do take the trouble. FWIW, I didn't buy it... my public library had it.

  2. A digital HD TV is a completely different animal from an analog TV. It won't use the same antennas and won't accept the analog inputs from older accessories (I had already retired my VCR though, and my relatively new Blu-Ray/DVD player had an HDMI output, so I was okay there). What most surprised me was the lack of any ability to feed audio to a traditional stereo. No RCA jacks. I had to go to Radio Shack (remember them?) and buy an adapter and an optical audio cable. I also had to buy a different antenna to get a good digital TV signal (I don't have cable TV either).

    I have a Roku. There's a bit of free content for the Roku, but the best stuff is pay. At the moment the only thing I have pay on it is Amazon Prime, which I bought for other reasons but they occasionally stream interesting things for free.

    1. "I had to go to Radio Shack (remember them?) and buy an adapter and an optical audio cable."

      That's exactly what Stella eventually found out. No one at BB told her that. Nor could any BB store location supply her the parts; they told her she'd have to buy them online. Houston is not a city in which it is typically difficult to obtain just about any component for any purpose, usually with free advice from whoever sells you the part. But not BB. They appear to feel no obligation to guide the customer to a satisfactory setup of what they sell her. This is probably our last purchase from BB, but they seem to thrive on the P.T. Barnum principle. We were that day's sucker; the following day they found another sucker.

      Do you have any experience with Roku or Aereo? OT1H, there seem to be a few fairly vocal satisfied customers. OTOH, I foresee an ongoing legal battle over the retransmission of TV signals by a third party over another network. Any thoughts, 'tux?

    2. I have a Roku. Note that it does *not* retransmit TV signals. Its "channels" are content provided by video content providers such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, and so forth. Hulu with its stash of television show episodes is the big draw but you must pay for Hulu Prime to view it via the Roku. If you are a fan of fringe content such as Japanese anime and so forth there are specialty channels galore for that kind of stuff too. There are also unofficial Roku channels provided by third parties that likely pirate things, you can't get them via the Roku directory but there are web sites that keep track of them.

  3. 'tux, for the moment, I have tweaked an indoor antenna (about 5 years old; not particularly good... but it may have been designed for old analog TV) so that we can receive literally all digital broadcast channels available on-air in the Houston area... including the one channel with 10 subchannels and another with about 7 subchannels that will browbeat you with Christian-themed shows for about a dozen hours a day. Once I figured out how to get all those channels (about a hundred total), Stella sat down and programmed Favorites to contain the dozen broadcast channels we actually regularly watch, so we won't have to skip dozens of Christian channels. (We are in the Bible Belt, after all.)

    Now we have to prioritize other content. Personally, I want to have something that plays recordings... the library a block away has LOTS of DVDs and can bring in more in about two days through an online request. Roku is a possibility, though I haven't thought about what services would most economically fulfill Stella's obsession with movies, especially old movies. So those are the priorities. Then we have to get those (expletive) headphones working...

  4. I also love old movies, by which I mean 1930's to mid-60's, but I won't pay for a cable package just to get Turner Classics, much as I'd like to have it. I'm not set up for over the air reception at the moment, but a friend of mine bought a house in the Seattle metro area that already had an outdoor rotary mast analog antenna. Worked just fine for digital reception too.

    The cable companies have managed to destroy the market for user owned, non-subscription DVR's in the US, but for over-the-air use, there are some HDD-DVR/DVD Recorder/Digital-Tuner units still being sold:.

    There are a couple of broadcast stations available in some areas that have quite a few old movies:

    This TV


    I know of a couple of subscription services, but I haven't tried them myself:

    Warner Archive (streaming & DVD purchase)!

    ClassicFix (DVD by mail)

    Then there are the odd public domain sites:

    Classic Cinema Online

    Or if you feel frisky, you might poke around at sites like these
    [Deleted at commenter's request - SB]

    1. Thanks, paintedjaguar! Lots of good possibilities. There's an overabundance of content available (spoken as one who doesn't live for TV as most Americans do), but our challenge is to make some decisions to reduce the ongoing cost and yet still get some genuine entertainment.

      Our other challenge is to deal with blatantly incompatible technologies. After much advice from several sources, I'm still not sure exactly why the headphones don't work... everything is hooked up according to one of the two diagrams that came with the headphone, so I still think it must be a digital/optical-vs.-analog problem; perhaps the diagram was printed in the pre-digital days.

      Again, thanks for the content advice; I'll pass it on to Stella.

    2. Oh, I forgot to mention... This TV and MeTV are broadcast on-air locally. Between the two, there are all the old movies I could ever want to watch! The obsessive Stella may voice a different opinion... :-)



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