High-Def Disconnect

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By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 21, 2007

Back in August, my needs were simple. As one of the reporters covering the Redskins for The Post, I needed a television and a way to record games so I could analyze what turned out to be a five-win season. A $119 combination 13-inch TV with a VCR would have solved the problem.

Instead, I ended up taking the high-definition plunge, spending $1,399 for a far-bigger and fancier television set than I originally had in mind. As I left the store with my new HDTV, my confidence was boosted by approving nods from people in the parking lot.

"It's going to change your life," one man said.

If only someone had told me that buying the set was the easiest part.

Since then, I have been riding a high-definition roller coaster -- mesmerized by the new TV's crystal-clear images but disillusioned by the disappointingly low number of HD channels you get in exchange for the investment of the upgrade.

My purchase put me in a growing wave of people switching to high definition. Last year, more than 13 million HDTV sets were shipped to stores in the United States, and the Consumer Electronics Association predicts that even more -- closer to 16 million -- will hit shelves this year.

Moving into HDTV had been on my mind for a while. I'd been admiring a 50-inch plasma, and its dropping price tag, for about a year, but I was still fighting the psychological barrier of paying such big money for a TV. I'd spent less than $300 on a 27-inch Toshiba tube set only four years ago and wasn't mentally ready to shell out four figures for a replacement.

And so, faced with the onset of the season and needing a second set at home, I headed out with self-restraint and intentions of saving money by going low-tech -- until I started comparing prices and saw how much they had come down.

A 27-inch tube set is the same price today as the one I bought four years ago, around $275, but a Polaroid 20-inch flat-panel, HD television was less than $50 more, at $318. A 32-inch combination TV-VCR cost in the mid-$300s, but a Samsung 32-inch HD was in the low $600s, which didn't seem unreasonable considering the quality of the picture.

Besides, was I really thinking about buying a VCR? In 2006? I had already been interested in TiVo, the VCR-like device that records TV programming to a hard drive instead of tapes. And after asking a few questions, I discovered that TiVo had an add-on service called TiVoToGo, which would let me transfer the recorded programs to a laptop, iPod or other handheld device. From there, I could use software to burn DVDs of the games, or even the first three seasons of "The Sopranos" (instead of paying $219 for the box set).

I started to imagine the possibilities: I could have a library of Redskins games at my desk, on an airplane or in the press box. Couldn't remember a specific play from that Skins-Cowboys game three weeks ago? Now, I could just pop in a DVD. I was hooked.

I ended up buying a Philips 37-inch LCD HD television for $1,399 -- about $400 more than I had planned on spending. Once I got the set home, I confronted a series of unexpected decisions, the first being the choice between digital cable or satellite service -- a pick driven purely by economics for me. Watching a cheetah chase a gazelle on Discovery HD is just as eye-popping in either format.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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