Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A year without TV

So it's been a year. A year ago I moved house and didn't unpack the TV. It was a nice TV: a 42" flat panel display which when connected to the right sort of cable receiver could be used to watch broadcast TV. With the TV in a box, I never subscribed to any cable or satellite service. My house is without a TV receiver of any kind.

And I don't miss it. Only occasionally do I get that urge to switch on the goggle box and just watch some nonsense to se changer les idées (take my mind off things).

The real revelation came when I was staying in a hotel and for the first time ever simply didn't switch the hotel TV on. I knew that there was nothing worth seeing on it.

That's not to say that I haven't watched TV programmes. I'm an avid follower of 24 which I've watched by buying season pass via the iTunes Store. I've made use on occasion of the BBC iPlayer watching a total of 11 programmes in the last year (thank you iPlayer for keeping a record). The most interesting of those programs were The Secret Life of Chaos and Chemisty: A Volatile History.

And I've watched lots of movies through the DVD subscription service LoveFilm (the most recent of which was Skin).

Amusingly, I succumbed to the idea of watching rubbish on TV and decided to watch the most recent episode of So you think you can dance. It was a wonderful reminder of why I don't have a TV. In fact, it was like being parachuted into a strange world filled with consistently ugly, shallow people wearing too much make up. It was only by being away from TV for so long that I saw it like that, I'm sure if I'd been watching TV all along I would never have noticed (just like the proverbial frog being slowly heated in a pan of water).

But the thing I miss the least is TV news. It's all about panic and fear and not about analysis. I seriously wonder how much harm TV news is doing to society.

The nice thing is that the Internet can kill TV without killing TV programmes. I'm very happy to pay to rent DVDs and pay to buy individual programs. If the BBC hadn't made the programmes cited above available freely I would have been very tempted to pay for them individually.

I realize that some readers will wonder why I would pay for content when I could probably download it and violate copyright for free. The main reason is guaranteed quality. I probably could spend my time searching for those programmes on some torrent site, but just as I don't want to waste time channel hopping for something good to watch, I don't want to waste my time downloading torrents only to find they are corrupt, incomplete or overdubbed in Urdu.

It's a simple trade-off: I'll give copyright holder $X if they'll guarantee that I get a high quality copy of their programme when I want it.

Another proposed solution is the PVR. This is a bizarre solution which when compared to paying to download programmes from the Internet seems almost ridiculous. It works like this. You pay to receive a random selection of TV programmes broadcast at times you do not select. You then pay to have a device that you must programme to wake up and record those programmes so that you can then watch them when you want. You have to tell the PVR what programmes you want to watch before you know about them; you can't subsequently decide to watch something.

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If you enjoyed this blog post, you might enjoy my travel book for people interested in science and technology: The Geek Atlas. Signed copies of The Geek Atlas are available.

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