The Glutton

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Dalton shares his experiences with his new toy — a high-def set — and tells you the best (and worst) summer fare he's been watching on it. Plus: reader mail!

THE WOMEN OF BIG LOVE LOOK EVEN BETTER IN HD
Image credit: Big Love: Lacey Terrell
THE WOMEN OF BIG LOVE LOOK EVEN BETTER IN HD

HDTV! Dalton eyes his brand-new toy

I finally did it. I finally opened up my wallet and entered the 21st century. After years of resistance, I decided to go where many million other men and women had so boldly gone before: I bought a high-definition television set. This may not seem like a big deal to most, but I fear change, and the only thing I fear more than change is technology, so this was a pretty big step for me. But first, a little background.

For a few years now, I have watched with envy as neighbors and coworkers splurged for fancy-schmancy HDTVs. They talked about the crystal-clear picture, being able to see every individual blade of grass on a football field, and how they could never imagine watching standard television again. One thing none of them were as keen to discuss was the price:

All were spending between 2 and 3 grand. As much as I love television — and dear Lord I do love television — I could simply not imagine shelling out that kind of cheddar to admire grass. I had never spent more than $225 on a television set, so multiplying that by 10 just for a nicer picture seemed a bit extreme. But there was hope. I knew that prices would gradually come down. With new technologies, they always do. (Remember when a decent DVD player cost $500 as opposed to $50? Actually, $50 is a bit steep these days.) So I played the waiting game, watching TV like any other deprived member of the hoi polloi while checking out the occasional electronics flyer — ''Hmmm, down to $1,800? We're getting there.''

Well, a few events transpired the other week to put things into motion. First off, a neighbor had us over to watch Willy Wonka on his top-notch HD set and up-converting DVD player. What a show-off! Wasn't this entrapment? In any event, my wife saw it immediately in my eyes: I had serious HD envy. The second thing is that I was in the process of changing cable companies from Comcast to Verizon Fios, so it made sense to have the new system in place for the install. Third was the realization that prices had finally dropped into a range I was comfortable with. In other words, I wouldn't have to take out a second mortgage just so I could watch Jennifer Love Hewitt's cleavage in glorious high definition. The final straw was the impending start of football season. Hell, if I was going to spend some serious coin, I wanted to see as much of that damn grass as possible!

It was then, however, when I made my biggest mistake. Basically, I am incapable of making any decision (major or minor) without researching it to death. I once spent a good seven hours online reading reader reviews and finding the best price possible on a DustBuster. A freakin' DustBuster! The thing costs like $20 bucks and sucks up dirt! What's to debate? Yet even after that debacle I still go through my own little personal Vietnam every time I make a purchase, so you can imagine how unwieldy the HD research was. I think I spent a good three and a half hours alone on the whole ''plasma vs. LCD'' debate. (Burn-in? I have to worry about burn-in?!?) This time proved to be even more useless once I realized I needed to get a ''small'' HD set to fit in my cabinet and plasmas didn't even start until 42''. Small is a relative term, of course. I would be getting a 32'' — tiny by big-screen HD standards, yet still bigger than my 25'' standard set.

Of course, then I had to figure out what brand and model to get. Let me state this without reservations and with the utmost certainty: Online customer reviews are the worst thing that have ever happened on the face of the planet. Except the Holocaust. And maybe the plague. And Carrot Top. Here is why: For every three or four great reviews you read about a hotel, or an outdoor grill, or, yes, a DustBuster, there is bound to be one that trashes it and brings you right back to where you began — confused, hesitant, and petrified of being stuck with a lemon instead of lemonade. Online customer reviews are the devil's work. After wasting a good part of a whole day dealing with that nonsense, I went to the much more scientific method of ''Eeny, meeny, miny, moe'' and selected a Panasonic. I scored a 32'' for under $800.

After I got the Verizon HD box set up (which also included a DVR — my first home DVR ever, as regular readers of my Survivor TV Watch well know), it was Go Time. First reaction? Holy crap, why did I wait so damn long to do this? The wow factor was definitely there. The thing I noticed most after spending a few days with my new electronic baby was the fact that I was all of a sudden watching programs and channels that I would never in a million years consider watching otherwise. A jellyfish special on the National Geographic Channel? I'm on it! A show about mountain lions on Discovery? Sure, why not? Hell, I actually spent a good 20 minutes on Sunday night watching a bunch of hot air balloons float around Vermont. Hot air balloons! For 20 minutes! And Big Brother was on! However, my favorite new pastime has been sitting through some ridiculous exercise called Get Out on HD Net. Get Out is basically E's Wild On! for the high-def crowd. It features an assortment of Penthouse Pets, Playboy models, and former Temptation Island contestants hanging out in exotic locations trying to feign interest in local culture and customs. I guess the point is to kid yourself (and your spouse) that you're really watching for the in-depth reporting on tropical paradises when in reality it's merely a glorified T&A show. Not complaining, mind you. Simply stating.

But this is not to say there have not been issues with the new TV. First off, there is the fact that even though I have approximately 300 channels, the HD channels are so ridiculously good-looking that they have somewhat rendered the other 270 ones obsolete. This was actually one of my greatest fears about going high-def — that I would never be able to look at regular TV again. In essence, I've become a pixilation snob. Plus, how am I getting my money's worth if I'm watching VH1 Classic all day? Then there's the dilemma about what to do with the aspect ratio on non-HD programming. Do I keep it in the regular 4:3 size and deal with those distracting black bars on the side, or do I stretch people out to fill the screen so that everyone looks like a pre-gastric bypass surgery Star Jones (who, incidentally, I think looked less scary than version 2.0)?

These are all issues still being worked out, but for now the future looks bright. And clear. And I'm sure my wife is positively thrilled that I bought something that just makes me want to watch more television. I guess I owe her some flowers.

OBSESSION OF THE WEEK

My obsession this week is trying to figure out what the hell happened to Entourage. I found this show to be pretty addictive and amusing its first two seasons, but now it has just become a bore and a chore to watch. This season has been particularly painful. Vince's career arc (which used to feature engaging angles via Queens Boulevard and Aquaman) has lost any sense of sizzle ever since the whole lackluster Medellín story line, and we've also been forced to endure a bunch of wacky, over-the-top high jinks for Turtle and Drama that just get more ridiculous by the week. Even Billy Walsh, who was a scene stealer in season 1 as the director of Queens Boulevard, has now become tiresome due to overuse and the fact that he's being forced to yell, ''Isn't that right, Suit?!?'' about every five seconds. File this one under: When Good Shows Go Bad.

NEXT PAGE: Five scripted shows that are better than Entourage

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