Mary Dejevsky: Life was so much simpler when a TV was just a box

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The Independent Online

You know you have reached a certain age when you start reminiscing plaintively about the simpler joys of a seemingly distant past: warm summers, village greens, strawberries that tasted like strawberries – that sort of thing. To that list, let me now add: buying a television set.

You know you have reached a certain age when you start reminiscing plaintively about the simpler joys of a seemingly distant past: warm summers, village greens, strawberries that tasted like strawberries – that sort of thing. To that list, let me now add: buying a television set.

Time was when acquiring a television was a simple and reasonably pleasurable exercise. You dropped in to your local department store or electrical shop and came out 20 minutes later with a large box and a satisfied smile on your face.

The choice was simple. The price range went from around £100 at the bottom end of the scale to about £400 at the top, and size and brand were what clinched it. You compared the picture quality and made up your mind. Then you went home, plugged the set into the wall, attached the wire aerial to the back, and you were all set up to watch Coronation Street, the football or whatever your particular choice of narcotic from the four channels then available.

Have you tried to buy a television set recently? The only constant is that the person who may or may not be interested in selling you what is now a cross between a computer, a miniature cinema and a piece of furniture is still a man. For the rest, well ...

Your problems begin well before you lug the box home and have to decipher the pre-setting instructions just to receive a picture.

They start right there in the show-room. Televisions used to be grey, and shaped like televisions.

There are still a few of those to be found. But small ones now come in pastel colours as well as grey; big ones come in black and various metallic finishes; medium-sized ones may be television-shaped or box-like (if they come with built-in video-recorders), or elongated if they are "wide-screen" sets.

"Wide-screen" looks sleek and modern, but it also means that the picture is either distorted to make it fit or stops short of the edge.

Price seems to the non-initiate to be a lottery. Small televisions may cost more than big ones, but very big ones cost "only" (as the adverts say) upwards of £800. You can now pay several thousand pounds for a mega-TV, but you can pay just the same for a much smaller "designer" model, which – admit it – is the only one you would really like to see in your sitting-room if only you could shake off the notion that televisions ought to cost no more than £200.

But the biggest divide, as I learned from successive patient salesmen, is the big D (digital). This seems to add a cool £400 to any television so enabled. If you ask whether digital is essential, you are told "yes", and then "no". One fine day everything will be digital and your TV may not work; but then you just get a box (and if you wait long enough, the Government may give it to you for free), which will digitalise your outmoded set anyway.

Several hours and shops later, when you have finally identified the smaller, sleeker, wider model with the finish that matches your décor and the price that can just be absorbed into your budget, you are hit with the final conundrum. Nowadays, it seems, more televisions than not come with integral stands. If you want the TV, but don't like the stand, you are thwarted, unless the stand will detach. If you try to find a more acceptable stand, you are told that no one really stocks stands or trolleys these days, because, "Madam, most televisions are fitted with stands". And for anyone who wants a stand on wheels, a new rule has been born: the likelihood of a stand being on castors is in inverse proportion to the size and weight of the set it supports.

As I say, television-buying is not what it used to be in those days of perpetual summer and afternoon tea. Two months ago, I was in the market for a new TV – and I still am.

m.dejevsky@independent.co.uk

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