This HDTV needs child support

We have just replaced our old clunker of a TV set with a new one, one of those giant flat-screen things you see when you walk through the front door of any big box store. Our old one was the size and shape of a Volkswagen Beetle and probably used more energy. When it was on, it doubled as a space heater. The new one is laptop-thin, and takes up a fraction of the space, yet has a much bigger screen. It’s as if we’ve gained an extra room; we may have to buy a few over-stuffed chairs to fill up all the emptiness. Of course, we are the last people on our block to get a HDTV, maybe the last people in the country. The way I’m installing it, we will certainly be the last people in the country to see anything on it.

“Is that the HD blank screen we’re looking at or just a regular blank?” Sue asked about the bright blue, picture-free screen. “I can’t tell the difference,” she said as I fiddled with the connections, “It’s looks the same to me.” She’s such a big help, what would I do without her?

Sue and I forgot to have children, which puts us at a severe disadvantage against people who have live-at-home, 24/7 teenage technical support. But then, that’s why we could wait until the stores were practically giving them away before we bought a new one -- no 13-year-old was constantly nagging us about it, no one was telling us that we were wrecking his entire life by making him watch TV on an old-fashioned, cable-ready box. But finally we had to switch because, like us, there were things our old set simply could not do. We couldn’t use it to watch all the stuff you can see for free on the Internet or watch movies from Netflix.

It turns out that, over the past few years, we’ve gone from watching TV in hour-long blocks to watching minute-and-a half-long clips of cats being cute or newscasters making flubs or teens doing foolish and painful stunts. But it’s hard for two people to watch a movie on a computer; they aren’t (at least for now) made for that. But at the rate I’m setting this thing up, we may never find out. I cannot seem to find the right combination of wires and buttons that will actually let us watch anything on the new TV. I am about ready to shove the whole thing back in the box and return it to the store. The only instruction I seem to have followed correctly up to this point is “Save all the packing material.” As if I could ever figure out how to put all the Styrofoam shapes and plastic ties back in their original places. Then Sue said, “What does this do?” holding up a remote I had never seen before.

“I don’t know, try it.” It did quite a bit. The set turned on and delivered “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” in HD right into our living room.

“It looks the same to me,” Sue said. “Are you sure it’s in HD mode?” I started daydreaming again. “The Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” were not really the life-changing viewing experiences I had expected, either. Obviously we’ve been duped. The local news even looked worse in HD than it did on our old set. The only thing that looked better was the set-up screen that told me I needed to buy another gadget to watch streaming Internet movies and shows on my new TV; a new gadget that was even more complicated to get up and running than the one I had just put in. Maybe it’s not too late to have kids.

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at

Copyright 2011, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.

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